One of the Legislature’s archaic rules that lawmakers say needlessly delays action on bills would be eliminated through a newly introduced constitutional amendment Republican and Democratic lawmakers hope to place on the 2014 ballot.
If voters approve, the change would end the Legislature’s 30-days-in-print rule, which requires exactly that: No hearing or vote can be taken on legislation until it sits for 30 days after being introduced.
The constitutional amendment would cut the rule to 15 days.
“Thirty days is an anachronism,” said Sen. Lois Wolk, a Davis Democrat who is carrying the constitutional amendment — SCA 10 — in the upper house.
“In print and online for 15 days is incrementally better. We can start our work more quickly. The avalanche of bills that comes in March, April and May could be avoided,” Wolk told California’s Capitol.
A constitutional amendment is needed because the 30-day rule can be found in Article IV, Section 8 (a) of the California Constitution: “At regular sessions no bill other than the budget bill may be heard or acted on by committee or either house until the 31st day after the bill is introduced unless the house dispenses with this requirement by roll call vote entered in the journal, three fourths of the membership concurring.”
The rule has been enshrined in the state constitution since 1911.
Back then, the Legislature was required to recess for 30 days to allow the state printer time to typeset and publish bills.
Voters abolished the 30-day recess by approving Proposition 9 in 1958 but the 30-day waiting period on hearing bills remained.
“The practical effect has been that many bills are introduced with only intent language and then sit for 30 days, thereby reducing public access to the final bill language,” reads a February 21, 2008 Assembly memo on the subject.
In an effort at better time management, the Assembly sought a way to use the 30-day period at least in some manner.
While agreeing that the constitution explicitly prevents a bill from having a hearing or being voted on during the 30-days-in-print window, the Assembly and the Legislature’s lawyers found nothing in Article IV, Section 8 (a) to prevent the author of legislation from amending it during those 30 days.
And, as of the date of the 2008 memo quoted above, lawmakers in the lower house became free to amend their bills while the 30-day clock runs.
“Allowing author’s amendments to be adopted during this waiting period is in keeping with the constitutional intent of providing ample time for the public to study proposed legislation prior to its first public hearing,” the memo says.
The Senate chose not to embrace the Assembly’s position.
Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen, a Modesto Republican, is carrying an identical Assembly constitutional amendment.
Both measures would also require that all legislation be in print and online for 72 hours before final passage by the Senate or Assembly.
“Last-minute changes to bills can leave legislators unsure of what they are voting on and prevent the public from weighing in on proposals,” Wolk said in a statement announcing introduction of the constitutional amendments.
“Each year, the Legislature passes bills requiring greater transparency of various agencies and local governments. However, in many instances it fails to hold itself accountable to those same standards of open, transparent, citizen-driven government,” said Olsen in the same press release. Her measure is ACA 4.
The Legislature’s current rule is that once a measure reaches the Third Reading File it is eligible to be acted on.
— Ed’s Note: This story originally appeared in Greg Lucas’ blog, California’s Capitol.