LOS ANGELES, Calif.–Backers of an attempt to overturn a law that would limit statewide initiative and referendums to November general elections or special elections were given approval today to begin gathering signatures by Secretary of State Debra Bowen.

Valid signatures from 504,760 registered voters–5 percent of the total votes cast for governor in the 2010 general election–must be submitted by Jan. 5 to qualify the referendum for the ballot.

Opponents have said SB 202 curbs the public’s right to participate in the initiative process. The way it passed the Legislature–through a process known as gut-and-amend–also drew criticism.

“SB 202 exemplifies the evils of end-of-session gut-and-amends,” Sen. Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, said Sept. 10, hours following its passage on a party-line vote, with no Republicans voting in its favor.

“This bill, which was amended into a completely different bill yesterday, did not receive a committee hearing and it was not subject to adequate public discussion before it was passed late tonight. This bill makes a mockery of the legislative process.

“I think the Legislature is very aware of how unpopular stripping direct democracy rights from the people is. That is why this bill was passed at 1 a.m., after the press has returned to their offices to meet their deadlines.”

Sen. Lori Hancock, D-Oakland, the bill’s author, called it “simply good government.”

“Ballot initiatives have a tremendous impact on the lives of Californians,” Hancock said Oct. 7, following Gov. Jerry Brown’s signing SB 202. “They should be voted on by the largest number of possible voters.”