Legislators ignore voter transparency measure

San Francisco Chronicle

By the Editorial Board, June 7, 2017


Last fall, California voters overwhelmingly approved a modest government transparency measure requiring legislation to be public for at least three days before passage. Last week, the state Assembly responded with what could be interpreted as an obscene gesture in the electorate’s direction.

Facing a legislative deadline as well as the alarming prospect of working on a Friday, the lower house passed more than 90 billsthat had changed within the past 72 hours, flagrantly violating the constitutional amendment passed by voters as Proposition 54.

The initiative took aim at legislative leaders’ habit of rewriting and then rushing bills into law, preventing not only the public but also rank-and-file lawmakers from reviewing them. The rule says no legislation “may be passed or ultimately become a statute unless the bill, with any amendments, has been printed, distributed to the members, and published on the Internet, in its final form, for at least 72 hours before the vote.”

The strained interpretation of Democratic legislative leaders is that this applies only to bills on their way from the Legislature to the governor’s desk, not those going from one house of the Legislature to the other. Unlike the Assembly, however, the Senate has so far observed the 72-hour rule even for bills yet to be passed by the other house.

Sam Blakeslee, a sponsor of Prop. 54 and former legislator, said the Assembly bills will be vulnerable to challenge if they become law. “If the Assembly continues on its current course, there likely will be bills passed that violate the Constitution,” he said. “There may be quite a lot of litigation.”

The dispute, Blakeslee added, comes down to a fundamental question of whether power ultimately belongs to the Legislature or to the Constitution and therefore the people. The Assembly’s answer to that question is as clear as it is wrong.