What part of ’72 hours’ notice’ doesn’t the California Assembly understand?

Mercury News

By the Editorial Board, June 12, 2017


Last November, California voters overwhelmingly approved a state constitutional amendment prohibiting the Legislature from voting on bills before their language has been made public for at least 72 hours.

Proposition 54’s intent was crystal clear: to increase government transparency and accountability by giving constituents a chance to see what they’re up to, and perhaps influence them, before they pass a law.

But is the Legislature following the voters’ will? Hah.

In early June, amid a flurry of last-minute action, reporters 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 included one to repeal a law that made it a crime to use fake documents to conceal citizenship status. Another would bar the state from contracting with private, out-of-state prisons, and yet another would make it harder for employers to reject job-seekers based on their criminal records.

If those and other bills approved by the Assembly are passed by the Senate and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, their constitutionality could be challenged in court. In fact, it better be.

Sam Blakeslee says that’s possible. The Republican former legislator from San Luis Obispo co-sponsored Prop. 54 with GOP leader Charles Munger.

The Assembly’s action is unsavory but unsurprising. In April they adopted house rules that baldly ignored the will of the electorate by not requiring 72 hours’ notice on bills that had not yet passed the Senate. They argued 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 basis for the Assembly’s interpretation. It is neither in the spirit nor the letter of the law that Prop. 54 voters intended.

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 new law at the last minute.

Notably, although state Senate leaders say they interpret Prop. 54 the same way Assembly leaders do, the Senate took no chances last week. It waited to vote on bills until 72 hours after their final amendments were published.

Why won’t the Assembly?

Maybe three days to consider a bill is actually too little time to contemplate a bill, rather than too much. After all, they’ve had more than 200 days to digest Prop. 54, and they still haven’t gotten that message.