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California attorney general defends naming of transgender-focused ballot measure

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(The Center Square) – In response to a lawsuit by a parent activist group who placed a ballot measure to change statewide educational policies for transgender minors, California Attorney General Rob Bonta backed his office’s naming of the controversial initiative.

Parent activist group Protect Kids California is currently collecting signatures for what it calls the Protect Kids of California Act of 2024, which would require schools to notify parents if children request to be treated as a different gender, block transgender females from participating in female sports, and mandate that students participate in activities and use school facilities consistent with their birth genders.

The attorney general’s office, which state law empowers to issue official titles and summaries for proposed initiatives, named the measure the “Restricts Rights of Transgender Youth Initiative,” and will soon go to trial against PKC on April 19 for this name. Bonta’s office declined to comment on the pending litigation but defended both its right and its naming of the initiative in a statement to The Center Square.

“Under California law, the Attorney General’s Office is responsible for issuing official titles and summaries describing the chief purpose and points of every proposed initiative submitted in compliance with procedural requirements,” said the attorney general’s office in a statement. “We take this responsibility seriously and stand by our title and summary for this measure.”

PKC claims that “As part of his duties as Attorney General, Rob Bonta was required to provide a neutral and accurate title and summary for the initiative,” and that “the title and summary mislead voters and mischaracterize the ballot initiative’s intent and impact.”

The power of California’s attorney general to name ballot initiatives has not been without controversy. A 2018 initiative presented as “Repeal the Gas Tax” was signed by nearly one million California voters. Then-California attorney general and current U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra named the measure “Eliminates Recently Enacted Road Repair and Transportation Funding by Repealing Revenues Dedicated For Those Purposes. Requires Any Measure to Enact Certain Vehicle Fuel Taxes and Vehicle Fees Be Submitted to and Approved By the Electorate.”

Polling found strong support for the proposition before the wording, but strong opposition after the wording, leading San Francisco Chronicle columnists Phillip Matier and Andrew Ross to claim the wording was behind the flip in public sentiment.

“Despite early widespread support for repealing last year’s gas tax increase, fresh polling by the Public Policy Institute of California shows a majority of voters now oppose Proposition 6,” wrote Matier and Ross. “The most likely explanation for the flip is the wording of Prop. 6, which was approved by Attorney General Xavier Becerra.”

The question now is whether or not the wording by Bonta, which is likely to go unchanged, will dampen the initiative’s signature collection effort and potential election outcome. PKC cited polling finding 68% of California voters, including 65% of Democrats, support schools notifying parents if their child identifies or requests to be identified or treated as a gender different from their biological sex. PCK also cited polls finding 93% of Republicans, 67% of independents, and 48% of Democrats believe transgender athletes should be able to only play on teams that match their birth gender, with a similar proportion believing puberty blockers should not be allowed for minors.

According to the California Secretary of State, this initiative would each need to collect 546,651 signatures to be on the November 2024 ballot.