Capitol Alert

Kristin Olsen calls for more bill scrutiny, 2-year budget cycle in state Legislature

Assembly Republican leader Kristin Olsen of Riverbank shares a laugh after addressing the Sacramento Press Club on Thursday.
Assembly Republican leader Kristin Olsen of Riverbank shares a laugh after addressing the Sacramento Press Club on Thursday. rbyer@sacbee.com

Seeking to promote her party as the alternative to a scandal-scarred Democratic majority, Assembly Minority Leader Kristin Olsen, R-Riverbank, trumpeted on Thursday a package of bills that would change how the Legislature conducts business.

Since assuming control of the Assembly Republican caucus last fall, Olsen has worked to craft a new image for a party that has declined steeply in California despite making some gains in the last election. In a speech to the Sacramento Press Club, she said a focus on open government should be part of that work, along with renewed pushes on education and economic rejuvenation.

“This is about modernizing the Legislature and making sure that we are operating in a transparent, open way that encourages greater engagement from the public,” Olsen said.

Some of the bills Olsen spotlighted are repeats – Olsen acknowledged that “none of these ideas are new” – but she pitched them as an attempt to update procedures that have remained intact for decades. Olsen’s Assembly Constitutional Amendment 1, for example, would shrink the time period before committees can hear new bills, which Olsen called a relic of a paper-based system.

“We are in the age of the Internet, which I think started over 20 years ago, so there’s no reason for lawmakers now to not be able to get to work much sooner,” Olsen said.

That constitutional amendment would also require bills to be in printed form for three days before lawmakers can vote, the latest attempt to end the late-session maneuvering in which bills surface suddenly and are voted upon with little discussion, often late at night. Also getting another shot is offering whistleblower protection to legislative staff, which Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez, R-Lake Elsinore, is seeking via Assembly Bill 289 after her attempt last year foundered.

“There are so many examples just in the last four years of unintended consequences of bills because they’re poorly written, because they’ve been drafted in the middle of the night and voted on,” Olsen said, recalling that she once received new bill language 15 minutes after voting.

Other measures would change the budgeting process. Assembly Concurrent Resolution 45 would require state agencies to switch to “zero-based budgeting,” in which they must explain spending from the ground up rather than in comparison to previous years, while Assembly Constitutional Amendment 5 would create a two-year budget cycle.

And in keeping with her party’s tenet of limited government, Olsen pointed to House Resolution 14, which would cut from 40 to 20 the total number of bills lawmakers can introduce in a two-year session. There are currently more than 2,300 measures awaiting action.

“I think every Californian would agree we don’t need that many new laws,” Olsen said.

The office of Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, had no immediate comment on the Republican proposals.

Call Jeremy B. White, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5543.

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