California lawmakers are ignoring new transparency rules

Orange County Register

By the Editorial Board, April 11, 2017


Californians overwhelmingly passed Proposition 54 in November to increase legislative transparency. Some of the Legislature’s rules are already out of compliance.

On a large ballot with a number of highly contentious initiatives, Proposition 54, the California Legislature Transparency Act, was not so controversial. It passed with more than 65 percent of the vote, including a majority in all 58 counties, and enjoyed support from individuals and organizations of all political stripes.

Now, many of those same interests are sounding a warning that the Legislature is failing to implement the measure, which could lead not only to diminished transparency but also to confusion and delay over the passage of legislation.

Prop. 54 amended the California Constitution to require that bills — and amendments to bills — be made available to legislators and posted on the internet at least 72 hours prior to a vote to pass the legislation. In addition, individuals now have the right to record and broadcast all public legislative proceedings and, starting January 1, 2018, audiovisual recordings must be made for all proceedings, posted on the internet within 24 hours and maintained for public access for at least 20 years.

But according to a broad coalition of organizations that supported Prop. 54 — including the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, California Taxpayers Association, California Common Cause, CalPIRG, the National Federation of Independent Business/California, the League of Women Voters of California, California Forward and Californians Aware — the Legislature is not living up to its responsibilities under the measure. The groups detailed their misgivings last week in a letter to legislative leaders.

“As supporters of Proposition 54, we write to express our concerns with the Legislature’s implementation to date, which could inadvertently result in the invalidation of bills that the Legislature wishes to pass,” the coalition’s letter stated. “We urge the Legislature to promptly adopt stronger measures through its Joint Rules in order to prevent delay or disruption of essential governmental functions.”

In particular, the coalition noted that newly adopted Assembly rules would violate Prop. 54 because they do not require a 72-hour notice prior to voting on bills that have not yet been approved by the Senate. Senate rules refer to a customary 72-hour notice guideline, but do not explicitly state the new requirement.

Both chambers also fall short on the recording requirement. Current Senate rules improperly prohibit recording by the press, and an Assembly rule directs the Rules Committee to adopt certain restrictions on recording, despite the fact that Prop. 54 permits only “reasonable rules” to ensure that any recording does not disrupt proceedings  — and then only with a two-thirds vote concurring in each house.

The coalition notes that failure to comply with these provisions would mean that any bill approved would not pass constitutional muster, and thus would be at risk of bring invalidated.

Prop. 54 was rather unambiguous, as was the intent of the vast majority of voters who approved it just a few months ago. In the interest of transparency, and to forestall costly delays and litigation, the Assembly and Senate must immediately adjust their rules to comply with Prop. 54 and the will of the people.