What you need to know About California’s Referendum Process and the Freezing of AB 257 as of December 9, 2022

The Save Local Restaurants coalition followed the constitutionally prescribed referendum process to ensure that voters have a say in the enactment of AB 257.

    • In support of the referendum, the Save Local Restaurants coalition submitted a petition signed by 1,004,492 California voters to county elections officials before the legally prescribed deadline.

    • On December 9, 2022, the Secretary of State notified county elections officials that enough signatures were submitted to trigger the random sample signature verification process. 

    • When the Secretary of State issued the notice on December 9, 2022, stating the referendum petition filed against AB 257 contained more than the minimum number of required signatures, pursuant to Article II of the California Constitution and consistent with the position taken by the Secretary of State and Attorney General in 2020, AB 257 became ineffective and unenforceable in its entirety as of that date. This includes, but is not limited to, the establishment of the Fast Food Council.

The Department of Industrial Relations announced it intends to move forward with implementing AB 257 while the referendum signature verification process is ongoing.

The coalition sent a letter to the Department of Industrial Relations to confirm they did not intend to take any action to implement AB 257 in light of the filed referendum petition. Unfortunately, the California Department of Industrial Relations stated they will begin implementing AB 257 on January 1, 2023, notwithstanding the timely-filed referendum petition containing over one million signatures.  

Over one million California voters signed a referendum petition, requiring the state to pause the implementation of AB 257. The number of signatures collected far exceeds the 623,212 required by law.

Under Article II, section 9(a) of the California Constitution, voters have the right to collect signatures and file a referendum against laws that they find objectionable. The California Supreme Court called the referendum process “ones of the state’s most precious rights of our democratic process” (Assoc. Home Builders, Inc. v. City of Livermore (1976) 18 Cal.3d 582, 591.)

When this happens, a law cannot go into effect until and unless it is approved by a majority of qualified California voters.


    • The referendum has been found to be “self-executing,” meaning referendum proponents possess the power to suspend an objectionable law from otherwise taking effect by completing the tasks that are within their control before the deadline to do so: collecting and filing the minimum number of signatures with county elections officials. (See, e.g., Dye v. Council of Compton (1947) 80 Cal.App.2d 486, 490-91.)

    • Time and again the California Supreme Court, and lower courts have ruled that a law cannot go into effect if a referendum petition is filed against it. (Assembly v. Deukmejian (1982) 30 Cal.3d 638, 656; City of Morgan Hill v. Bushey (2018) 5 Cal.5th 1068, 1082.

    • Just two years ago, the Secretary of State and Attorney General stipulated to a superior court judgment and order stating that once a referendum petition is filed against a statute, it cannot be enforced or given any effect while signature verification is ongoing.  (Joint Stip. and Order and Judgment, Agenbroad, et al. v. Padilla, et al., Case No. 34-2020-80003542 (Sacramento Super. Ct., Dec. 10, 2020).)

Ad paid for by Save Local Restaurants, a coalition of California small business owners, restaurateurs, franchisees, employees, consumers and community-based organizations. Committee major funding fromIn-N-Out BurgersChipotle Mexican GrillStarbucksFunding details at www.fppc.ca.gov