How state Assembly members change, add their votes on certain bills

Assemblyman Wes Chesbro voted to bar California hunters from using dogs to track bears or bobcats before the Arcata Democrat reversed himself and voted again to allow the controversial practice.

Assemblyman Michael Allen voted to support a bill that would have potentially raised the $250,000 cap on pain and suffering damages in medical malpractice cases. The Santa Rosa Democrat later changed his position so that the official record now shows that he did not vote on the bill.

Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, did not change any of his votes this year. But he added his vote 144 times after the outcome of the legislation was decided.

The three North Coast lawmakers were included in an Associated Press analysis that revealed that state Assembly members made 5,000 vote changes or additions during this year's legislative session.

The practice, while legal, is decried by critics as a way for lawmakers to play politics with their votes or hide their true positions on the issues.

"Your initial vote is really your heart. Then you get lobbied by people, and being allowed to go back and change your vote is duplicitous," said Barbara O'Connor, emeritus professor of communications and director of the Institute for the Study of Politics and Media at CSU Sacramento.

"It leads to non-profiles in courage," she added.

All lawmakers in California's 80-member Assembly are allowed to change or add votes an unlimited number of times after the fate of a bill has been decided, as long as it does not change whether a bill passes or fails. The state Senate allows such changes only by the Democratic and Republican leaders in that house.

O'Connor said the practice is a "courtesy to members, and it shouldn't be."

In addition to his vote change on hunting with hounds, Chesbro also reversed his position on bills that would have given the media greater access to California prisoners and another that provides $200 million in tax credits over two years for motion pictures and TV programs produced in California.

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