Judge orders change in Proposition 54 ballot summary

LOS ANGELES -- A judge ordered that the ballot summary for Proposition 54 be changed, saying it does not accurately portray the measure's potential effect on medical research.

The statewide initiative backed by University of California regent Ward Connerly would block public agencies from collecting and using many types of racial data.

It would provide an exemption for "medical research subjects and patients," but opponents say the measure could prevent officials from collecting and other health-related data, such as surveys on smoking and disease.

The existing ballot summary said the exemption applies to "all medical and health-care subject matter."

Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Gail D. Ohanesian said Friday that the language was too broad. She ordered that it be replaced with the language in the initiative.

Maria Blanco, an attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said the ruling "tells the average voter that this exemption is very narrow and they need to worry about it if it passes."

But Diane Schachterle, a spokeswoman for the campaign supporting Proposition 54, said the exemption would allow racial data to be collected for medical purposes.

About 40 people, including local leaders and health officials, rallied Friday at Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center in South Los Angeles to protest the measure.

Jonathan Fielding, director of public health for the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, said racial data has helped doctors deal with health issues linked to race, including the higher rate of sudden infant death syndrome among blacks.

"If this measure were passed, it would set our public health efforts back 200 years," Fielding said.

Democrats said the measure could lead to more racial discrimination in the state.

Assembly Speaker Herb Wesson and Los Angeles County Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke said it would prevent the collection of data that could show whether minorities are well-served by government. Data could be used, for example, to examine whether police single out for minorities for traffic stops.


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