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California Lawmakers Seek to Subvert Government Transparency

The state legislature is failing to heed the will of the voters.

California voters in November overwhelmingly passed Proposition 54, a constitutional amendment to promote transparency by requiring all bills in their "final form" to be published online for 72 hours before legislators vote on them. It's designed to stop last-minute gut-and-amend bills where the leadership pushes through substantive measures that haven't been vetted—or even read by most members who vote on them.

It's no secret that many legislative leaders dislike the proposal. For years, reform-minded lawmakers have proposed similar measures—but they never made it before the voters. Opponents of the rule say they are all for transparency, but that requiring such a long period of time for the public and critics to review all bills makes it difficult to get complicated and important measures put together as the legislative deadline approaches.

One would think that Prop. 54's passage would have settled the argument, but a fracas last week in the Assembly suggests that core debates over the measure are far from settled and might soon find themselves hammered out in court.

The Legislature adjourned June 2 following the deadline for bills to pass out of their house of origin. Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles), assured that bills coming from the Senate waited 72 hours before a final vote. But Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Paramount), is accused by Proposition 54's backers of allowing at least 89 bills to be voted on without having been published for a full 72 hours before the vote.

There's a question over terminology in the proposition's language: "No bill may be passed or ultimately become a statute unless the bill with any amendments has been printed, distributed to the members, and published on the internet, in its final form, for at least 72 hours before the vote, except that this notice period may be waived if the governor has submitted to the Legislature a written statement that dispensing with this notice period for that bill is necessary to address a state of emergency … ." The issue involves the term "final form."

The initiative's proponents say final form means the final form before a vote in each house of the Legislature. But the Assembly argues that final form "does not pertain to a vote to move a bill to the opposite house and instead applies to legislation presented on the floor of the second house," according to a Sacramento Bee explanation.

The chief clerk of the Assembly issued a statement explaining that "Assembly bills will not be in final form until they are presented on the floor of the Senate." Proponents of Prop. 54, including former state Sen. Sam Blakeslee (R-San Luis Obispo), and moderate Republican financier Charles Munger Jr., strongly disagree with that interpretation and say they might go to court to defend what they say is the clear intent of the initiative.

One element of Prop. 54 that's not in contention: The section finding that bills in violation of the 72-hour waiting period could be invalidated by the courts. That's where the latest fracas resembles a game of chicken. De Leon clearly wasn't taking any chances with his house's interpretation of the proposition's meaning. Rendon could have, say, passed a minor bill on a shorter notice as a test case to see how the courts would rule. Instead, if it's true that he didn't wait the full 72 hours for the votes, he may have put dozens of bills in jeopardy if the courts side with initiative drafters.

Supporters of the rule applying to both houses argue that it would be incomprehensible to give members of one legislative body (and their constituents) 72 hours to review a bill and deprive the same thing of members of the other legislative body.

Critics of the "both houses" interpretation suggest that Prop. 54's drafters could simply have included the language "in each house" following the words "final form." But the initiative's drafters believe the plain reading of the initiative means that every bill must be in print 72 hours before each vote. Including the "in each house" language could have been interpreted to mean 72 hours in each house (for a possible total of six days), something proponents clearly didn't intend.

The media have been hard on the Assembly for its approach. "The Assembly's action is unsavory but unsurprising," opined the Mercury News in a recent editorial. "In April they adopted house rules that baldly ignored the will of the electorate by not requiring 72 hours' notice on bills that had not yet passed the Senate. ... There's no basis for the Assembly's interpretation. It is neither in the spirit nor the letter of the law that Prop. 54 voters intended."

It's increasingly likely this dispute ends up at the state Supreme Court, with the stakes higher than ever. It will pit the intent of an initiative that passed by a nearly two-to-one margin and in all of California's 58 counties against 89 or so recently passed bills, which could possibly be tossed aside even if the governor signs them.

This article originally appeared in Calwatchdog.

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  • John C. Randolph||

    It's no secret that many legislative leaders dislike the proposal.

    Most goddamned weasels don't like anyone knowing what they're up to.

    -jcr

  • gaoxiaen||

    Is even six days enough to read and understand the implications of a (possibly very long, in legalese) bill? I think not.

  • Will Nonya||

    Much less 89 of them.

  • prolefeed||

    Three days is enough time. I've done the crunch time stuff in Hawaii, where the legislators passed the bills out among the staff, and we banged out analyses in one day, and then the next day the legislators and staff met in caucus and went through all the bills one by one.

    It would much be harder if the legislators had no staff, as in Utah, but still doable. Way better than tossing a bill amended behind closed doors on the rest of the legislators, and then telling them they vote on it in ten minutes.

  • dchang0||

    I expect then that legislative leaderships would try to game the system by overwhelming crunch time.

  • Robert||

    Staff?! What about their constituents?

    Seems to me "or ultimately become a statute" muddied the water.

  • SIV||

  • Jerryskids||

    IIRC, it was the Utah lege that gutted the ballot initiative on asset forfeiture reform, in the subsequent lawsuit over the lege changing a law the people themselves had mandated, the courts ruled that ballot initiatives are laws just like any other that can be changed at the whim of the lege. If the Cali lege doesn't like Prop 54, they don't have to keep Prop 54.

  • brady949||

    Prop 54 was passed as a constitutional amendment.

  • buybuydandavis||

    Peasants and their ballot initiatives! When will they ever learn?

  • damikesc||

    Given that these slugs keep getting re-elected, the voters aren't that serious about transparency.

  • BYODB||

    True enough. It's like the California voters really like the politician they have if only they could 'tweak' a few things about them. It's baffling, really.

  • simplybe||

    This should ample evidence that the ruling caste could care less what the voters want.

  • Ron||

    "makes it difficult to get complicated and important measures put together as the legislative deadline approaches."

    This assumes there is a deadline required to be meet but other than natural disaster emergencies there are no deadlines in law making. But thats how representatives make themselves feel important by using imaginary deadlines and end up creating bad laws but bad laws are good since it gives them reasons to make more laws in a timely fashion to fix their own screw up.

  • brady949||

    Prop 54 was one of the most meaningless "reforms" I've ever seen.

  • XM||

    America must be one of the few nations on earth in which the mainland population has doubts about acquiring new territory - even though said territory WANTS to join them.

    China, Japan and Korea are in dispute over tiny little islands that can't do anything for them.

  • ||

    061671 California Lawmakers Seek to Subvert Government Transparency.

    and the point of the article is ??? Nothing. While the point should be California Lawmakers who Seek to Subvert Government Transparency should be arrested and prosecuted.

    Because the Hate America to Destruction Ameri'Kan Politi'Kal Klass operatives occupying the offices of the State of California = Federal - State - County - local government employees Know that the voters in the state of California will and always do return them to office regardless of how the people vote for on anything...

    I think it was the State voters Favorite, Candidate Clinton, who's husband said electing the same candidates over and over and expecting different results is "stupid.'

    Wild Bill did have a solid grasp to few things; such as, stupid voting. ,

  • ||

    061671 California Lawmakers Seek to Subvert Government Transparency.

    and the point of the article is ??? Nothing. While the point should be California Lawmakers who Seek to Subvert Government Transparency should be arrested and prosecuted.

    Because the Hate America to Destruction Ameri'Kan Politi'Kal Klass operatives occupying the offices of the State of California = Federal - State - County - local government employees Know that the voters in the state of California will and always do return them to office regardless of how the people vote for on anything...

    I think it was the State voters Favorite, Candidate Clinton, who's husband said electing the same candidates over and over and expecting different results is "stupid.'

    Wild Bill did have a solid grasp to few things; such as, stupid voting. ,

  • buybuydandavis||

    California Lawmakers Seek to Subvert Government Transparency
    The state legislature is failing to heed the will of the voters.

    Bwahahahaha!

    The Ruling Reptiles told the peasants to go fuck themselves on Prop 187. Once the Progressives had imported a replacement voting population for one party rule, why do any of the CA peasants think their "propositions" will ever matter again?

    It will be interesting to see how long it takes for CA to become Detroit. Refusing to prosecute crime to avoid deportations should speed up the process.

  • Tionico||

    I can only think of two reasons that 72 hour rule could be a probem:

    One, far too many bills have been held close to the chests of unscrupulous lawmakers until the last minute precisely for the purpose of keeping the dirty bills from "leaking" and raising public ire, and Two, those louts are so preoccupied with all manner of stupid nonsense wasteful tyrannical bills, using up so much of their allotted time to get things done they run out of time. How much time have these clowns wasted warting about things like that high speed rail in Central Calif, or how about the myriad insane illegal "common sense gun control laws" they try and figure how to ram down the unsuspecting throats of their constituents?
    Its about time the PEOPLE of California rise up and begin to think about holding their legislators' feet to the fire.

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