Implementing Prop. 54
Just as the crafting of Prop. 54 was undertaken with great care and expertise, so too must the implementation of Prop. 54 be undertaken. Unfortunately, after rejecting the assistance of government reform experts, the State Legislature has failed to implement key provisions of the law to uphold transparency.
Shortly after California’s voters passed Prop. 54 into law, many of the groups that had helped develop and support the initiative reached out to the State Legislature to offer assistance with the implementation of the new Prop. 54 rules.
As legislative leaders were drafting their biennial Legislative Rules (the adopted procedures governing the proceedings of the Legislature), in December 2016, a coalition of government reform experts, advocates, and others, sent a letter offering advice on how to best incorporate the Prop. 54 requirements.
Flawed Legislative Rules
Unfortunately, legislative leaders in both houses (Assembly and Senate) proceeded to adopt Legislative Rules that either ignore Prop. 54’s requirements, or apparently misinterpret them. Conducting legislative proceedings based on these rules, therefore, could result in an explicit violation of the State Constitution and thusly invalidate the legislation that California lawmakers are trying to get passed into law.
For this reason, the same coalition of good-government groups hurried to warn of the Legislature of the defects in these adopted Legislative Rules, and recommend corrections to those defects, in a letter sent on April 3, 2017:
On April 19, 2017, the proponents of Prop. 54 published an editorial further explaining the importance of accurately implementing this new law.
Violation of Prop. 54
In June, the State Assembly passed more than 50 bills without observing the constitutional requirement that legislation must be printed, distributed to members, and published on the Internet at least 72 hours before a final vote. This is in clear violation of the transparency laws enacted by Prop. 54. This action stands in stark contrast to the Senate’s compliance with the 72-hour requirement regarding bills that it sent to the Assembly.
The Assembly’s bills are now pending in the Senate. So, the supporters of transparency wrote a letter to the leader of the Senate, alerting senators to the fact that they now have constitutionally deficient legislation in their house. The supporters of transparency also wrote a letter to the Governor to inform the Governor of these issues.
Current Defects in Legislative Rules
It is important that legislators fully understand how their recently adopted rules would mistakenly violate the constitutional laws enacted by the people of California:
- Rules adopted by the Assembly thus far (HR 1) misinterpret Prop. 54’s requirement for a 72-hour period of notice prior to voting on a bill on the floor of either house. And the Senate’s adopted rules (SR 4) do not contain an explicit 72-hour notice requirement at all.
- Both the Assembly and the Senate also adopted rules placing power in the hands of a few legislators to restrict the public’s right to record public meetings, when Prop. 54 explicitly says such restrictions can be approved only by a two-thirds vote of the Legislature. Prop. 54’s requirement of a two-thirds vote helps ensure that any such restrictions are absolutely reasonable and for the sole purpose of minimizing any disruptions to legislative proceedings.
The voters of California passed Prop. 54 to enhance transparency, with complete information about what Prop. 54 does and does not do. It is important that the Legislature faithfully carry out Prop. 54’s requirements, in accordance with how the law is written, and how the public expects it to be implemented. If the Legislature passes a bill that contradicts the provisions of Prop. 54, it could inadvertently invalidate the legislation.