SACRAMENTO — Good-government groups and policy advocates are calling for reform of a state Assembly rule that lets lawmakers amend their votes once a bill has passed or failed, saying changing the system is necessary for the public to maintain trust in the Legislature.
An Associated Press analysis published Wednesday found that lawmakers in the 80-member Assembly changed their votes more than 5,000 times during this year's legislative session, a practice that allows lawmakers to obscure how they act when votes actually matter. The state Senate allows vote changes only for the two party leaders.
"It's one of those simple practices that start to erode confidence in the Legislature," said Jim Mayer, executive director of the government-reform group California Forward. "Our institutions have to become squeaky clean because public confidence is needed for democracy to work."
Philip Ung, a spokesman for the government watchdog group Common Cause, said allowing lawmakers to add or revise their votes after the fate of a bill has been decided feeds the perception that lawmakers are looking out for their own interests over those of their constituents.
"We would like to see the practice either eliminated or limited," he said, adding that Common Cause might target the practice in a package of proposed legislative reforms it aims to roll out for the 2013 session.
Mayer, whose organization is sponsoring a budget-reform initiative on the November ballot, said a ballot measure probably would be necessary to ban the practice.
"Our experience is that this institution is unlikely to fix itself," he said.
The AP analysis found that all Assembly members altered votes after the fact at least once and some changed more than 200 times. Advocates say the practice, which cannot affect a bill's outcome, makes it harder for them to do their jobs.
When lawmakers can alter their voting record for political reasons, "it makes it difficult to understand what you need to do in order to get your lawmaker to 'yes," said Rajdeep Singh, director of law and policy for the New York-based Sikh Coalition.
The coalition sponsored a bill last session to guarantee that Californians who wear religious dress have equal protection in the workplace. After it passed, eight Assembly members added a combination of "yes" and "no" votes, while one — Republican Beth Gaines of Rocklin— stripped her "yes" vote from the record to indicate she had not voted.
Vote-changing also can make it more difficult for advocates to win approval for their bills in the Senate, said Kathy Kneer, president of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California.
"The annoying part is when people are like, 'You didn't need my vote, so it didn't matter,'" Kneer said. "From an advocate's point of view, I don't want to win with 41 votes (a bare majority). I want to with 48."
In a statement, Assembly Speaker John Perez defended vote-changing as a way to fix mistakes. He cited a case in which an assemblyman spoke against this year's budget but then accidentally voted for it.
Perez's spokesman, John Vigna, said the Los Angeles Democratic was "open to consider any proposals to strengthen transparency in the rules while maintaining flexibility for members to carry out their duties."