California judge sides with AG Rob Bonta over proposed trans youth ballot measure’s title

A Sacramento Superior Court judge has tentatively sided with California Attorney General Rob Bonta over the name of a proposed ballot measure that his office says would “restrict the rights of trans youth.”

A group of parents rights’ activists with the organization Protect Kids of California first announced a three-pronged ballot measure proposal last August. They called it the Protect Kids of California Act.

It would require all school districts in the state to adopt parental notification policies, like those passed in some Placer County school districts, that require school officials to inform a student’s parents if their student indicates they are trans or gender nonconforming by asking to use a different name or pronoun, or use restrooms that do not align with the sex assigned at birth. It would also repeal the state Education Code rule that allows students to play on sports teams that align with their gender identity. Finally, it would ban gender-affirming medical care of trans people under the age of 18.

Ballot initiatives must be submitted to the Attorney General’s Office to receive a formal title and summary before organizers can start collecting signatures to get the initiatives on the ballot. Protect Kids California submitted the proposal to Bonta’s office in late August. In late November, the Attorney General’s Office gave title and summary to it — calling it the Restrict Rights of Transgender Youth initiative.

Protect Kids CA responded with a lawsuit in January.

Organizers said the A.G.’s Office gave it a “misleading” name for political purposes, and that the name would confuse voters about the law’s intentions. The plaintiffs asked the judge to change the name of the measure back to their original proposal, and also asked for 180 more days to collect signatures.

But Judge Stephen Acquisto issued a tentative ruling on Friday denying all four requests by the groups, saying he would side with Bonta’s office, which is “afforded ‘considerable latitude’ in preparing a title and summary.”

“Under current law, minor students have express statutory rights with respect to their gender identity,” Acquisto wrote. “A substantial portion of the proposed measure is dedicated to eliminating or restricting these statutory rights.”

“Petitioners contend that their preferred title ... should have been used to avoid prejudicial effect, because ‘protect’ does not carry a negative connotation that ‘restrict’ carries,” he wrote. “But the term ‘protect’ is abstract because it does not describe in specific or concrete terms what the proposed measure would actually do.

“And whether the measure would actually ‘protect’ kids is subjective and debatable,” adding that the language “appears” to a violation of the election code.

“The Attorney General’s wording, on the other hand, provides an accurate description of the immediate and tangible effect of the proposed measure,” Acquisto wrote.

Acquisto will give the case further thought before issuing a formal decision.

“It bodes well for the petitioners that the judge did not adopt his tentative from the bench,” said Protect Kids organizer Erin Friday. “But after listening to the arguments from both sides, took the matter under submission. He also accepted petitioners’ alternative title and summary as part of his reconsideration of the matter.”