Bill would require 3-day wait before state laws passed
Published: Sunday, February 10, 2013 at 10:20 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, February 10, 2013 at 10:20 a.m.
SACRAMENTO — Jamming major bills through the Legislature at the last minute with little if any time for review has been an ongoing source of frustration for some lawmakers, especially minority Republicans.
The practice has been used often on budget bills, forcing lawmakers to vote on spending issues with long-term consequences without having the ability to actually read what's in them. That would change under legislation being proposed by two lawmakers.
The identical bills by Democratic Sen. Lois Wolk of Davis and Republican Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen of Modesto would require all legislation to be in print and online 72 hours before it comes to a vote. Both bills would be constitutional amendments and would have to be approved by the voters.
To get on the ballot, SCA10 or ACA4 need a two-thirds vote in the Legislature.
"When bills are introduced at the last minute and voted on minutes or hours later, that's just bad public policy," Olsen said.
Nevertheless, the practice has a long history. Some of the highest-priority bills in recent years have been entirely rewritten within three days of the Legislature's adjournment, using a maneuver bluntly known as gut-and-amend.
They include a bill that provided an accelerated review process for large construction projects, such as a proposed NFL stadium in downtown Los Angeles, and another that delayed collection of sales taxes from online retailers.
"Some things slip through the cracks, mistakes are made, too many laws lead to unexpected consequences," Wolk said.
Yet similar proposals by Republican lawmakers, who are in the minority, have died in recent years. Most of those would have affected budget bills, but the proposals by Wolk and Olsen would cover all legislation unless the governor declared in writing that a particular bill was needed to address a state of emergency.
The three-day rule also was a key provision in Proposition 31, proposed by the nonpartisan government-reform group California Forward. Yet 60 percent of voters opposed the measure in November.
The Wolk and Olsen bills have some bipartisan support. Aside from Wolk, they are co-authored by Democratic Sens. Lou Correa of Anaheim and Mark DeSaulnier of Concord, and Wolk expects more Democrats to sign on.
California Forward executive director Jim Mayer said Proposition 31 supporters made a strategic error by including too many reforms in the ballot initiative, leading to voter confusion.
He said Olsen and Wolk are smart to focus narrowly on the three-day provision, which fared well in voter focus groups.
New York already requires a three-day review period for all bills, while Hawaii requires two days, Wolk said. Florida has a three-day rule for budget bills.
The most outspoken opponent of the change, Democratic political consultant Steve Maviglio, predicted the amendment would pass if it gets to the ballot "because on the surface it seems like a good thing."
But such a rule could have undermined last year's negotiations over changes to public pension benefits, he said.
That deal was brokered by Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown in the final three days before the Legislature's constitutional deadline in August, passed in the Legislature's final hours, and was so hastily written that lawmakers had to write a second bill to fix problems in the main one.
The pension deal nearly unraveled under intense lobbying by public sector unions, Maviglio said, and likely would have died if opponents had more time to react. Wheeling and dealing behind closed doors is how many difficult political decisions are made, he said.
"The bottom line here is that lawmaking is not a pretty process," he said.
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said he supports a three-day rule as long as it includes an exemption for urgent matters, which he said is not in the current proposal.
"Urgency is in the eye of the beholder, but I think there always needs to be the room for legislators, stakeholders, and ultimately — to the benefit of the public — to be able to forge compromises, and that often happens at the very end of the session," Steinberg said.
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