California legislative leaders resist open-government law


California Capitol, Photo: Justin Sullivan, Getty Images, Prop 54, transparency, League fo women voters of california, watch dogs

California voters can thank themselves that they had at least a few days to see the contents of a $52 billion transportation bill before it was passed by state lawmakers late Thursday night. In years past, the governor and legislative leaders might have rushed a measure so fraught with political peril in the last hours of a session, with a flurry of changes made before most rank-and-file representatives even had a chance to read the final version.

Proposition 54, supported by voters in all 58 counties, requires a bill to be in print and available online for 72 hours before a vote by the state Senate or Assembly. Violate that rule, the constitutional amendment dictated, and the law is invalid.

It was one of the more important political reforms in years, bringing much-needed transparency to the legislative process.

“The right to record legislative hearings is important to California voters,” said Helen Hutchison, president of the League of Women Voters of California. “We received that right through passage of Prop. 54. The Legislature should honor this provision, not just because they are required to do so, but also because their constituents have made it clear they want it.”

In the case of the transportation bill (SB1), Californians and their elected representatives in Sacramento were able to know ahead of passage how this bill would hit their pocketbooks — a 12-cent-a-gallon increase in gas taxes and up to $175 more in vehicle registration fees — and how it would offer truckers some relief from future regulations. It was an imperfect and controversial bill, with something to hate for conservatives and for environmentalists.

No legislator can later claim he or she did not have a chance to review SB1.

But there is no doubt that the Legislature’s leaders, especially Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, are not exactly thrilled about having to do the people’s business in plain view. The rules they have set to implement Prop. 54 are setting up a collision course with the voters’ clear intent to assure a three-day review of pending legislation and to guarantee that video of all proceedings should be available online.

A coalition of government-watchdog groups sent a letter to all 120 Senate and Assembly members last week warning that failure to comply with the voters’ mandate could “inadvertently result in the invalidation of bills that the Legislature wishes to pass.” The signatories included nonpartisan reform groups (Common Cause, California Forward, League of Women Voters) and more ideologically defined groups from the left and right (CalPIRG, Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, National Federation of Independent Business).

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