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It’s hard enough keeping tabs on San Diego lawmakers when they’re making deals and decisions 500 miles away. It gets near impossible when any news about those moves is written in Sacramento-speak – that technical, insider-y language of the Capitol.

So, I rounded up a handful of process terms and other words that get thrown around a lot that I suspect people often just nod about knowingly, then secretly go look up when they’re alone.

The California Legislature also happens to have its own glossary of terms you can turn to.

Here are a few to get us started.

Altered or add-on votes: This is a phenomenon in the California Legislature, specifically the Assembly. Lawmakers are allowed to switch votes in some circumstances, or to add their votes after a bill’s fate has been decided.

“Some lawmakers say the vote changing is a sign of absentmindedness, such as when they accidentally vote the wrong way, follow others in their party without carefully examining legislation or misunderstand the intent of a bill,” explains the Associated Press.

But the practice isn’t always just a mechanism to fix mistakes, writes KCRA: “They can vote one way on a bill or avoid voting altogether when it matters, only to add or change their vote after the fact. That allows them to present an official record to their constituents that may be at odds with how they acted at the time the bill passed or failed.”

Spot bill: This can essentially be a tool for copy-editing – a bill that makes a small change to an existing bill, like for punctuation or spelling. It has to be a small enough amendment to be “totally nonsubstantive,” according to the Legislature’s website.

Suspense file: I reached out to some legislators and other Capitol insiders for help drumming up some of these terms, and Assemblyman Rocky Chavez submitted this one.

The definition: A bill or set of bills, with a fiscal impact, set aside in Appropriations Committee by a majority of members present and voting. These bills may be heard at a later hearing.

“It has been my experience that many people who are not part of the Capitol community do not know what it means when a bill goes on ‘suspense.’ It is imperative that we do our part as legislators to keep our constituents apprised of the legislative process,” Chavez said.

Intent language: This is kind of a stand-in when a bill hasn’t been written yet but it declares what the lawmaker writing the bill intends to do.

An example would be this bill from Sen. Joel Anderson – it indicates it will address police body cameras and privacy, but there aren’t any actual policies or changes spelled out yet.

Trailer bill: These are pieces of legislation that come attached to the state budget, and they often sneak through without much – or any – public review.

The way trailer bills have inserted last minute items into the budget without longterm public discussion worries Democrats as well as Republicans,” says California Forward, a group that advocates for government reform and transparency.

CalWatchdog has a breakdown of the top trailer bills of the past few years.

Severability: This is a type of clause that lawmakers often insert into bills. It basically means that if any specific part of the measure is struck down by a court, the rest of the law will still stand, so long as the remaining portion doesn’t change lawmakers’ intent.

A Split Emerges Over Prop. 47

Prop. 47, the criminal justice measure co-written by former San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne that allows certain offenders to have low-level crimes reduced to misdemeanors, is stirring up praise and controversy just a few months after going into effect.

In San Diego, District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis is at odds with the authors of the law, Megan Burks reports. Dumanis contends the law doesn’t apply to juveniles. The Superior Court has backed her up. But the authors of the law, and courts in other counties, think it was meant apply to everyone. The 4th District Court of Appeal will be the next to weigh in.

Singer John Legend was in Sacramento this week praising Prop. 47.

What San Diego Lawmakers Are Up to

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez released an opinion from the nonpartisan legislative counsel’s office this week that she hopes will provide some cover for her bill to rein in Civic San Diego’s authority.

Gonzalez “asked the counsel to determine whether cities are allowed to contract with nonprofit groups to make land use decisions,” Andy Keatts reports.

“They aren’t, according to the legal opinion, but cities can outsource certain ‘administrative functions,’ as long as they hang on to ultimate decision-making authority.

That gray area – just how much is allowed within those ‘administrative functions’ – is likely to stir up some debate.”

A bill by San Diego area Assemblyman Brian Maienschein that expands protection of domestic violence victims by extending restraining orders to cover pets unanimously passed the Assembly this week.

A bill requiring most schoolchildren to get vaccinated dominated the news this week, and cleared a key Senate committee. The Guardian says Sen. Marty Block expressed wariness over the bill last week, but now believes “the law was needed to prevent future outbreaks like the measles cases that struck Disneyland this year.”

Golden State News

This was the week of 4/20, so naturally there was some news on the pot front. At least three pot initiatives have been filed so far for the 2016 ballot (it’ll take a while to sort out whether any of them will make it), and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who’s running for governor in 2018, held a public forum at UCLA to discuss potential policy issues if pot is legalized.

Law enforcement officials said at the forum that they’re concerned with how to test drivers for impairement, others worry about potential environmental damage from pesticides used to grow marijuana and how regulation and taxes would work. (L.A. Times)

Columnist E.J. Dionne interviewed state Republican Party Chair Jim Brulte about what 2016 hopefuls nationwide should learn from California. The state GOP is trying to make inroads with Latinos and Asian Americans.

“As has often been the case in American history, California is simply the harbinger of changes — in this case, demographic — that are happening more slowly elsewhere,” Dionne writes. (Washington Post)

A bill that would’ve required all adult cyclists to wear helmets has been massively scaled back. (L.A. Times)

The best moments from Willie Brown’s San Francisco Chronicle column. (Sacramento Bee)

Correction: An earlier version of this post referred to Jim Brulte as former chair of the California Republican Party. He’s its current chair. 

Sara Libby

Sara Libby was VOSD’s managing editor until 2021. She oversaw VOSD’s newsroom and content.

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