Editorial: Stop disgrace of 'gut and amend' in Legislature

Published: Wednesday, May. 1, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 12A

At the last minute in the last hour of the California legislative session, lawmakers resort to a stealth maneuver called "gut and amend." They strip out the original language of a bill and insert wholly new, unrelated language.

A bill on air pollution morphs into a bill on immigration. A bill on college tuition becomes a bill on shark fins. In the last three weeks of the 2011 session, legislators gutted and amended 48 bills, passing 22 of them. Gov. Jerry Brown signed 19 of them.

This has to stop.

Gut-and-amend bills happen despite the fact that the Senate and Assembly, like most state legislatures, have rules on "germaneness" of amendments. After a bill has been reported, no different subject may be introduced into it by amendment. That rule aims to prevent hasty and ill-considered legislation.

But enforcement isn't happening.

So Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, and Assemblywoman Kristen Olsen, R-Modesto, have introduced a bill (SCA 10/ACA 4) that would ask voters to change the California Constitution to require bills (except those that address a state of emergency) to be in print and published for 72 hours before legislators could vote on them – as New York and Florida already do.

Opponents, including Democratic strategist Steve Maviglio and some legislative staff analysts, believe that a three-day reading of bills "can allow the resolve for action to dissipate, and special interests can exert pressure and work to block carefully-crafted agreements." In other words, if legislative leaders can't act in secrecy and spring gut-and-amend bills unawares on the public, legislators would be too scared to act. This is silliness. An Assembly committee on Tuesday declined even to vote on Olsen's measure, letting it die.

The Bee's editorial board has long urged the Legislature fix its own rules to end the gut-and-amend practice – and opposed including such rules in the state's already unwieldy constitution. But if lawmakers won't act on their own, voters will have little choice but to take matters into their own hands and change the constitution.

Gut-and-amend legislation is a pernicious practice that needs to come to an end.

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