Proposed reforms would let lawmakers — and the public — see what's in a bill before it goes to a vote. That would be a radical departure from last-minute shenanigans.
By George Skelton Capitol Journal | http://lat.ms/Y0LnKF
January 23, 2013, 9:20 p.m. :: SACRAMENTO — Imagine a lawmaker being allowed to read a proposed law before voting on it.
For that matter — and this seems like a stretch — try to envision the public being offered an opportunity to express its view on a bill before legislators vote.
Granted, this is a radical concept — at least during the final secretive, skulking days of a legislative session. We're talking usually late summer, although legislative sleight-of-hand can occur anytime, including the dead of winter.
"Can you imagine the mischief that would stop?" says Sen. Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana).
Correa is a coauthor of newly introduced, bipartisan legislation that would impose a three-day waiting period on final passage of a bill
Historically, legislators not only have tweaked but twisted bills into unrecognizable shape right up until the final gavel falls adjourning a session, leaving most lawmakers little time to think about what they're voting on.
Lobbyists and legislators meet in crannies of Capitol corridors, patching together laws. Halls are cluttered with smelly, empty pizza boxes discarded by anxious lobbyists. Cold coffee splashes from soggy cups.
Bleary-eyed legislators sag in their chamber seats, waiting for a printed bill to vote on.
Maybe there's a brief, perfunctory committee hearing on a substantially amended bill in a small room behind the chamber, just for the record. Certainly not for the public, because there was only five minutes' notice.
"We get these 'midnight specials,' " says Correa, a moderate Democrat from a competitive district who doesn't always vote with his party. "They're writing this stuff as fast as the copiers will let them. We get a 200-page document with all kinds of markings and deletions.
"That's not the optimum way to make laws....
"It's in that midnight hour that the lobbyists make their living."
Says Sen. Lois Wolk (D-Davis), who heads the important Governance and Finance Committee: "There are a whole host of lobbyists who simply wait until the end of a session, then come out. You see them. The big guns. They manage the bills themselves. It's all gut and amend."
Gut and amend is the common, ugly practice of gutting a bill that has gone through open committee hearings and a floor vote — just like it calls for in the textbooks — and amending it with entirely new content. Maybe even different subject matter. Rules are suspended. Public scrutiny is avoided.
"Sometimes we don't even have the [bill] text in front of us," Wolk says. "When I try to explain to people what happens in the last weeks of a session — and the very poor pieces of legislation that emerge — they're shocked."
Wolk, Correa and three other legislators are proposing the three-day waiting period. The others are Senate GOP leader Bob Huff of Diamond Bar, Sen. Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord) and Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen (R-Modesto).
Their proposed constitutional amendment would have to be approved by a two-thirds vote of the Legislature — a long shot — and then the California electorate.
It would require that all legislation be in print and online for 72 hours before either house could vote final passage. Bills responding to a state of emergency declared by the governor would be exempt.
I used to think this was a naïve idea — a great concept in abstract, but unworkable in the practical world of effective legislating. A governor and Legislature should always be allowed to reach last-minute compromises, I wrote.
But I've concluded it's a reform whose time has come, especially with increasing one-party rule in California and the Democrats' newly won supermajorities in both legislative houses. There needs to be some break to slow down Democratic steamrollers.
There still would be last-minute compromises, but they'd be moved up 72 hours to allow all legislators and the public to examine the deal.
"A lot of members probably wouldn't look at the bill, but they'd have no excuse," Huff says.
Now at the end of sessions, the GOP leader says, "we operate under rules we sometimes invent on the fly….
"We don't know that some sneaky staff member or lobbyist has sneaked something in a bill. We're stuck with what's actually in the bill rather than what we thought was there."
He adds, "We may get fewer bills passed. That's possible. But I don't see that as a bad thing."
It would be a very good thing. During the last two-year session, the Legislature passed nearly 1,900 bills.
The three-day waiting period was proposed last year by a reform group called California Forward. It sponsored a ballot initiative, Proposition 31, which was soundly rejected. But the measure had other elements that were controversial and convoluted.
The new legislation also contains another needed provision: allowing legislative committees to begin acting on bills 15 days after they're introduced, rather than 30 days. That would speed up legislating and give lawmakers something to do in January.
There's too much time wasted because of an outdated snail mail — actually horse-and-buggy — rule that requires adequate public notice. It's a license to procrastinate. And the rule is routinely ignored anyway whenever the legislative leadership chooses.
No one is under the illusion that this proposal will sail through the Legislature. "I hope we'll get a hearing," says Wolk, somewhat facetiously.
"Transparency is part of democracy," asserts Olsen, a former Modesto City Council member who notes that local governments operate under strict open-meeting laws.
"We should be encouraging civic engagement rather than trying to find ways to avoid it."
As the U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously observed: "Sunlight is the best disinfectant."
On Cal lawmakers propose 72-hour posting of bills before final votes
Patrick McGreevy, LA Times PolitiCal | http://lat.ms/WWD6oc
January 23, 2013 | 8:00 am :: A bipartisan group of California lawmakers concerned by the past rushing of legislation has proposed asking voters to require all bills to be in print and online for 72 hours before final passage.
Sen. Lois Wolk (D- Davis) and Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen (R-Modesto) have introduced identical bills with the aim of improving transparency in the Legislature.
Wolk noted that in the last two-year session, the Legislature considered nearly 5,000 bills. "While most of those proposals were publicly shared and well-vetted, some were not,” Wolk said. "Last-minute changes to bills can leave legislators unsure of what they are voting on, and prevent the public from weighing in on proposals."
Her Senate Constitutional Amendment 10 is jointly authored by Senate Republican leader Bob Huff (R-Diamond Bar) and Sen. Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana), and coauthored by Olsen and Sen. Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord).
Assemblyman Mike Morrell (R-Rancho Cucamonga) previously introduced a bill requiring all budget bills to be posted on the Internet for three days before action. The constitutional amendments introduced by Wolk and Olsen would apply to all legislation, including budget bills.
“Californians are largely cynical about their state government and these bills will help increase better decision making and accountability,” said Olsen, who introduced Assembly Constitutional Amendment 4.
Senate Constitutional Amendment No. 10
Introduced by Senators Wolk, Correa, and Huff
(Principal coauthor: Senator DeSaulnier)
(Principal coauthor: Assembly Member Olsen)
January 22, 2013
Senate Constitutional Amendment No. 10—A resolution to propose to the people of the State of California an amendment to the Constitution of the State, by amending Section 8 of Article IV thereof, relating to the Legislature.
LEGISLATIVE COUNSEL’S DIGEST
SCA 10, as introduced, Wolk. Legislative procedure.
The California Constitution prohibits a bill other than the Budget Bill from being heard or acted on by a committee or either house of the Legislature until the 31st day after the bill is introduced, unless the house dispenses with this requirement by rollcall vote entered in the journal, 3⁄4 of the membership concurring.
This measure would add an additional exception to this 31-day waiting period by authorizing a committee to hear or act on a bill if the bill, in the form to be considered by the committee, has been in print and published on the Internet for at least 15 days.
Existing provisions of the California Constitution prohibit either house of the Legislature from passing a bill until the bill with amendments has been printed and distributed to the Members.
This measure would also prohibit either house of the Legislature from passing a bill until the bill, in the form to be voted on, has been made available to the public, in print and published on the Internet, for at least 72 hours preceding the vote. This requirement would not apply to specified urgency bills upon the submission by the Governor to the Legislature of a written statement that it is necessary to dispense with the requirement to address a state of emergency declared by the Governor.
Vote: 2⁄3. Appropriation: no. Fiscal committee: no. State-mandated local program: no.
P2 1Resolved by the Senate, the Assembly concurring, That the
2Legislature of the State of California at its 2013-14 Regular
3Session commencing on the third day of December, two-thirds of
4the membership of each house concurring, hereby proposes to the
5people of the State of California that the Constitution of the State
6be amended as follows:
That Section 8 of Article IV thereof is amended to read:
(a) At regular sessions no bill other than the budget
9bill may be heard or acted on by committee or either house until
10the 31st day after the bill is introduced
begin delete unless theend delete
13house dispenses with this requirement by rollcall vote entered in
14the journal, three fourths of the membership concurring.
18(b) The Legislature may make no law except by statute and
19may enact no statute except by bill. No bill may be passed unless
20it is read by title on
begin delete 3end delete days in each house except that begin delete theend delete
21 house may dispense with this requirement by rollcall vote entered
22in the journal,
begin delete two thirdsend delete of the membership concurring.
23No bill may be passed until the bill with amendments has been
24printed and distributed to the members. No bill may be passed
25unless, by rollcall vote entered in the journal, a majority of the
26membership of each house concurs.
27(2) (A) No bill may be passed in either house until the bill, in
28the form to be voted on, has been made available to the public, in
29print and published on the Internet, for at least 72 hours before
31(B) This paragraph does not apply to a bill that contains an
32urgency clause if the Governor submits to the Legislature a written
33statement, for that bill, that dispensing with the requirement in
34subparagraph (A) is necessary to address a state of emergency
35declared by the Governor. “Emergency,” for the purposes of this
P3 1paragraph, has the same meaning as in paragraph (2) of
2subdivision (c) of Section 3 of Article XIII B and does not include
3a fiscal emergency declared pursuant to Section 10 of this article.
4(c) (1) Except as provided in paragraphs (2) and (3)
begin delete of this end delete
begin deletesubdivisionend delete, a statute enacted at a regular session shall go into
6effect on January 1 next following a 90-day period from the date
7of enactment of the statute and a statute enacted at a special session
8shall go into effect on the 91st day after adjournment of the special
9session at which the bill was passed.
10(2) A statute, other than a statute establishing or changing
11boundaries of any legislative, congressional, or other election
12district, enacted by a bill passed by the Legislature on or before
13the date the Legislature adjourns for a joint recess to reconvene in
14the second calendar year of the biennium of the legislative session,
15and in the possession of the Governor after that date, shall go into
16effect on January 1 next following the enactment date of the statute
17unless, before January 1, a copy of a referendum petition affecting
18the statute is submitted to the Attorney General pursuant to
19subdivision (d) of Section 10 of Article II, in which event the
20statute shall go into effect on the 91st day after the enactment date
21unless the petition has been presented to the Secretary of State
22pursuant to subdivision (b) of Section 9 of Article II.
23(3) Statutes calling elections, statutes providing for tax levies
24or appropriations for the usual current expenses of the State, and
25urgency statutes shall go into effect immediately upon their
27(d) Urgency statutes are those necessary for immediate
28preservation of the public peace, health, or safety. A statement of
29facts constituting the necessity shall be set forth in one section of
30the bill. In each house the section and the bill shall be passed
31separately, each by rollcall vote entered in the journal,
begin delete two thirdsend delete
32 of the membership concurring. An urgency statute may
33not create or abolish any office or change the salary, term, or duties
34of any office, or grant any franchise or special privilege, or create
35any vested right or interest.