California Assembly should err on side of transparency, caution with Proposition 54

San Diego Union-Tribune

By the Editorial Board, June 5, 2017


Last November, California voters overwhelmingly passed Proposition 54, which requires the state Legislature to not vote on the “final version” of bills until the public has been given 72 hours to scrutinize the measures on the Internet. After decades of lawmakers slamming through far-reaching legislation on short notice with little or no deliberation, this was a badly needed corrective measure.

But now, instead of honoring what appears to be the clear intent of Proposition 54, the Assembly Democratic majority is citing what members see as ambiguity in the initiative’s language to justify refusing to provide the 72-hour window. They say “final version” refers to the version that is voted on that sends a measure to the governor’s desk — not the version that wins initial approval in the Assembly or Senate and then is sent to the other body. They use this interpretation to justify approving a reported 95 bills last week to the Senate with less than 72 hours of online notice.

The Senate’s Democratic leadership agrees with the interpretation but is choosing to follow the 72-hour requirement before taking final votes on measures that sends them on to the Assembly. This is apparently being done not as a nod to voters’ desire for transparency but as a cautionary measure — eventual lawsuits citing Proposition 54 could get laws thrown out if a judge did not agree with the Assembly’s legal opinion.

The former state lawmaker who led the push for Proposition 54 — Sam Blakeslee, a Republican from San Luis Obispo — blasted the Assembly’s actions, bemoaned its opposition to openness and vowed a court fight. Bring it on.

But in the meantime, if there is ambiguity in the law, Assembly Democrats should err on the side of transparency — instead of trying to see what they can get away with.