Like clockwork, Assembly defies voters on 72-hour rule
By the Editorial Board, June 7, 2017
Last November, a large majority of California voters 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, giving people more time to learn what their lawmakers are doing — and giving lawmakers more time to hear what their constituents think of what they’re doing.
It was so clear that of course the two houses of the Legislature have taken voters’ wishes to heart and instituted this simple improvement in the sausage-making process, right?
If you said Wrong, your cynicism is well-founded.
Last week, amid a flurry of action in Sacramento to meet a deadline for passing legislation out of its house of origin, 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; would bar the state from contracting with private, out-of-state prisons; and would make it harder for employers to deny 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 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.
Do Assembly members really want to risk that?
The Assembly’s actions belong in the category of shocking but not surprising. In April, we wrote here about how the Assembly had adopted house rules that baldly ignored the will of the electorate by not requiring 72 hours’ notice on bills that had yet to pass the Senate. Assembly leaders argued then and apparently still 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. Unless you’re an Assembly leader looking for a way around the restrictions.
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 law.
One thing the rule wouldn’t do is prevent lawmakers from responding nimbly to an emergency. It allows exceptions in public emergencies.
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 got the message.