Lawmakers can’t ignore transparency law approved by voters just last November

San Jose Mercury News

By the Editorial Board, April 14, 2017


Californians overwhelmingly passed Proposition 54 in November to increase transparency in government, but some of the Legislature’s rules are already out of compliance.

Proposition 54, the California Legislature Transparency Act, 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 warning that the Legislature is failing to implement the measure.

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. Starting Jan. 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, the Legislature is not living up to its responsibilities. They detailed their observations recently 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 could be invalidated.

Prop. 54 was unambiguous, as was the intent of the 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.