Soapbox

Prop. 54 plays into the hands of special interests

Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, center, celebrates after the chamber on the last day of the session Aug. 31 approved his bill to provide a state-run retirement plan for low-wage workers.
Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, center, celebrates after the chamber on the last day of the session Aug. 31 approved his bill to provide a state-run retirement plan for low-wage workers. Associated Press

Why is nearly every major lobbying group in Sacramento lined up behind Proposition 54, the ballot measure being funded by one billionaire with a narrow political agenda?

It’s simple: Prop. 54 is a special interest power grab.

Take a look at the long list of groups that have endorsed it. If Prop. 54 really puts “voters first, not special interests,” as its proponents claim, why are lobbyists lining up in droves to persuade you to vote for it?

It’s simple: Prop. 54 will throw a monkey-wrench into the legislative process.

By prohibiting the Legislature from passing nearly any bill that has not been in print for at least 72 hours, it enables special interests to unleash frenzied lobbying efforts to defeat delicate compromises on key legislation crafted by your elected representatives.

It upsets the balance of power between the governor and the Legislature.

And it will allow, for the first time, legislative proceedings to be used in political advertising, likely resulting in a barrage of attack ads that will appear on your screen and in grandstanding by legislators playing to the camera.

That’s why 45 states do not have the provisions of Prop. 54, nor does Congress.

As a former legislator, I know that it’s often difficult to reach agreement when powerful interests are twisting arms and launching public relations offensives. That is why when major deals are struck, legislators and the governor occasionally need to move quickly.

Yet even then, any bill must be approved by both the Assembly and Senate and signed by the governor, a process that typically takes a month – plenty of time for citizens to weigh in.

But why should groups such as the National Rifle Association be given three extra days to squeeze elected officials once they’ve reached a compromise?

Prop. 54 also would require a three-day wait even when there is a typo in the bill or a missing comma. No other state or local law includes this provision.

On top of that, the Legislature would be straitjacketed to react to emergencies. Prop. 54 would require both the governor and two-thirds of the Legislature to waive the waiting period. This new hurdle would be extremely difficult to clear, particularly if the governor and Legislature were of opposing political parties.

When speaking to the Public Policy Institute of California last year, then-Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg noted that the 2009 balanced budget compromise that saved California from bankruptcy would not have happened if Prop. 54 had been in place. Leaders of both political parties had to make difficult and bold decisions, and all four were recognized with the prestigious John F. Kennedy “Profiles in Courage” award.

Our Legislature needs to work better, not be hamstrung by red tape.

Art Torres is a former state senator, was chairman of the California Democratic Party from 1996 to 2009, and signed the official ballot argument against Proposition 54. He can be contacted at noonprop54@gmail.com.

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