ACA25 is wrong for California
By JON COUPAL
Times are strange indeed when the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association finds itself fighting on the same side as left-leaning organizations such as Voices for Progress, Common Cause and the ACLU. The saying that politics makes for strange bedfellows is never more true than in times of crisis and confusion.
When the COVID-19 virus descended on California, it caused near panic throughout the state. Because we knew so little, our elected leaders were probably justified in heeding the advice of health officials who recommended strict shelter-in-place orders.
Among the institutions placed on lockdown was the California Legislature. The emergency necessitated immediate action back in March, but on June 10, when lawmakers returned to the Capitol, the California Assembly quickly passed Assembly Constitutional Amendment 25 to address how the legislature would operate during a statewide emergency in the future.
Proving the adage that “haste makes waste,” ACA25 was rushed through the Assembly in only three weeks. By the time transparency advocates were aware of what was happening, they had little opportunity to analyze it or provide meaningful commentary. The proposed constitutional amendment is now pending in the California Senate. Without mincing words, ACA25 lays waste to the notion of legislative transparency.
First, as currently worded, ACA25 authorizes both houses of the legislature to use proxy voting, which is a clear danger to representative democracy. Allowing persons who are not elected to vote on behalf of citizens weakens the deliberative process and negates the electorate’s ability to hold their officials accountable for votes they did not personally take.
Second, although the chance is remote of a statewide catastrophe where one-fifth of the members of a House are “deceased, disabled, or missing,” under those circumstances ACA25 would allow appointment of substitute members by some process to be determined by a majority-vote statute. The lack of clarity in this provision is an invitation for mischief, especially in an emergency. For example, the majority party could pass a statute over the minority party’s objection, allowing appointments of individuals that neither live in the district nor are even of the same party as the legislator they are replacing.
Moreover, the terms “disabled” and “missing” in ACA25 are not clearly defined and should be replaced with more precise language, such as “incapacitated” and “presumed deceased.” Legislators with disabilities can and do cast votes now. And “missing” must be defined in a way that does not theoretically allow legislators to be replaced in circumstances where, for example, they purposefully skip town.
Third, ACA25 lowers the quorum requirement to a majority of members “able to attend” when more than one-fifth of a House’s members have been incapacitated. This could permit a small minority of the state’s elected representatives to make laws of permanent duration affecting the entire state.
We find it odd that, at the same time legislators didn’t show up for work within the confines of their place of employment, construction workers were busy outside building the new legislative office building that, when complete, will serve as a temporary Capitol annex while the original annex is demolished and rebuilt.
We’re hopeful that the broad spectrum of interest groups supporting legislative transparency can convince the Senate this week to either reject or substantially amend ACA25 in a way that does not return to the days when the Legislature operated in darkness.
Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.