With transportation vote looming, Proposition 54 backers warn that late changes could be a problem

The advocacy organizations that convinced voters last fall to impose a new waiting period for public review of bills have a message for the Legislature: Don’t skip the rules if you don’t want to end up in court.

The letter delivered Monday to leaders of the state Assembly and Senate pointed out what the advocates suggested was a less than complete implementation by lawmakers of the legislative transparency ballot measure.

“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,” said the letter from members of the measure’s campaign advisors.

Proposition 54 mandates that almost all bills approved by the Legislature be available for public review for at least 72 hours. It also imposes other new rules on the Legislature, including new availability of video and and audio recordings of legislative proceedings.

The two houses of the Legislature, when they convened in December, passed operational rules that take different views of the Proposition 54 bill review period. Assembly Democrats enshrined a rule that states the 72-hour period applies only to final passage of a bill before it goes to the governor — and thus would allow last-minute amendments to any bill as long as it still needed ratification by the Senate.

Backers of the ballot measure dispute that interpretation, saying the 72-hour waiting period applies to either house’s last action on a bill.

The question hasn’t been tested yet, with no major legislative action so far in 2017. But that could change this week with efforts by Gov. Jerry Brown and Democratic leaders to win passage of a multi-billion dollar transportation proposal.

While the current version of the bill was drafted last week, any changes to placate critics would ostensibly have to be in print and online by the end of Monday night. The Legislature adjourns for spring break on Thursday.

“If the Legislature does not follow this requirement before voting to pass a bill, that bill would not be constitutionally passed and would not be eligible to become a law,” said the letter from the ballot measure backers.

That kind of disagreement could trigger legal action against any bill passed under the disputed rules.

Lawmakers aren’t required to take action on the transportation plan this week, but are operating under a deadline decided upon by Brown and Democratic legislators.