Back in November, I asked San Diego lawmakers to tell me the one thing they’d like to see happen to make California government more transparent.
The overwhelming favorite was to get rid of a procedure called gut-and-amend, where a legislator takes a bill he or she has already written – say a bill about food safety – wipes the whole thing, and replaces it with something totally different, like a bill about gun control. Sometimes the other lawmakers voting on the bill only have a few hours to review the totally different language before they must cast a vote. It’s an end-around that often means the new language doesn’t go through all the standard channels to vet a bill, like hearings in which the public can weigh in.
Legislators have defended the use of gut-and-amend over the years by saying it offers flexibility to introduce good ideas after the deadline for new bills passes.
It looks like the folks who want to gut gut-and-amend might be on the verge of getting their wish. There are two measures on the table to kill the practice – one from inside the house (a measure generated by the Legislature itself) and an initiative being pushed by Republican financier Charles Munger.
Both would make two big changes to the way the Legislature operates: They’d require legislative proceedings to be taped and broadcast, and they’d mandate that all bills must be available for at least 72 hours before a vote.
One of the differences comes down to how to pay for the recordings: “Munger’s plan would require the money to come from the Legislature’s own budget; the legislative version would permit using the state’s general fund,” notes the L.A. Times.
There’s a chance both measures could end up on the ballot in November.
I checked back in with Assemblymen Rocky Chavez and Brian Jones – who both named ending gut-and-amend as their No. 1 transparency wish – for their takes on the proposals.
Both said they favor Munger’s initiative – because they think it’s better policy, but also because they find their colleagues’ proposal insincere. Democrats wouldn’t allow a vote on similar proposals for years, they said, and were only spurred to act once Munger’s plan came along.
Jones said Munger’s plan is better for two main reasons: It requires bills to go online and to be distributed in print to members. The Senate amendment only requires bills to be published online, and if something’s put on the internet at 3 a.m. on a Friday, for example, the 72-hour clock would start in the middle of the night and tick mostly over the weekend when no one’s paying attention.
“It allows clock to start at random times. So the public still doesn’t have access to it,” said Jones.
Jones also said the Munger plan requires legislative meetings to be taped even when they take place outside of the Capitol.
“So if [the Senate amendment] passed, I have a feeling you’d see a lot more meetings start to happen away from the Capitol,” said Jones.
Ultimately, both said, 72 hours is not too much to ask when it comes to making laws that will affect the public available for everyone to see.
“When I was in local government, we couldn’t put a speed bump in without letting the public know 90 days in advance, and here we are making billion-dollar decisions,” Chavez said. “I also believe there’s a responsibility, if you have an idea, regardless of how good it is, it’s important to go through the process to let the public know what you’re doing. To push all that aside, and say, ‘We’re just gonna vote on this,’ that’s wrong.”
• For now, gut-and-amend is still an option, and Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez is using it to keep her farmworker overtime bill alive.
Though her bill died in the Assembly earlier this month, “Gonzalez has now ‘gutted’ a teacher-compensation bill that did pass the Assembly and inserted the language from her ag overtime bill,” reports Capital Press. “The legislation — Assembly Bill 1066 — had to be taken out of the Senate Education Committee and is now headed to the upper chamber’s Labor and Industrial Relations Committee.”
• Sen. Ben Hueso is also getting in on the gutting and amending. (Consumer Watchdog)
Coastal Cities Bump Heads With the State
At a City Council meeting last week, a group of Encinitas residents unhappy with a state affordable housing mandate suggested that their city simply defy the state mandate.
Encinitas is the only city in the county that has yet to complete a required plan that would permit increased density in certain parts of the city to allow for more affordable housing.
When Encinitas Mayor Kristin Gaspar put the idea to the city’s legal counsel, the attorney responded: “You are in the breach of something very consequential, and if you choose to simply say, ‘We’re not going to,’ please don’t believe that that is the end of the day and all things went well.”
Part of the reason the city is having trouble coming up with a plan is a local measure passed in 2013 requiring all Encinitas zoning decisions be put to voters. Voters need to approve the plan, which has held it up, leaving the city vulnerable to lawsuits for being out of compliance with state law. It’s been sued twice already.
The current lawsuit against the city alleges that since the housing plan is required by the state, it shouldn’t need to go to the voters.
A judge still hasn’t ruled on the issue, but the future of the lawsuit could influence how coastal communities throughout California, which crave more local control over land use decisions, respond to a push at the to increase affordable housing throughout the state. While Gov. Jerry Brown and state legislators look to lower barriers to build dense, transit-friendly, low-income housing, communities like Santa Monica are considering putting a measure similar to Encinitas’ on the ballot that would require residents to vote on zoning changes and on all projects more than two stories high.
On Wednesday, the Encinitas City Council voted to try and negotiate a settlement with the developer behind the lawsuit during a closed session.
– Maya Srikrishnan
That Bloated Ballot
The latest measure to qualify for the ballot would limit gun and ammo sales. It’s being driven by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom.
Meanwhile, state lawmakers also want to put a $3 billion parks bond on the ballot to upgrade existing parks and to build new ones in underserved communities.
To bring things full circle, Assemblyman Brian Jones told me he voted no on the bond measure in part because it had significant new language added to it “less than five minutes” before votes were cast.
• A measure that aimed to raise the minimum wage in a way similar to what lawmakers already passed has been voluntarily removed from the ballot by its authors. (L.A. Times)
• Medical experts and health care providers are split over the measure to legalize marijuana. (California Healthline)
Golden State News
• The Sacramento Bee breaks down Assemblywoman Toni Atkins’ key role in passing a package of anti-tobacco measures.
• Gun-rights activists won the right to use footage from the Assembly in political ads this week when a federal court ruled that “a state law making it a crime to use Assembly videos for political or commercial purposes is unconstitutional.” (Courthouse News)
• Sen. Ben Hueso still hates Uber and Lyft. A lot. (L.A. Times)
• A new study shows that thousands of students attending California State University schools are homeless or going hungry. (AFP)