State Assembly doesn’t get idea of doing will of people

East Bay Times

By the Editorial Board, June 10, 2017


Last November, California voters overwhelmingly approved a state constitutional amendment prohibiting the state Legislature from voting on bills before their language has been made public for at least 72 hours.

There should be no confusion about Proposition 54’s intent, which was to raise government transparency and accountability by giving lawmakers more time to hear what their constituents think of what they’re doing.

In fact, the intent was so clear that, of course, the Legislature’s two houses have taken voters’ wishes to heart, right?

If you said “Wrong,” your cynicism is well-founded.

Ten days ago, amid a flurry of last-minute action, it was discovered that the Assembly voted on 95 bills whose final language had been set less than 72 hours earlier.

The Sacramento Bee reported that the bills in question include ones that would repeal a law that made it a crime to use fake documents to conceal citizenship status; another would bar the state from contracting with private, out-of-state prisons; and yet another would make it harder for employers to reject job-seekers based on their criminal records.

If those and other bills approved by the Assembly go on to be passed by the Senate too and are signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, their constitutionality could be challenged in court.

Sam Blakeslee, a Republican former legislator from San Luis Obispo who co-sponsored Prop. 54 with activist Charles Munger, said legal action is possible.

The Assembly’s action is unsavory but hardly surprising.  Assembly members were called out on in April after they had adopted house rules that baldly ignored the will of the electorate by not requiring 72 hours’ notice on bill that had not yet passed the Senate. They argue that when Prop. 54 said a bill must be published for 72 hours “in its final form,” this refers to a bill that has passed one house and is up for final legislative approval in the other.

There’s no reason to think the Assembly’s interpretation is the spirit or the letter of the law that Prop. 54 voters intended.

One thing the 72-hour requirement could do is prevent legislators’ sleazy practice of adopting last-minute “gut-and-amend” bills, in which the amendment process is used to replace the substance of a bill with an unrelated new law.

Notably, although state Senate leaders say they interpret Prop. 54 the same way Assembly leaders do, the Senate took no chances last week, waiting to vote on bills until 72 hours after their final amendments were published.

So what’s wrong with the Assembly?

Maybe three days to consider a bill isn’t too many for them but too few. After all, they’ve had more than 200 days to digest Prop. 54, and they still haven’t gotten the message.