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Inside the Capitol — procedurally

The California State Senate in Sacramento. (Photo: Trekandshoot, via Shutterstock)

(Ed’s Note: This is the fourth in a series of detailed articles about the inner workings of the state Capitol and the Legislature relating to structure, rules and procedures.)

Misconception:  A special session of the Legislature continues in place once it’s called by the governor.
Reality: Nope
All special sessions not previously adjourned – and regular sessions, for that matter — are adjourned sine die at midnight on Nov. 30 of each even-numbered year. The term sine die means adjournment without a new date to resume the proceeding.

Misconception: Budget “trailer” bills can only be passed in conjunction with the main budget bill.
Reality: Sort of.
Budget “trailer” bills – bills related to the main budget legislation — can pretty much be enacted any time after the main budget bill has passed as long as there is a nominal appropriation in the bill and it is tied by language to the budget bill. This can be done by a majority vote on each floor of the Assembly and Senate.

Misconception: The budget committee chairs introduce the budget bills as a courtesy to the Governor.
Reality: Nope.
The state constitution requires the heads of the budget committees in the Senate and Assembly to author the bills. Courtesy is not the issue.

Misconception: The governor’s May Revise provides the only changes to the Jan. 10 budget proposal by the administration.
Reality: No.
The May Revise, which reflects the latest tax receipts from the April 15 income tax deadline, revises the original draft proposal to include the new revenue figures. But the Department of Finance – the agency that writes the governor’s budget – issues what are called “Finance Letters” to the Legislature  during the year also requiring spending changes.

Misconception: The federal and state governments use the same fiscal year.
Reality: Definitely not.
California’s fiscal year, the 12-month period on which the state budget is planned, runs from July 1 to June 30 of the following year. The federal fiscal year begins Oct. 1 and ends Sept. 30 of the following year. Why don’t the state and federal governments use the conventional calendar year, Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, like everyone else? Good question.

Misconception: Budget trailer bills need an urgency clause to take effect immediately.
Reality: Nope, but it’s a little tricky.
Urgency statutes, which take effect immediately, are those considered necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health or safety. Under the constitution, they require approval by a two-thirds vote of the Legislature, rather than a simple majority. However, the budget bill — and other bills that contain spending related to the budget bill — may be passed by a simple majority vote and can take effect immediately when signed by the governor.

Misconception – The Assembly and Senate each have the same number of budget subcommittees.
Reality: No
There are six Assembly budget subcommittees and five Senate budget subcommittees, which have the same jurisdictions. The Assembly subcommittees are: No. 1 on Health and Human Services; No. 2 on Education Finance; No. 3 on Resources and Transportation; No. 4 on State Administration; No. 5 on Public Safety; and No. 6 on Budget Process, Oversight and Program Evaluation. The Senate budget subcommittees are: No. 1 on Education; No. 2 on Resources, Environmental Protection, Energy and Transportation; No. 3 on Health and Human Services; No. 4 on State Administration and General Government; and No. 5 on Corrections, Public Safety and the Judiciary. Phew.

Misconception:  The governor’s line-item veto authority applies only to budget bills.
Reality: No.
The state constitution  — that’s Article IV, Section 10(e), for those taking notes – says the governor “may reduce or eliminate one or more items of appropriation while approving other portions of a bill.” If the governor does that, he needs to attach a statement to the bill explaining his actions to the house where the bill originated. If the house wants, it can reconsider the cuts and try to pass them over the governor’s veto. This line-item veto is sometimes referred to as “blue pencil” authority, because years ago the governor used an editor’s blue pencil for the task.

Misconception: The governor can “pocket veto” a bill just like the President.
Reality: Not at all.
In California, there is a “pocket signature” rule, which is the opposite of the federal rule. If the governor fails to act on a bill (accidentally or intentionally), it becomes law without his or her signature. In other words, the governor must veto a bill to prevent it from becoming law. But if the president fails to act on a bill, it is vetoed.

Misconception: The governor has 30 days to act on all legislation.
Reality: Nope.
Actually, the Governor has 12 days to act on a measure sent to his or her desk. However, at the end of the yearly session, bills passed after a certain date and received by the governor after adjournment can be acted upon by the governor within 30 days.

Misconception: The Governor must act on a bill within either 12 days or 30 days after the Legislature approves it.
Reality: Nope
There is confusion about when the clock starts running to trigger the 12-day or 30-day review. It begins when the bill has been delivered to the governor, not when the Legislature passes the bill. After passage by the Legislature, a bill must still go through the engrossing and enrolling processes before the bill is sent to the governor. Once the governor receives the bill, then the clock begins running.

Misconception: Once a bill has passed both houses, it is automatically transmitted to the governor’s desk.
Reality: No.
As we found in 2016 when a major bill was delayed for more than a month before it was sent to the governor for action, bills can be delayed in the engrossing and enrolling process.

Misconception: The governor’s signature on a bill is the final hurdle for a bill to be enacted into law.
Reality: Yes, but …
To be technical, when a bill has been passed by the Legislature and enacted into law (i.e., after a signature by the governor or a “pocket signature”), the secretary of state assigns the bill a “chapter number”. The ministerial act of being given a chapter number is the final procedural item for a bill to become law.

Misconception: Constitutional amendments that are passed by the Senate and Assembly by 2/3 majority votes of both houses are signed by the Governor before being presented to the voters at the next statewide election.
Reality: Nope
Constitutional amendments are not presented to the governor, so he or she cannot sign or veto constitutional amendments. Once passed by both houses of the Legislature, the proposed amendment goes directly to the voters at the next election, unless a statute is enacted to change the date the measure appears on the ballot.

Ed’s Note: Chris Micheli is an attorney and registered lobbyist at the Sacramento governmental relations firm of Aprea & Micheli, Inc. He also serves as an Adjunct Professor at McGeorge School of Law.


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