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SKELTON: Three-day waiting period on state bills?

  • Gov. Jerry Brown gives his State of the State address Thursday before a joint session of the Legislature at the Capitol in Sacramento. (RICH PEDRONCELLI / Associated Press)

SACRAMENTO

Imagine a lawmaker being allowed to read a proposed law before voting on it.

For that matter — and this seems like a stretch — try to envision the public being offered an opportunity to express its view on a bill before legislators vote.

Granted, this is a radical concept — at least during the final secretive, skulking days of a legislative session.

We're talking usually late summer, although legislative sleight-of-hand can occur anytime, including the dead of winter.

“Can you imagine the mischief that would stop?” says state Sen. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana.

Correa is a coauthor of newly introduced, bipartisan legislation that would impose a three-day waiting period on final passage of a bill. Historically, legislators not only have tweaked but twisted bills into unrecognizable shape right up until the final gavel falls adjourning a session, leaving most lawmakers little time to think about what they're voting on.

Lobbyists and legislators meet in crannies of Capitol corridors, patching together laws. Halls are cluttered with smelly, empty pizza boxes discarded by anxious lobbyists. Cold coffee splashes from soggy cups.

Bleary-eyed legislators sag in their chamber seats, waiting for a printed bill to vote on.

Maybe there's a brief, perfunctory committee hearing on a substantially amended bill in a small room behind the chamber, just for the record. Certainly not for the public, because there was only five minutes' notice.

“We get these ‘midnight specials,' ” says Correa, a moderate Democrat from a competitive district who doesn't always vote with his party. “They're writing this stuff as fast as the copiers will let them. We get a 200-page document with all kinds of markings and deletions.

“That's not the optimum way to make laws ...

“It's in that midnight hour that the lobbyists make their living.”

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