Legislature guts another transparency bill

May 2, 2013

By Katy Grimes

CA spending transparency, Cagle, March 31, 2013

SACRAMENTO — In a move which disregarded the very issue in the bill, Assembly Budget Subcommittee No. 6 killed an important transparency bill Tuesday before it was even heard.

Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen, R- Modesto, hadn’t even testified on ACA 4, which she authored, before the bill was sent to the suspense file by the committee. This tactic prevented the committee members from even voting for or against increasing transparency in state government.

ACA 4 would require that proposed legislation be in print for 72 hours before a vote can be taken. This would allow lawmakers and the public to review and analyze bills before they are voted on.

“It was disappointing to learn, before we even began testimony, that the bill would be moved to the suspense file, where most bills effectively go to die,” said Olsen in a statement immediately following the hearing. “However, I intend keep working with members of the committee to address concerns and make sure that Californians have the open and transparent government that they deserve.”

State Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, who is carrying the identical SCA 10, in the Senate, testified in support of the measure, but left the hearing right after her testimony, leaving Olsen to field sometimes antagonistic questioning.

ACA 4/SCA 10

ACA 4 and SCA 10 would place a measure on the ballot to allow voters to change the California Constitution to require all bills to be in print for 72 hours before legislators could vote on them.

New York and Florida already have similar laws in place, Olsen said.

Every year the California Legislature is faced with thousands of proposed bills. After extensive public review and input in legislative committees, the Legislature approves most of these bills, which then go to the governor for his signature.

Olsen said that too many bills forgo extensive public review due to the gut-and-amend process, by which the language of one bill is “gutted” and replaced with something entirely new. Usually the process occurs in the last days of the legislative session, so bills receive little or no review before being voted on.

“Unfortunately, there is an increasing trend for the Legislature to forgo the usual process and approve a brand-new law with no public review at all,” said Olsen. “Some bills are passed and sent to the governor before even we legislators have had the time to read them or to hear from our constituents. This needs to stop.”

Committee Chairman, Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield, D-Los Angeles, and Assemblywoman Holly Mitchell, D-San Bernardino, challenged Olsen on the need for the bill, claiming that the process already works, and inferred that more transparency would not necessarily be a good thing.

Olsen said critics of her proposal claim the current legislative process actually needs more secrecy to protect against special interests who will pressure the Legislature not to approve important laws that are unpopular but necessary.

“If that is the case, why have public hearings at all?” Olsen asked. “The truth is that the very special interests who oppose sunshine are the same ones who thrive in the back room, where only they are allowed.”

Surprisingly, given the importance of the bill, other than myself there were no media at the hearing.

Gutting transparency

Too often, the gut-and-amend process happens on the way to a bill.

Gut-and-amend bills can be particularly insidious. This secretive process often leaves lawmakers, as well as the public, little or no time to review entirely new legislation dropped into an old bill. And usually, the subject of the legislation has nothing to do with the bill’s previous legislative issue.

Gut-and-amend typically happens with budget issues and heavy special interest legislation. Lawmakers have complained loudly for years that the gut-and-amend process has been grossly abused by whichever party is in power.

Olsen said this problem can be fixed once and for all by amending the California Constitution, instead of through piecemeal legislation which can easily be bypassed.

Sunlight is the best disinfectant

“One hundred years ago, in 1913, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis wrote that ‘sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants,’ an idea that led to the concept of sunshine in government,” Olsen wrote in a recent op-ed. “Brandeis also wrote, ‘the most important political office is that of private citizen.’ The three-day-in-print rule recognizes both of his observations.”

Supporters at the hearing for ACA 4 included Philip Ung from Common Cause, Paul Smith from the Rural County Representatives of California, Jim Ewert of the California Newspaper Publishers Association, and Dan Carrigg of the League of California Cities.

There was no opposition to the bill, and the committee analysis was wobbly. The analysis supported Blumenfield’s and Mitchell’s argument that the legislature should have minimum transparency, and is not subject to the transparency requirements required of state agencies.

The bill will only come off the suspense file if and when the committee decides to take it up again, said Olsen.

“Open government and public participation is at the heart of our democratic process,” Olsen said. “Transparency and public participation are the best safeguards against special interest self-dealing and bad lawmaking.”

1 comment

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  1. us citizen
    us citizen 2 May, 2013, 17:49

    Well those thieving dems cant let anyone know what they are up to, can they?

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