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PD Editorial: Making sure someone can read the bills

  • (Associated Press)

Thirty-five years ago, a California state senator named H.L. Richardson wrote a book titled, “What makes you think we read the bills?”

Sometimes, when a bill is read is at least as important as whether it's read.

In Sacramento, legislative rules require 30 days between introduction of a bill and its first committee hearings — ample time to assess its contents. But at the other end of the process — when bills are brought to the floor for approval — there aren't any guarantees.

That needs to change.

And the state budget is a good place to start.

For the second consecutive year, a Southern California legislator has introduced a bill requiring that the entire budget be posted online for three days before a final vote in the Assembly and Senate.

Assemblyman Mike Morrell, R-Rancho Cucamonga, also wants to apply the rule to the “trailer bills,” the accompanying legislation required to implement the state budget.

Three days — 72 hours — isn't an onerous requirement.

Heck, it isn't even an especially high standard for transparency.

Yet Morrell's bill died without even a committee vote last year.

A legislative committee analysis warned that a three-day rule could keep lawmakers from meeting the June 15 constitutional deadline for approving a budget. Perhaps so. But it's hard to remember legislators losing sleep over that deadline, so we suspect Morrell's explanation gets closer to the truth about his bill's prospects.

“I expect those that have something to hide may not support this bill,” he told the Los Angeles Times recently.

Even if Morrell doesn't succeed, a state appellate court decision may give the public a greater opportunity to evaluate budget legislation before it's adopted.

The decision, issued Friday, says the Legislature acted unconstitutionally when it approved a bill to move Gov. Jerry Brown's tax proposal to the top of the Nov. 6 ballot.

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