Dan Walters

California measures for three-day waiting period near showdown

Charles Munger Jr. explains his legislative transparency initiative

Wealthy Stanford physicist and GOP donor Charles Munger Jr. is behind Proposition 54, a ballot measure requiring that bills be available publicly for 72 hours before they can be voted on. He explained the purpose of the initiative at a legislative
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Wealthy Stanford physicist and GOP donor Charles Munger Jr. is behind Proposition 54, a ballot measure requiring that bills be available publicly for 72 hours before they can be voted on. He explained the purpose of the initiative at a legislative

It’s showdown time for two fiercely competitive measures that would give the public more time to see legislative bills before they are passed.

Charles Munger Jr., a wealthy Stanford University physicist and major player in California politics, and former Republican state Sen. Sam Blakeslee have qualified their ballot measure, which would require any bill to be posted on the internet and in print for 72 hours before a final vote.

Legislative leaders, meanwhile, have hastily written their own 72-hour notice measure, Senate Constitutional Amendment 14, as an alternative, clearly hoping that Munger and Blakeslee will remove their measure from the November ballot by Thursday’s deadline – something they insist won’t happen.

However, SCA 14 still needs a two-thirds Assembly vote, which means support from at least two Republican members – possible but unlikely at the moment – and also faces Thursday’s legal deadline. The Legislature, though, has stretched the deadline for its measures in the past.

In a series of recent amendments, the convoluted wording of SCA 14, which appeared to be less than a firm 72-hour mandate, has been simplified. The chief difference appears that while the Munger-Blakeslee measure requires printed and internet versions of bills to be available 72 hours in advance, SCA 14 requires only internet posting.

Initiative sponsors say that’s a major flaw in SCA 14, while Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, who is carrying SCA 14, claims the initiative has “critical flaws” in its notice requirement.

Potentially, the more important differences have to do with how video of legislative proceedings is broadcast and archived, and the right of the public to record those proceedings itself.

Long-standing state law prohibits commercial or political uses of legislative recordings, and before this month, critics of the Munger-Blakeslee measure claimed that its true purpose was to use them for what spokesman Steve Maviglio called “15-second attack ads.”

However, federal Judge Morrison England overturned the video prohibition on June 9, the same day that Senate Bill 884, a companion measure to SCA 14, was undergoing its last amendment.

SB 884 now repeals the law that England declared invalid. However, the Munger-Blakeslee camp says that by providing broader access to videos in legislation, rather than in the state constitution, as the initiative does, the Legislature could restrict access in the future.

So, one might ask, which approach best reduces legislative sneakiness, particularly politicians’ penchant for using the “gut-and-amend” technique to write entirely new bills that are enacted without even the pretense of public notice?

Neither is perfect, but either would be better than the much-abused status quo. However, it’s troublesome that some important provisions regarding access to and use of video recordings are not constitutionally guaranteed by the Legislature.

The Legislature’s stiff resistance to video access in the case before Judge England indicates that it might revert to its old ways without a constitutional guarantee.

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