Assembly, Senate embrace filing rule

Feb. 19, 2010


After a unanimous vote by the Assembly this week, a small administrative code revision will absolve state agencies of complying with reporting requirements deemed unnecessary or obsolete. The law, previously approved by a 35-0 Senate, is expected to save $5 million to $8 million in personnel hours every year, according to Assembly estimates.

In the past, most bills have included pro forma language requiring referent agencies to file reports with the legislature, and the state maintains a running total of those agencies which do not comply. According to that list, which is updated and available online, the number of outstanding reports currently exceeds 3,000 — and some have been overdue for more than 20 years.

The 429 agencies represented on the list range from city and county governments, to major state departments, to obscure commissions and boards. Some groups, like the Wine Commission, abolished in May 1990, no longer exist. Others, like the Committee on Dental Auxiliaries, have been absorbed by other state entities.

For some, the 3,000-entry “overdue” list indicates the dubious value of those reports in the legislative process.

“I’ve been in committee hearings that falter when groups have failed to provide requested information,” says chief deputy legislative counsel Daniel Weitzman. “But it wouldn’t be unfair to say that otherwise most reports go unnoticed.”

He added that annual budgeting presents one of the few opportunities for penalizing noncompliant groups.

Of the agencies contacted, most did not realize they had outstanding reports to file. Many said staff fluctuations make it difficult to track filing requirements.

“Before, the only way to take requirements off the books was to find a member to carry an [amendment] bill for us,” says Robert Puleo, interim executive officer of the state Board of Chiropractic Examiners, which appears on Legislative Counsel’s list of agencies with reports due. “The change will keep reporting requirements from getting stale.”

Under the new law, known to staff as AB 1585, sunset clauses must accompany those requirements — prohibiting indefinite reporting periods. The amendment will also delete hundreds of obsolete requests, cutting the Legislative Counsel’s list of overdue reports by half. It will not, staff note, affect state agencies’ required annual budget reports.

“AB 1585 will clean out the old, and require less paper-pushing. The public won’t see a list of material that is overdue when it should have been discontinued in the first place,” says Assemblyman De La Torre (D-South Gate), who chairs the Committee on Accountability and Administrative Review. Familiar from its recent report on the state’s $75 million in furniture and vehicle expenses, the committee introduced AB 1585 in July of last year.

Bills that reduce report-shuffling in the name of efficiency sometimes elicit criticism from sunshine advocates. In this case, however, staff say they have faced no objections to AB 1585 whatsoever.

“We are not removing any useful reports, and every agency is still required to do an annual report,” says De La Torre. “This bill clears a path to useful information.”

He added that any request to retain a report was granted by the bill’s authors.

CalAware, an organization which supports transparency and public forum discourse, did not return requests for comment.

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