Capitol Alert

California transparency bills knocked by initiative backer

Former Sen. Sam Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo, at a Sacramento hearing on Monday, March 21, 2011.
Former Sen. Sam Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo, at a Sacramento hearing on Monday, March 21, 2011.

A pair of Democratic bills meant to illuminate the California legislative process drew accusations Monday that their real purpose is to undercut a similar ballot initiative trumpeted by Republicans.

Unveiled with the blessing of Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Paramount, and Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, Senate Constitutional Amendment 14 and Assembly Bill 884 would require all hearings to be recorded and posted online and would force lawmakers to wait 72 hours before voting on the final version of bills.

Critics of the legislative process have for years sought the “three-day print” rule, arguing it would halt the practice of rushing through bills amended in the waning hours of the legislative session. Republican bills to institute the rule faltered in previous years before the concept resurfaced in SCA 14, carried by Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis.

“Ensuring that the public and legislators have ample time to review legislation before voting is essential to making good public policy,” Wolk said in a statement. The measure is set to have its first hearing Wednesday.

The authors of a similar proposed ballot initiative are unimpressed. Promoted by former state Sen. Sam Blakeslee and conservative benefactor Charles T. Munger, Jr., supporters last month turned in 1,002,555 signatures for verification to qualify for the November ballot.

Blakeslee dismissed the Democratic bills as diluted versions of his ballot measure, saying they contained “significant flaws and defects.”

Blakeslee noted that his initiative would demand the 72-hour window before final votes in both the Senate and the Assembly (bills must pass both houses) whereas SCA 14 would mandate the wait only before a bill’s final vote in the second house. He also argued that paying for SCA 14 with money from the general fund instead of the Legislature’s budget would create a “loophole you could drive a semi-truck through” by allowing lawmakers to spend money elsewhere. And he criticized AB 884 for being a statute, not a constitutional amendment, which would make it easier for lawmakers to subsequently alter.

If legislators pass SCA 14 with two-thirds votes in both chambers it could land on the fall 2016 ballot. If it qualifies for November, the Blakeslee-Munger measure could be pulled back through June 30.

Don’t count on it, Blakeslee said.

“We’re completely open to discussing ways to improve transparency in the Legislature,” Blakeslee said, “but we’re not prepared to move backwards.”

Jeremy B. White: 916-326-5543, @CapitolAlert