In the Capitol, myth vs. reality

The state Capitol in Sacramento. (Photo: Feoktistoff, via Shutterstock)

Over the years, there have been myriad misconceptions about different aspects of  state law making. So let’s hold our breath, take a deep dive into the Capitol and separate the myths from the reality. Later, we’ll also look at amendments, committees, the governor, special sessions, floor actions and the like.

Misconception: Only urgency bills take effect immediately.
Reality: Nope, not always.
Urgency statutes generally are considered necessary for immediate preservation of the public peace, health or safety, and they require approval by a two-thirds vote of the Legislature, rather than a simple majority. But the Budget Bill and other related legislation may be passed by a majority vote to take effect immediately, if signed by the Governor, or on a date spelled out in the bill.

Misconception: Both the Assembly and Senate allow lawmakers to introduce up to 40 bills per session.
Reality: Not any more.
This was true until the 2017-18 session when the Assembly changed its rule to allow the introduction of a maximum of 50 bills per session. The Senate retains a cap of 40 bills per session. Members in either house can request rule waivers to introduce more than the allowed number of bills.

Misconception: Any bill bill keyed as a “tax levy” is a tax-increase bill.
Reality: Not necessarily.
Yes, a “tax levy” is a collection tool used by the government, but when a bill is labeled a “tax levy,” it refers to any bill that imposes a tax, gets rid of a tax or significantly alters an existing tax– so it does not always mean tax increase. It is the Legislative Counsel, the Legislature’s nonpartisan legal adviser, who says in the Title and Digest of the bill whether the measure is a tax levy.

Misconception: All bills that contain an appropriation require a super-majority vote for passage.
Reality: Yes, but with a really big exception.
This is the general rule, except for education finance bills: They require a majority vote for passage.

Misconception — All two-year bills can be considered at any time in the second year of the session.
Reality: Nope.
All two-year bills, even those that contain an urgency clause or are deemed to be a tax levy, must pass their house of origin by January 31 of the second year. If they don’t, they can’t be heard. This rule does not apply to constitutional amendments.

Misconception – As in Congress, the sponsor of California bill is the legislator who introduces the bill.
Realty: Nope.
In Congress and in the vast majority of states, a bill’s author is termed the sponsor of the bill. But in California, the sponsor can be a lawmaker, a private individual, or a group that develops a measure and advocates its passage. Only a member of the Legislature can introduce a bill, and that lawmaker is known as the author of the bill.

Misconception – Bond measures are approved only by the Legislature.
Reality: Nope
A bill authorizing the sale of general obligation bonds to finance specific projects or activities does need to be approved by the Legislature and governor, but the so-called GO bonds also must be approved by the voters. Note, this process does not apply to revenue bonds.

Misconception – A bill’s Legislative Counsel Digest analyzes a bill’s provisions.
Reality: Nope

The Legislative Counsel’s Digest summarizes the effect of a proposed bill on current law. It appears on the first page of the printed bill. It does not provide an analysis of the proposed law. That is done by policy committee staff in their bill analyses.

Misconception – Engrossing and enrolling of bills is the same thing.
Reality: Nope
When a bill is amended, it is proofread by the staff to make sure the amendments are inserted properly. After this, the bill is “correctly engrossed,” which means it’s in a proper form. Enrollment, however, refers to a bill passed by both houses of the Legislature. When that happens, it is ordered enrolled. In enrollment, the bill is again proofread for accuracy and then delivered to the governor. The “enrolled bill” contains the complete text of the bill with the dates of passage certified by the Secretary of the Senate and the Chief Clerk of the Assembly.

Misconception – Only bills impose state mandates.
Reality: Nope
Administrative regulations also can put into place a new program or force a higher level of service on the part of a local government, the costs of which are required by the California Constitution to be reimbursed to those governments.

Misconception – A bill containing an urgency clause requires only one floor vote for passage.
Reality: Nope
A vote on the urgency clause, requiring a two-thirds vote in each house, must precede a vote on the bill, under a rule known as Joint Rule 27. As a result, there are actually two votes taken on the floor on a bill containing an urgency clause — the first on the urgency clause and the second on the bill itself.

Misconception: Assembly committees may introduce an unlimited number of bills.
Reality: Nope
Unless the Assembly Rules Committee declares otherwise, the Budget Committee may introduce a bill germane to any subject within its jurisdiction. But any other standing committee may only introduce a total of five bills in each year of a two-year session.

Misconception – Budget appropriations bills can be authored by any member.
Reality: Nope
Bills providing for appropriations related to the Budget Bill can only be authored by the Senate Budget & Fiscal Review Committee or the Assembly Budget Committee. However, this provision may be suspended by approval of the Rules Committee.

Misconception: Senate members need a second to move a bill, just like in the Assembly.
Reality: Nope
In the Senate, to vote on a bill only requires an initial motion. In the Assembly, both a motion and a second are required before a bill can be voted on by the committee members.

Misconception – A lawmaker may not author a bill during a session that would have substantially the same effect as a bill that he or she introduced during that session.
Reality: Yes, with exceptions
This is the general rule, unless the lawmaker receives approval by the Rules Committee. Nonetheless, this restriction does not apply in cases where the previously introduced bill was vetoed by the governor or its provisions were “chaptered out” by a later chaptered bill.

Ed’s Note: This is the latest in a series of stories about the rules of law making in the state Capitol. Chris Micheli is a registered lobbyist with the Sacramento governmental relations firm of Aprea & Micheli, Inc. He serves as an Adjunct Professor at McGeorge School of Law.


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