How A Bill Becomes A Law

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Here's a tale of good governance: California State Sen. Deborah Ortiz (D-Sacramento) is working to change the recently passed Proposition 71 to ensure that "Californians" get their fair share of the handout. Writes the San Francisco Chronicle's Bernadette Tansey:

[Ortiz] said she will urge fellow legislators today—the first day back in session—to fix what she sees as serious defects in Proposition 71, which endanger the interests of taxpayers, California patients and research subjects.

Ortiz said she supported the $3 billion stem cell funding initiative backed by a private citizen's coalition because she saw it as the only chance to advance a promising medical technology that could lead to better disease treatments.

But she said she feels honor-bound to correct elements that "ought not to have been there" in the statute developed by Palo Alto real estate developer Robert Klein. "Now I have an obligation to fix it," she said.

Ortiz said nothing in the initiative guarantees that the funding windfall for corporate and academic research programs will also benefit Californians—either in the form of royalties to the state or as inexpensive access to the therapies that may result from the studies.

Whole story here, and worth reading for details on what problems Ortiz is trying to fix and why there's little chance of her fixing them. The language of Prop 71 makes it almost impossible for the state legislature to make changes once it's passed. All of this was known well before the initiative was voted on, was widely reported in the press, and provided important talking points for 71 opponents.

So the obvious question is why Ortiz supported the initiative. In fairness to Ortiz, this was a ballot inititative, not a bill before the legislature; I also expect we're probably better off minimizing the amount of the pork that goes to "Californians" rather than private companies, since private companies still have (a few) limitations on their ability to vote themselves yet more pork.

But why campaign for something that you don't agree with, on the off chance that you might be able to fix it once it gets passed (an even-more-off chance than usual in this case)? I think back to a debate I saw between Newt Gingrich and some Now-Forgotten Democrat in which, after the NFD complained that Gingrich was making a fuss over "some technical details" in some pending legislation, Gingrich fired back: "When this bill is passed these won't be technical details, they'll be the law of the land!" Ortiz can claim she didn't want to miss the chance to advance a new technology, but since when is advancing new technologies the first priority of a state senator? Considering that Prop 71 deals with medical issues, you'd think "do no harm" would have been a guiding principle for one of its most influential advocates.