The tortuous effort to move California's presidential primary from the back to the front of the 1992 nomination calendar took another step foward -- and another step back -- in the state legislature this week.

The forward step came when a state Assembly-Senate committee approved a proposal Wednesday that would place California's presidential primary on March 2 -- a week after New Hampshire's traditional first-in-the-nation primary. The measure must be approved by both chambers and signed by Gov. George Deukmejian (R).

Under the bill's provisions, California would vote only for president in March and would retain its normal early June date for primaries for state and local offices.

But therein lies the seeds of a problem. State Senate Minority Leader Ken Maddy (R) is concerned that initiatives could be placed on the presidential-only primary ballot and voted on by an electorate that is tilted strongly Democratic since only Democrats are likely to have a contested presidential primary in 1992.

"California's enchantment with initiatives may be the very thing that kills the early primary," said Bob Forsyth, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader David Roberti (D).

Forsyth said lawmakers will decide by next week whether to pass a constitutional amendment to prohibit initiatives from being on presidential-only primary ballots. But, he added "the betting is that voters won't go along with restricting their initiative rights."