Representing the people of California should not be done in secret. It should not be done thoughtlessly. But that is what often happens at the end of legislative sessions, when politicians meet behind closed doors, “gut and amend” legislation, and then ask their colleagues to vote “yes” on sight-unseen (or in some cases, obscene) bills.
For years, California legislators have resisted efforts to curb this shady deal-making. So, wealthy Silicon Valley physicist Charles Munger Jr. teamed up with former Republican state Sen. Sam Blakeslee to say “enough is enough.”
Munger spent about $7 million to qualify Proposition 54 for the November ballot. The measure is supported by such diverse groups as the League of California Cities, the California NAACP, California Chamber of Commerce, Latin Business Association, League of Women Voters, Common Cause, National Federation of Independent Business, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, and two leading open-government groups, the First Amendment Coalition and Californians Aware.
Californians who are sick of being hoodwinked by secret, last-minute deals between lobbyists and legislators should also support Prop. 54 and vote yes.
Not surprisingly, a former Democratic state senator and a prominent lobbyist are two principal authors of the ballot arguments opposing Prop. 54.
To understand Prop. 54, you need to understand how most bills progress through the legislative process and are signed into law. Generally, legislation is introduced early in the session by an elected member of the Assembly or Senate. In both houses, they undergo staff analysis and public hearings before various committees. The public, and that includes lobbyists, try to mold the legislation to fit their needs and special interests. Bills that survive, usually after months of compromise and changes, are passed on to the governor, who signs or vetoes the legislation. It’s a long, tedious, fairly open process.
But then there is the “gut and amend” process. That’s when the process goes behind closed doors, where legislative leaders cut deals, remove the text of existing legislation, and emerge at the last minute with brand new legislation. Often with no time to even read the new bill, legislators are asked to vote on it. Regrettably, they usually do what they are told to do.
For the most part, legislators and their lobbyist buddies like the system just as it is. Even the ballot argument against Prop. 54 extols the virtue of being able to ram last minute bills through without the annoying interference of (you know) us, the public.
Prop. 54 will require three things:
• All bills be published and posted on the Internet for at least 72 hours before a final vote in either legislative house can be taken. There are exceptions for defined emergencies. (No more of this last-minute, secret stuff!)
• All open legislative meetings be recorded and posted to the Internet within 24 hours. (Fancy that! Californians will be able to watch what’s going on in Sacramento.)
• Individuals will be given the right to record and share video of public legislative proceedings for any legitimate purpose. (Did you know that it’s now against the law to record a public proceeding with your smartphone and share the recording?)
The legislative analyst estimates it will cost about $1 million a year to record and post videos on the Internet. But that’s a legitimate cost of having an open government. It can be argued dictatorships are more economical. No cost to keep the public informed. But that would not be a democracy, would it?
Prop. 54 will give a bright blast of sunshine to a legislative process that has been thriving for years in the shadows of special interests.