Dan Walters

Dan Walters

Dan Walters: Lawmakers ask Californians to do as they say, not do

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 3A
Last Modified: Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013 - 8:16 pm

When members of the California Legislature pass legislation, they are, in effect, writing rules they expect everyone to obey.

It's particularly strange, therefore, that legislators skirt, or even ignore, the rules they are supposed to follow.

Take, for example, what happened during the long Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend.

Under the state constitution, legislators get $142 a day in tax-free living expenses on top of their salaries, as long as they are not out of session for more than three consecutive days – hence, the legislative schedule of being in Sacramento from Monday to Thursday.

Monday holidays interfere with that self-serving schedule. The Legislature's time-dishonored solution is to convene briefly on Friday mornings, then flee and return the following Tuesday for another brief "per-diem session," as it's known.

It is, simply, bending the rules for personal gain.

And then there are the procedural rules, which supposedly govern the flow of legislation through the Capitol. But routinely, when those rules – having bills in print for public inspection, for example – interfere with what the majority party wants to do, they are waived, thus allowing major measures to be rushed through before any serious opposition can coalesce.

Now that Democrats have two-thirds supermajorities in both legislative houses, waiving procedural rules becomes even easier, so we should expect an even greater flood of written-in- secret bills this summer.

Skirting transparency had gotten easier two years ago when voters eliminated the two-thirds vote requirement for budgets by passing a ballot measure that also applied the lower vote margin to so-called trailer bills tied to the budget.

Yours truly and other jaundiced Capitol observers suggested that the trailer bill provision in Proposition 25 could be misused to bypass procedural safeguards, and that's exactly what happened. The Legislature has routinely placed token $1,000 appropriations in measures that had nothing truly to do with the budget, qualifying them as trailer bills.

Legislators used that subterfuge last year for a bill to bump Proposition 30, a tax increase backed by Gov. Jerry Brown and other Democrats, to the top of the ballot, thus enhancing its chances of passage.

It was a trick, and apparently an effective one, since Proposition 30 passed. But last week the 3rd District Court of Appeal spanked the Legislature for using a "spot bill" – a shell without any legislative content – to suddenly enact a major change in election law on the fiction that it was connected to the budget.

Such a ruse "sets up a shell game," the court declared.

You could say that about a lot of ways in which the Legislature bends rules while expecting the rest of us to follow them.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Dan Walters

Dan Walters, political columnist

Dan Walters

Dan Walters has been a journalist for more than a half-century, spending all but a few of those years working for California newspapers. At one point in his career, at age 22, he was the nation's youngest daily newspaper editor.

He joined The Sacramento Union's Capitol bureau in 1975, just as Jerry Brown began his first governorship, and later became the Union's Capitol bureau chief. In 1981, Walters began writing the state's only daily newspaper column devoted to California political, economic and social events and, in 1984, he and the column moved to The Sacramento Bee. He has written more than 7,500 columns about California and its politics and his column now appears in dozens of California newspapers.

Email: dwalters@sacbee.com
Phone: 916-321-1195
Twitter: @WaltersBee

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