Legislature plans to close entrance to public, provide lobbyists special access

by John | January 18, 2016 9:44 am

capitol sacramentoThough it brands itself as “the people’s house,” the California State Capitol will soon become less accessible to the public, while continuing to provide lobbyists with “special access.”

Beginning February 1, the California state Legislature intends to convert its east entrance from public to “employee and lobbyist only,” according to an internal security memo from the Joint Rules Committee[1] obtained by CalWatchdog.com.

“The East door to the Capitol will be designated an ’employee and lobbyist only (with ID)’entrance,” the January 14 memo from the Joint Rules Committee states. “Entry into the Capitol from the North and South doors will still be available, however, only the East door will provide an expedited entry.”

Citizens Wait in Line, Lobbyists Speed Through the Queue

That means average citizens lobbying the state Legislature will be forced to wait in longer lines, while lobbyists are sped through the queue.

Debra Gravert, chief administrative officer of the Joint Rules Committee, confirmed the memo and policy change, saying it’s part of enhanced security measures.

“That door poses a huge security risk to the building,” she said. “Our only alternative was to close that door altogether.”

If security was the primary concern, why allow lobbyists special access to the entrance?

“They’re given special access to jump the line now,” Gravert told CalWatchdog.com. “The only lobbyists that can go through, have ID.”

De Leon, Atkins Promise Public Access to People’s House

KDL-Portrait-High-ResNeither Speaker of the Assembly Toni Atkins nor State Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon responded to CalWatchdog.com’s email requests for comment. However, both legislative leaders have vowed to make the Capitol building open and accessible to the public.

“Welcome to the California State Assembly — the people’s house,” Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, writes in a brochure on the state Assembly.[2] “I hope your visit to the State Capitol is a reminder that your voice has an impact on crafting California’s laws.”

De Leon, meanwhile, claims citizens are integral to the legislative process.

“An engaged citizenry is the bedrock of a thriving democracy,” de Leon promises on the state Senate’s homepage[3]. “We recognize not everyone can get to Sacramento to participate in the legislative process, so we’ll bring those hearings to you.”

Expedite Lobbyists, Press on Deadline

Gravert said that, for as long as she can remember, it has been a long-standing policy of the California state Legislature to provide special access to lobbyists.

Although the January 14 memo singled out lobbyists, Gravert says that credentialed members of approved media outlets will also be provided access to the east entrance. She said that special access is provided to lobbyists and credentialed members of approved media sources because they have already gone through a vetting process and are frequently on deadline.

That reason would contradict an unsigned letter from “Your State Senator.”

“While it is important that government be efficient,” promises “Your State Senator[4]” in an unsigned letter in a State Senate promotional pamphlet, “it is paramount that the laws of the state be fair and effective.”

Screen Shot 2016-01-15 at 1.19.46 PMPrevious legislative leaders have extolled the virtues of citizen lobbying and decried special treatment for lobbyists.

“In order to truly serve the people they were elected to represent, legislators need to hear from their constituents about important issues affecting their lives,” then-Speaker of the Assembly Fabian Nunez explained in a 2006 pamphlet, How to[5]
Lobby the California State Legislature[6]. “This activity, commonly known as ‘lobbying,’ is all too often associated with paid professionals or Capitol ‘insiders.’ The most common form of lobbying, however, is undertaken by average citizens.”

State Legislature’s War on Transparency

The state Constitution guarantees “the right of the people to hold their legislators accountable.” But, this isn’t the first time that the Joint Rules Committee has restricted access to the Capitol.

Amid last year’s debate over a controversial bill to require mandatory vaccinations, the Joint Rules Committee designated the north and south entrances as lobbyist and staff only.

“Due to the high volume of people expected to be entering the Capitol on Wednesday, April 22nd, the North and South entrances to the Capitol will have a designated staff/lobbyist line,” stated a memo, according the Sacramento Bee[7]. “You will need a legislative identification card to access these lines.”

In 2014, as first reported by CalNewsroom.com[8], the California state Senate scrubbed its website and deleted the online archives of three Democratic state Senators, who were facing criminal charges, ranging from weapons trafficking to public corruption.

In 2015, the state Assembly denied a Legislative Open Records Act[9] request for attendance records for Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez, D-Los Angeles. Gomez called in sick to the Assembly’s floor session to attend the L.A. Dodgers’ opening day, an excuse that would have entitled Gomez to his taxpayer-funded per diem.

Ironically, the Joint Rules Committee concluded its memo by thanking staff for “making a more secure Capitol for everyone.”

Joint Rules Committee Memo: Enhanced Safety and Security Measures

DATE: January 14, 2016

TO: All Assembly and Senate Employees

FROM: Joint Rules Committee

SUBJECT: Enhanced Safety & Security Measures for the Capitol & the Legislative Office Building
——————————————————————————————————————– (5) ———–

Effective February 1, 2016, the following new security procedures will be implemented. These new procedures are being put in place for the safety and security of the Members, Capitol employees, visitors and guests to the Capitol building.

Entering During Regular Business Hours (7:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.)

Entering After Regular Business Hours

As a reminder, employees should not allow others into the building as they are entering or exiting after regular business hours. If you are not comfortable with confronting individuals who ask you to hold the door open or swipe them in, please call CHP dispatch at 445-2895 to report it. It is strongly recommended that you program this number into your cell phone. Please be prepared to provide a detailed description of the individual(s) and/or any other information you think is relevant.

Legislative Office Building (LOB)

Access to the Capitol Basement Garage

If you have any questions or concerns, please contact the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Department at 651-4184 or the Assembly Sergeants-at-Arms Department at 319-2808.

Thank you for your cooperation in making a more secure Capitol for everyone.

  1. Joint Rules Committee: http://assembly.ca.gov/jointrules
  2. writes in a brochure on the state Assembly.: http://assembly.ca.gov/sites/assembly.ca.gov/files/Publications/csa_2015.pdf
  3. tate Senate’s homepage: http://senate.ca.gov
  4. Your State Senator: http://senate.ca.gov/sites/senate.ca.gov/files/the%20california%20senate.pdf
  5. How to: http://www.commoncause.org/fact-sheets/CA_061507_Guide_Lobbying_the_California_Legislature.pdf
  6. Lobby the California State Legislature: http://www.commoncause.org/fact-sheets/CA_061507_Guide_Lobbying_the_California_Legislature.pdf
  7. Sacramento Bee: http://www.sacbee.com/news/politics-government/capitol-alert/article19253199.html
  8. reported by CalNewsroom.com: http://www.calnewsroom.com/2014/04/06/california-state-senate-deletes-website-online-archives-of-3-disgraced-democrats/
  9. denied a Legislative Open Records Act: http://www.calnewsroom.com/2015/04/20/californias-legislative-open-records-act-is-a-joke/

Source URL: https://calwatchdog.com/2016/01/18/legislature-plans-close-entrance-public-provide-lobbyists-special-access/