News item: California lawmakers passed a budget ahead of the constitutional deadline.
That’s no longer an anomaly seven years after California voters rescinded a two-thirds majority requirement for legislative approval of a state budget.
There was, however, an added element of transparency in this year’s budget process: the bill had to be in print and available for public scrutiny for 72 hours before the final vote.
That change also came courtesy of California voters, who overwhelmingly approved Proposition 54, a constitutional amendment on the November ballot intended to make it easier for the public to keep track of the legislative process.
The legislative leadership welcomed the opportunity to pass a budget on a majority vote. But, the budget aside, legislators, especially in the Assembly, haven’t embraced Proposition 54.
To the contrary, they’ve done their best to undermine the voters’ will.
The Assembly’s Democratic leaders almost immediately declared that Proposition 54 doesn’t apply to resolutions because they don’t have the force of law. Of greater concern, they also said the new rules don’t apply to floor votes in the Assembly on legislation sponsored by Assembly members if the bill still needs to be approved in the state Senate.
When a key legislative deadline passed in late May, the Assembly acted on more than 90 bills that hadn’t been in print in their final form for 72 hours.
Democratic leaders in the state Senate concurred with the Assembly’s legal analysis, but so far senators have opted to wait 72 hours after final amendments are drafted before voting on any bill.
Cities, counties and other local governments have been subject to similar rules for decades, and the public has benefited.
But it has been a long-standing practice in the Legislature to rewrite bills and rush them to a final vote before the public — and even potential legislative opponents — has an opportunity to review the new language.
Opponents of Proposition 54 argued that allowing public scrutiny would prevent legislators from resolving controversial issues.
Voters saw through that thinly veiled argument for special interest legislation.
And the sponsors of Proposition 54, a coalition of good government advocates, taxpayers associations and chambers of commerce working in concert with a former legislator, have warned legislators that they are prepared to defend the measure in court.
“As supporters of Proposition 54, we write to express our concerns with the Legislature’s implementation to date, which could inadvertently result in the invalidation of bills that the Legislature wishes to pass,” key supporters said in a recent letter to legislators and the governor.
Few pieces of legislation are more complicated than the state budget. If lawmakers can draft, debate and pass it while giving the public a 72-hour window to review its contents, they certainly can do the same with any other legislation. Anything less is unconstitutional.