In today’s Sacramento Bee, Steve Wiegand has an important article that every FlashReport reader should take in, entitled Long Hours In Capitol Mean Lousy Lawmaking, Critics Say. There’s a great photo of a worn-out Senator George Runner accompanying the piece.
Weigands piece takes note of the fact that four times this year alone, the State Legislature has engaged in the practice of having long, late-night marathon sessions where our elected representatives are forced to fight exhaustion and sleep deprivation as "deals" are put together.
We saw this happen first with the February budget debacle that brought us the largest tax increase in the history of any state. In July, another long time dealing with budget gets and an early morning gauging of taxpayers by adjusting withholding timelines, then there was the end of session with adjourned at 6am — and finally last week the embarrassing water-torture exercize that went to the wee hours.
It’s no wonder the legislature has such a low approval rating — this is no way to run state government! Legislators should not only have plenty of time to review finalized legislation, and seek consultation — but they should also have plenty of rest and be at the height of their mental accuity when review and voting on bills. In these late-night sessions, bill language is literally being hammered out and haggled-over while blearly-eyed legislators wait to cast their votes for whatever deal their leaders say works best.
But, of course, blame for these process does not lie with legislative leaders, but rather with all forty State Senators, and all eighty members of the State Assembly. It is these individuals, elected representatives all, who adopt the rules for each chamber, and who select the legislative leadership.
Nor can this kind of terrible sausage-factory/sweathouse-style legislating be blamed only on the majority party. In all of these late-night sessions — especially those on budget issues and the session last week that involved a massive bond measure, two-thirds votes were called for. This means that if Republicans had simply said that voting in the wee hours with no sleep was not professional, and refused to provide any votes — no legislation would have passed. Politically I would have loved to see Democrat leaders "lock down" Republicans — but that never happened. Republican and Democrat legislators alike have embraced this kind of late-night wheeling and dealing environment in which to make important policy decisions.
For our part, we think it is terrible. It is not a coincidence that it is usually in these late night cabals that the taxpayers end up being the losers.
We encourage Democrats and Republicans of each house to come together and support bipartisan changes in the Senate and Assembly Rules that would make this sort of inappropriate lawmaking procedure a thing of the past.
Of course if the majority party is not amenable, then we encourage Republicans to make rules for their own caucuses stating that Republicans will withhold any votes on procedural or policy matters when legislation has not been in print in its final version for at least 48 hours, and that no GOP votes will be put up after 6pm on any given day.
In the Wiegand piece, he quotes Democrat State Senator Gloria Negrete McLeod as saying, "I would rather stick my finger in a light socket," she said, "than spend another hour in here."
She made this comments at 3am during an 18-hour long legislation session dealing with the water issue.
Senator, you have no one to blame but yourself.
At some point, legislators and their leaders need to prioritize the process of dealing with policy ahead of the actual policy-making. A bad approach to the first invariably leads to terrible flaws in the latter.
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