The road to reforms of the state Legislature is paved with good intentions. But like most, the new proposal by Democratic state Sens. Lois Wolk and Lou Correa and Republican Assemblywoman Kristen Olsen to require legislative bills to be in print for three days before being voted on by lawmakers will have unintended consequences, none of them good.
It is understandable that at first blush, the notion of letting the sun shine on a proposal for three days makes sense. It will give legislators, and the public, more time to read the details of most legislation.
However, it is my experience that, for better of worse, that rarely happens. Because of the volume and complexity of bills, legislators read the analysis prepared by expert staffers to get the true meaning of what they're voting on, rather than wading through hundreds of pages of line-by-line revisions. The three-day rule would make no difference in that regard.
More importantly, the flip side of having a three-day wait is that the special interests and their armies of lobbyists will have more time to blow up important agreements. In this day and age of social media, it takes no time to deploy telephone and email campaigns that scare off legislators from making tough decisions for fear of alienating some voters or interests.
Take a look at what would have happened on the federal level if this rule were in place in Congress. The vote on the recent deal that Vice President Joe Biden made with the congressional Republican leadership to avoid sequestration cuts and massive tax increases on the middle class was taken within hours of the deal being struck. Had there been a mandatory waiting period, Grover Norquist, the Club For Growth and the tea party could have pulled even more Republicans off the leadership agreement, and we would now be staring at a double-dip recession.
We all must understand that while not ideal, democracy isn't always pretty. The movie "Lincoln" reminds us of that. I'm afraid that had it been around back then, California Forward and "reform" groups behind the three-day waiting period would have opposed the 13th Amendment on procedural grounds.
In addition, voters have just spoken on this issue. This proposed constitutional change was one of the key features of last November's Proposition 31 sponsored by California Forward, along with other measures to "improve" the Legislature. Voters wanted none of it; Proposition 31 had the distinction of being defeated in every one of the state's 58 counties.
Special interests don't need any more tools to inflict their will on the Legislature. Unfortunately, this well-intended idea could do just that.