Legislature says transparency for thee, but not for me


Examples of hypocrisy and double standards in California politics are too numerous to count. But some stand out more than others.

Two bills, both designated as “job killers” by the California Chamber of Commerce, would require companies to hand over to the government more data about pay and internal practices. Under AB 2095 (Kalra; D-San Jose), employers would have to file detailed annual reports of wage and hour data and employee benefits on their entire United States workforce. AB 1162 (Limon; D-Goleta) would incentivize frivolous litigation against employers by private attorneys based on the publication of broad, immaterial data collected by the state.

Fortunately, both burdensome proposals are currently stalled in the Legislature, and we can hope they eventually die.

But the mere fact that they, and other rules related to disclosure imposed on the private sector, made it this far got us thinking about how the ruling party in California is all for transparency for others, but not themselves.

One area of complaint in the Legislature is the continued practice of sweeping harassment cases under the rug, or slow-walking them. Recent articles in both the San Francisco Chronicle and Sacramento Bee have attempted to uncover the process employed by the Legislature in response to “Me Too” complaints. But it appears that a specially created “Workplace Conduct Unit” has been less than forthcoming about how it processes – or doesn’t process – complaints of harassment.

Another example of hypocrisy is progressive encouragement of unionization in both the private sector and public sectors. In fact, a recent bill, SB 931 (Leyva) would impose civil penalties on public employers for deterring or discouraging public employees from becoming members of an employee organization. And yet, at the same time, the legislature failed to pass a bill, AB 314 (Gonzalez), that would have permitted the Legislature’s own staff members to form a union. Granted, AB 314 was a bad bill for many reasons, but its defeat exposes the hypocrisy of legislative leaders.

Lack of transparency has, regrettably, become part of the DNA in Sacramento politics. Take the budget. While Gov. Newsom recently announced how he would like to spend the state’s $95.7 billion windfall of other people’s money, the actual budget will be negotiated by him and the two Democratic legislative leaders behind closed doors. Republicans, the media, and the public are shut out of providing any input, or even comment.

Worse yet is the increasingly prolific use of “trailer bills” in the budget process. These legislative devices often start out as blank legislation with literally no content at all. But when the governor or legislators want to pay off political favors for special interests or their own members, they quickly “amend” the blank trailer bills to add the deals, a tactic that conceals the content of the bills from the public until it’s too late. This ploy was used twice to change the law relating to recall elections, both of which benefited the ruling party.
The only law on the books to counter anti-disclosure hypocrisy is the California Legislature Transparency Act (CLTA), which requires that every bill be in print and posted online for at least 72 hours before its final vote in either house of the Legislature. This helps to reduce – but not eliminate – the use of last-minute “gut-and-amend” tactics. The CLTA also requires that all open legislative meetings be video recorded and posted on the internet within 24 hours.

One may wonder why, if the Legislature dislikes transparency so much, did it enact the CLTA? The answer is it didn’t. CLTA became law through the People’s power of initiative. It was Proposition 54 in 2016. This proves, yet again, that true reform only happens when voters bypass the legislature completely.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.