Three California legislators have teamed up to try to stop their colleagues from stripping the text out of legislation and replacing it with unrelated verbiage, preventing any real scrutiny.
Not surprisingly, the proposed constitutional amendment has met with resistance from other legislators — especially the kind of legislators who would prefer their constituents not know what really goes on in Sacramento.
The corrective legislation would require that Assembly and Senate bills be in print at least three days before going to a vote. But in one of the weakest arguments ever offered, a staff report from the Assembly Budget Committee complains the three days could kill enthusiasm for important legislation and allow those crafty lobbyists to do their dirty work.
“This time can allow the resolve for action to dissipate, and special interests can exert pressure and work to block carefully crafted agreements,” the committee report, offered in defiance of history and common sense.
We’re talking about three days. Three days for the public, the press, watchdog groups and everyone else to take a look. As opposed to the status quo, which provides for zero days.
As it stands, bills struggling for support are simply stripped of their language and new text is inserted on a different topic. The practice intensifies in the closing days of the legislative session, when “gut-and-amend” becomes standard procedure. Examples include new language that provided for accelerated review of for large construction projects, such as a proposed NFL stadium in Los Angeles and an amended bill that delayed collection of sales taxes from online retailers.
The switcheroos prevented environmentalists from studying the impact of the construction bill and stopped brick-and-mortar retailers from weighing in on the tax measure.
“Some things slip through the cracks, mistakes are made, too many laws lead to unexpected consequences,” said state Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, who introduced the reform bill along with Assembywoman Kristin Olsen, R-Modesto, and Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord.
The Senate version of the bill is SCA10 and the Assembly version is ACA4. Either would need a two-thirds vote in the Legislature to get onto a public ballot in the fall. It is a very good bill that deserves widespread support. New York requires a three-day review period for all bills and Hawaii requires two.
The public has made it clear that it wants an end to backroom deals and to legislation written by and for the benefit of moneyed special interests. Our legislators have ignored public sentiment, however, and now seem to be doing most of their business outside public view. In fact, it shouldn’t shock anyone if this attempt at transparency isn’t hijacked and turned into legislation meant to keep the public even more in the dark.