Effort targets backroom Capitol deals

Sadly, public officials often behave as if subjecting their decisions to public oversight is an annoyance. A good example is the way legislators routinely rush through important bills at the last moments of the session, where there are no hearings, debate or public input. Senators and assembly members then vote on these bills which they haven’t read, but which have been hammered out between lobbyists and legislative leaders in closed-door sessions.

It needn’t be this way, even if legislative leaders insist that these “urgent” measures are too important for hearings and public oversight. The long-sought fix has been to require legislators to adopt a 72-hour rule that forces them to publicly reveal the content of a bill three calendar days before there’s a final vote on it, thus giving the public a chance to weigh in. This simple proposal – which includes a process for handling truly urgent matters – is “dead on arrival” every year, yet appears to be getting new life.

Former state Sen. Sam Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo, and financier Charles Munger Jr. filed with the attorney general’s office this week the “California Legislature Transparency Act.” In addition to the 72-hour requirement, the proposed 2016 measure requires all proceedings be televised and made available within 24 hours of the event. Many but not all hearings currently are captured on video. By the way, Munger’s fortune assures the measure has a good shot at making the ballot.

The initiative adds this kicker: The public and media are allowed to “freely record legislative proceedings and to broadcast, post or otherwise transmit those recordings.” That includes for political advertisements, which is the kind of speech the First Amendment was designed to protect. This will drive the status quo bonkers.


“The bills developed in smoke-filled rooms usually are bills requested by special interests,” said Phil Ung, with the reform-oriented California Forward, which had backed a 72-hour notice requirement that was part of a failed reform initiative in 2012. “If it’s truly a tough bill, shouldn’t the Legislature be taking the time to debate it?”

Read the entire article on the San Diego Union-Tribune‘s website HERE.