SACRAMENTO — While the state Legislature remains in session most of the year, action on the most high-profile bills tends to be clustered in the days leading up to several deadlines.
Unsurprisingly, it's during those periods of fast-paced votes to approve state budget legislation and to keep bills alive by sending them to the opposite chamber that lawmakers most often want a do-over on their votes.
Through the first half of this year's legislative session, budget-related bills dealing with corrections, the court system, mental health programs and dental care for low-income adults were among the measures that generated a significant number of altered or added votes after a bill's fate had been decided.
Gun-control measures also saw a handful of vote flips, as did various bills at the end of May when the chambers considered dozens of bills during all-day sessions.
The vote-switching practice, called to attention last year after an Associated Press investigation, has a long history in the Assembly and gives lawmakers political cover: They can vote one way on a bill or avoid voting altogether when it matters, only to add or change their vote after the fact. That allows them to present an official record to their constituents that may be at odds with how they acted at the time the bill passed or failed.
In the Senate, only the two party leaders are allowed to change or add votes.
Members of the Assembly are allowed to alter their vote before the end of the day's session and only if the action does not change the outcome of the floor vote. The practice was used more than 5,000 times last year, the AP review found.
Since the Legislature reconvened in January, every lawmaker in the Assembly has changed or added a vote at least once. On every one of the 97 bills the Assembly passed on May 30, for example, at least one legislator revised his or her vote, with most of the changes coming from lawmakers who did not record a position in the initial tally.
One of the bills considered that day, AB361, would allow California to receive federal money to pay for certain health services for those with chronic medical or substance abuse conditions. It passed on the Assembly floor with the bare 41-vote majority, but the final count shows 13 lawmakers later adding their support and another six adding an opposition vote.
Charles Stewart, spokesman for bill's author, Democratic Assemblywoman Holly Mitchell of Los Angeles, attributed the tardy votes to the day's hectic schedule, not the bill's provisions.
"When members do see that a bill has enough votes, they may not run to their desks to add on," Stewart said.
Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, defends the practice, saying in a statement that lawmakers "may be meeting in a committee off the floor while a vote is taking place, testifying in the Senate, or perhaps in a media interview that forces them to miss a vote."
But government watchdog groups say allowing lawmakers to change or add their vote after the fact hurts public trust and reduces transparency. Still, they see little public pressure to change the rule, either internally or through a ballot initiative.