Tomorrow afternoon, Assembly Constitutional Amendment 4, is up for a hearing in an Assembly Budget Subcommittee. For who do not recall ACA 4, this is bipartisan legislation that has been proposed by Senator Lois Wolk (D) and Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen (R) that requires that before the Senate or the Assembly can vote on a bill, it must be in print (and available on the internet) for 72 hours in its final form. It also provides for an exception for urgency bills (2/3 vote) related to declared emergencies, and allows bills to be heard by committees after the contents of the bill have been available online for 15 days.
As I wrote in a column in support of ACA 4 that appeared in the Sacramento Bee, “There are three key reasons why this is a needed reform. The first is to make sure legislators are able to read, analyze and seek input on legislation before they vote on it. The second reason is the public deserves to be able to know what is being voted on by their elected officials in time to be able to express their views on legislation prior to a vote. Finally, through both of the processes above, if there are unforeseen policy issues or even drafting errors, those can be dealt with before a bill is voted on, not through ‘cleanup legislation to follow.
While ACA 4 is clearly solid public policy, and should be passed not only by this budget subcommittee but should be sent to the ballot by a two-thirds vote of each legislative chamber (where no doubt voters would ratify it), it is certainly headed for a terrible death, probably in this subcommittee tomorrow. Why? Because all of the special interests that dominate the political process in the State Capitol (most notably the public employee unions, but frankly, it’s almost all of them) thrive on “cutting deals” out of the public eye that usually ill-serve the public, and almost always seem to take it to the state’s taxpayers.
It is common-place, unfortunately, for “grand legislative deals” to be done in the wee hours, and then foisted upon legislators at ungodly hours for their vote, when the bills in question have not even been distributed to those voting on them — at all!
Having already written on this bill, I had not intended to circle around again. At least not until several FR readers forwarded along to me the written analysis of ACA 4 prepared by the majority (Democrat) staff of the budget committee. I have attached the analysis for you, but if you had to look for it in the bookstore, you would have to look in the “science fiction” section – because it is so weirdly inaccurate.
The analysis quickly throws out that while, “The stated goal of this measure is to enhance transparency… it is unclear whether any benefits… would outweigh the considerable downsides posed by the process consequences of the measure…”
The Democrat analysis goes on to say, and I directly quote: “California’s most significant compromises have been forged in a crucible of pressure and heat from all sides that creates the resolve for action. Often in such circumstances, powerful special interests may not be satisfied with the final agreement. However, requiring a 72-hour in print rule essentially creates a three day “time out period” on all legislation. This time can allow the resolve for action to dissipate, and special interests can exert pressure and work to block carefully crafted agreements.”
Talk about turning an argument upside down. The status quo actually creates the opposite situation. Right now the aforementioned “powerful special interests” are the ONLY ones that are privy to and are party of a “behind the scenes” deal in the State Capitol. When these so-called analysts complain about how this waiting period, “…can allow the resolve for action to dissipate” — what they mean is that the public and the constituents back home might not like the deals that are getting cut, and may actually weigh in against them if given the opportunity.
These analysts get the “audacity award” for actually trying to draw upon the drafting of the Declaration of Independence as an example of an important document that was printed in final form on July 1, 1776 and then adopted the next day, on July 2 (only 24 hours notice). Give me a break. Like this is any comparison? But if you want to go with it, then clearly a document signed by people being attacked by and under the tyranny of the British Crown would be “urgent” and, I might add, it was approved by nearly well over 95% of the delegates to the Continental Congress. So ACA 4 already has what I guess we can now call the “Revolutionary War” clause.
Predictably the Democrat analysts tout the budget deal of 2009 as a shining example of how a deal aught to be done. Again, to quote the flawed analysis, “One obvious example was the February 2009 budget package, which was recognized as an example of historic, courageous action that saved the state from fiscal insolvency. That budget agreement was being updated and technically corrected up through the final hours prior to the vote (including, ironically, the insertion of SCA 4 (Maldonado) which set up the Open Primary). This agreement was not in print for 72 hours, but it did save the state from insolvency and earned the four Legislative Leaders the prestigious Profiles in Courage Award by the John F Kennedy Library Foundation in 2010.”
Actually, that 2009 budget deal is a postcard perfect example for what is wrong with the current system. That budget was another “late night deal” (where legislators are literally confined by armed Sergeants-At-Arms who physically lock them in the legislative chambers) the result of which, in addition to other poor public policy, the passage of what was at the time the single largest tax increase in California history (it hiked billions of dollars in sales, income and car taxes for two years). All of the powerful insider special interests got to weigh in on this deal — to include of course the bosses of the state’s massive public employee unions. Left out of the equation, the rest of us.
I am doubtful that this key piece of legislation will get passed Budget Subcommittee #6 tomorrow (you can see who has a vote here). But we can actually hope that the members of the subcommittee will decide that transparency to the public, to their constituents, is more important then preserving back-room deals that get voted on with no transparency at all.
And as for the tragically biased analysis of this bill produced by the staff of the budget committee — at least I got a chance to read it and write about it before a vote. Which is more than I get to do when one of these last-minute “written on a piece of paper” deals sails through the legislature.