State lawmakers wrap up their annual session today in Sacramento.
As in years past, there will be long floor sessions, with senators and Assembly members slipping away to listen to last-minute pleas and to host fundraisers at restaurants and bars near the Capitol in between the final flurry of votes.
And, as in past years, some of the most contentious issues remained to be settled as adjournment approached.
But one tradition is gone — and it won’t be missed.
Lawmakers are no longer allowed to produce new legislation at the last minute and jam it through with little chance for opponents to react and no opportunity for public scrutiny.
Proposition 54, a transparency measure backed by 65 percent of the voters in last November’s election, prohibits legislators from acting on any bill until it has been in print and available on the internet for at least 72 hours.
The same standard applies to cities, counties, school districts and other local jurisdictions — and it has for more than 50 years.
Legislators resisted any such requirement for years, insisting that knotty issues wouldn’t get resolved, and delicate compromises would get picked apart, if they were exposed to sunlight.
But hasty deal-making in the final hours of a legislative session has produced startling mistakes, such as language inadvertently added to a 2014 law to strip cities and counties of regulatory authority for marijuana dispensaries, including the ability to keep them away from schools and parks.
And, all too often, the hectic pace has provided cover for mushroom bills — special interest measures that wouldn’t withstand normal scrutiny.
Proposition 54, a constitutional amendment crafted by reform groups, found little support in the Legislature, and the Assembly adopted a tortured legal interpretation to cast votes without waiting 72 hours on bills that had yet to be considered in the state Senate. But the handling of one last-minute bill shows how Proposition 54 can change the way business gets done in Sacramento.
A bill to authorize a wholesale reorganization of the power grid serving California and much of the West surfaced with one week left in this year’s session.
Using a process called gut and amend, Assemblyman Chris Holden, D-Pasadena, substituted the proposal for the content of two innocuous bills awaiting action on the floor of the state Senate.
A regional power grid may be beneficial to California and other western states. Supporters, including Gov. Jerry Brown, say it could reduce utility costs for consumers, improve the reliability of the delivery system and promote the growth of renewable energy.
All of these are worthy goals, and Holden complied with the letter of Proposition 54.
But there are unanswered questions about ceding authority to other states and the federal government as well as concerns that the promised benefits for renewable energy wouldn’t be realized. In the end, Holden agreed to wait until next year when these questions and others can be addressed in the sunlight of public hearings. Chalk one up for Proposition 54.