Calderon Pushing Hinky 'Gut-Amend' Bill

JULY 11, 2011


A bill just signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown is apparently being reincarnated — but for what purpose is known only to the bill’s author and perhaps Democratic Party leadership.

AB 155, by Assemblyman Charles Calderon (D-Whittier), created a sales and use tax on Internet purchases. The bill was wrapped into budget bill AB 1X 28, along with two other Internet tax bills, and signed into law by Gov. Brown on June 29, causing Amazon to terminate the contracts of 25,000 Amazon California affiliates.

But last Wednesday, Calderon’s bill was on the agenda in the Senate Governance and Finance Committee.  This means that Calderon’s staff is spending time on advancing the bill. And Senate Governance and Finance committee staff are spending time on the bill.

At the hearing, Calderon was asked why he was still pushing AB 155 after the governor already signed the budget bill. He said it was so he could continue to get press coverage on something that is an “identity issue” for him.

Political Courage Test

Interestingly, Project Vote Smart reports that Calderon did not provide answers to the California State Legislative Election Political Courage Test. The test provides voters with an idea how a candidate would vote on the issues if elected.

“Assembly Member Charles M. Calderon refused to tell citizens where he/she stands on any of the issues addressed in the 2010 Political Courage Test, despite repeated requests from Vote Smart, national media, and prominent political leaders. This candidate has demonstrated 0% courage during the test,” according to the Vote Smart website.

This might partially explain why Calderon’s office is not talking about why the Assemblyman is really still pushing the bill, as several calls and emails to his legislative staff were not returned.

The Senate governance committee was rather mum as well, despite a new committee analysis that speaks volumes: “On June 29th, Governor Brown signed AB 1X 28  (Blumenfield) which the identical provisions to AB 155  as well as the provisions of AB 153  (Skinner) and SB 234 (Hancock). The Committee may wish to consider the wisdom of advancing a bill that is already law.”

Some Capitol insiders speculate that Calderon wants to use the bill as an empty vessel until the current session ends in order to “gut and amend” it.

However, according to several Capitol staffers, even the Democrats are scratching their heads over this. And they wouldn’t do that if there really was a clear purpose for the bill.

If there is a purpose, only a few people know about it, and they aren’t talking.

There are always lots of empty-vessel bills lying about the Capitol for end-of-session “gut and amend” actions. What is particularly bizarre about this is that legislators and staff don’t need to go through committee hearings and waste staff time on a bill that is already law. It’s an unnecessary expenditure of thousands of dollars — especially since they all have introduced spot bills sitting idle in both houses for just the purpose of gutting and amending.

Capitol staff say that only Calderon and Democratic Sen. Lois Wolk (Davis), Chair of the governance and Finance committee, know why.

One long-time Capitol staffer who asked to remain anonymous said, “This was first time I’ve seen this in my decade plus.”

Gut and Amend

The “gut and amend” practice has been used in the California legislative process for many decades as a way to get things passed which can’t be done using the traditional legislative process.

Used during the final days of a legislative session, “gut and amend” is what occurs when the entire contents of a bill are gutted, and replaced with new language that is often not even remotely similar to the old bill.

Some argue that the practice is effective. But opponents argue that the practice is a sneaky way to slip bad bills through, without transparency or even public input.

Calderon’s AB 155 reincarnation is feeling more like the latter — particularly when his office will not talk about the intent.

And with no one wanting to speak on-the-record, there is something hinky going on — or should I say, something else is going on, even hinkier than usual at the Capitol.


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