When Gov. Jerry Brown signed a gaming compact on March 30 regarding a casino near Rohnert Park, the general assumption was that it would be months before the document would go to the state Legislature for a ratification vote.
Wrong. As with seemingly all things casino-related, the winds can change quickly and mysteriously.
The compact with the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria has now been fast-tracked and will be before the Senate Governmental Organization Committee today, with the possibility of a floor vote by next week.
Sonoma County residents who are concerned about the impacts of a 3,000-slot casino can be forgiven if they feel shortchanged by all of this because they have been. The public was given little time to absorb all 274 pages and give their legislators guidance on how to vote.
Now, many are hurrying to be able to just make an appearance at today's hearing.
But let's make no mistake. The Legislature isn't interested in giving the public ample time to absorb the details. The compact is being fast-tracked as part of a well-orchestrated political maneuver to get it approved as quickly as possible.
This was done through a process known as "gut and amend," where legislators take a bill that has already been introduced, remove the original contents and replace them with the language of a new bill.
In this case, the bill, AB 517, by Isidore Hall, D-Los Angeles, began as obscure legislation about alcohol licenses and returning unopened beer. Suddenly the original language was replaced by legislation approving the Graton compact, and the bill was on the clock.
The "gut and amend" process has been used for years to bypass the usual deadlines for introducing and amending bills. At times, it allows lawmakers to avoid some of the traditional obligations for conducting public hearings and hide the true intent of special interest bills.
The "gut and amend" process it not without its purpose. It has been used in emergency cases, such as for compromise legislation approved last year delaying the state requirement to collect sales taxes on purchases made through Amazon.com and other online retailers. It has also been used in passing compromise budget agreements.
We can understand the importance of having a process for just such bipartisan, time-sensitive deals. But this is not one of those cases.
As we've noted before, this compact is precedent-setting in the lengths the Graton Rancheria is going to address mitigations. The worst outcome in our view is if local critics end up teaming with tribes — who criticize the plan for its generosity — in killing this plan, only to see it replaced with a boiler-plate compact that includes none of the Graton's mitigation commitments to the county and to Rohnert Park.
Nevertheless, we encourage legislators not to rush this bill through. After years of waiting — including months where there seemed to be no progress at all — Sonoma County residents deserve their day in the Capitol to debate the merits of this compact.
To do otherwise would only further undermine public trust in state government and drive home the notion that most of those pushing to see this casino approved either stand to profit from its construction or live too far away to care what the impacts really are — or both.