Blizzard of bills offers a spectacle
“California lawmakers hurriedly pass hundreds of bills with little or no discussion.”
Words like those will appear in various media reports during the week ending May 31 when Assembly bills must move to the Senate and vice versa.
Even though this feverish several-day flurry of seemingly indiscriminate bill passage occurs annually, it’s a spectacle worth spotlighting.
Change after change to California’s already voluminous body of law are swiftly approved after little more than a lawmaker haltingly reading a brief, staff-written summary of the bill that conveys nothing so much as the lack of knowledge the legislator has about the content of his or her own measure.
To goad lawmakers into greater efficiency, the presiding officer periodically notes how many bills have been passed within the last hour, as though quantity trumps quality. Perhaps better time management would obviate the need for such last minute alacrity.
Invariably, every media report will have someone speaking on behalf of the Legislature saying something like, “All these measures received a thorough analysis in policy committee.”
California’s 120 lawmakers were permitted to introduce bills starting Dec. 3, 2012, when sworn in for their current two-year session.
The final day to introduce legislation was Feb. 22, although exceptions are routinely granted.
This year, 2,234 proposed statutes have been introduced and 24 constitutional amendments. Of these 2,258 pieces of legislation, 835 were introduced on or after Feb. 22. About 37 percent.
The calendar says there’s still 60 workdays from Feb. 22 until the final week of May.
Not in the California Legislature.
Lawmakers give themselves only 15 days to deal with these “last minute” bills – and most of the 1,423 introduced before the deadline.
Policy committees don’t meet on Thursdays and Fridays. At the end of March, there’s a six-day recess.
Since 1911, the state constitution has required that no bill be acted on until 30 days after its introduction. The 30-day window gave the state printer time to typeset and proof bills. The Legislature recessed while this happened.
In 1958, voters abolished the recess but kept the 30-day waiting period.
Two of the 24 constitutional amendments introduced this year, SCA 10 and ACA 4, would eliminate the 30-day rule, with voter approval.
This archaic rule means all 835 bills introduced on or after February 22 are prohibited from being acted on until at least March 25, which falls during the spring recess that began March 22.
The Legislature’s vacation schedule and the 30-day rule prevent 66 percent of measures introduced this year – 1,501 of 2,258 bills – from being acted on until April 1, the day after spring break ends.
Policy committees must finish their exhaustive examination of these measures by May 3.
Only a handful of bills were acted on before spring recess, leaving a universe of closer to 2,000 bills to dispatch in 15 committee meeting days.
Dividing 2,000 bills by 15 equals an average daily quota of 133 and one-third.
During the Assembly’s first week after vacation, 14 policy committees are scheduled to consider 176 bills of which 82 were eligible to be heard before spring break.
Half of those committees are adopting their rules, an annual action required before approving or torpedoing any legislation.
In the Senate, 11 committees – seven of which are adopting rules — are slated to hear 103 bills. Forty of the 103 bills were eligible for a vote before spring recess.
This whittles to 1,222 – at best – the bills to scrutinize by May 3.
Past performance suggests two-thirds or more of those measures, regardless of whether more clarification or refinement is needed, will advance to the floor of each house.
Probably more since one-third of the Legislature have been state lawmakers less than five months and it’s easier to say “yes” than “no.”
So somewhere around 1,000 bills will vie for legislative attention during the final week of May.
No wonder bills are hurriedly acted upon. At least they had a thorough policy committee analysis.
Ed’s Note: Greg Lucas, a contributing editor at Capitol Weekly, is the publisher of California’s Capitol, a political blog.
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