New committee to focus on Government reform proposals

A new legislative committee dedicated to overhauling California’s system of governance will begin hearings later this month with an eye toward the 2010 ballot.

The new, 20-member Joint Select Committee on Reform, chaired by Assemblyman Mike Feuer, D-Los Angeles, and Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, will hold it’s first meeting on Oct. 22.

“The hope for the first meeting is to frame the debate,” DeSaulnier said. “We want to take a look at things like the Constitutional Revision Commission (from the 1990s), and put these issues in a historical perspective.”

Feuer said he is cognizant of those who dismiss the idea of another committee to pay lip service to the state’s problems. “The point is not simply to engage in academic conversation,” he said. “The point is to come up with some very specific bill ideas at the end of this process.”

The committee will not just be looking at the big-ticket reform items being talked about by think tanks and reform groups across the state. DeSaulnier said the committee will also be looking for smaller changes that can be made internally to tweak the legislative process and increase government efficiency and accountability.

 “There are things we can do just by changing the house rules,” he said. DeSaulnier mentioned performance-based budgeting, and moving to a two-year budget cycle as some of the changes that may have bipartisan support, and could be enacted through legislation next year.

Bills on performance based budgeting have been introduced by Democrats and Republicans in the current legislative session. The fact that Sacramento Republican Roger Niello and Davis Democrat Lois Wolk both have performance-based budgeting proposals, “suggests that might be one opportunity for bipartisan cooperation,” said Feuer.

After a series of hearings this fall, the committee is planning to make recommendations to Speaker Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, and Senate leader Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, about ways to change how the Legislature works.  Those recommendations will likely include internal legislative rule changes, bill ideas and potentially ballot measure ideas that would have to be ratified by voters.

The committee’s second meeting will deal with initiative reform. Among the proposals under consideration is a measure by Sen.

Denise Ducheny, D-San Diego, that would require any new initiative to provide a funding source to pay for the programs created by the ballot measure.

The committee was created last month by Bass and Steinberg, as the clamor for “reform” grows louder. A number of different groups including California Forward, the Bay Area Council and the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and contemplating ballot measures in 2010 that would change the state’s system of governance.

The Los Angeles Chamber is reportedly joining forces with the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor to back a change to the state term limits law. Under the new proposal, lawmakers would be allowed to serve 12 years in any house of the Legislature. Current law allows members to serve three two-year terms in the Assembly and two four-year terms in the Senate.

Voters rejected a similar proposal in 2008. But that measure provided extra terms for members currently serving in the Assembly or Senate. The new measure, currently under review at the Attorney General’s office, would not give current members any special treatment.

Other proposals range from the familiar – like a proposed tweak to the state term-limits law that has been submitted to the Attorney General’s office – to the expansive. The Bay Area Council has advocated for a constitutional Convention to rewrite the state’s charter. The call has been embraced by DeSaulnier, and this week, got the support of San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom.

“Major changes cannot come from within the Constitution,” DeSaulnier said. “If nothing else, the threat (of a Constitutional Convention) is important.”

Others aren’t so sure.  Feuer said he does not support the idea of a constitutional convention “because it potentially would result in horse-trading of rights that people take for granted, “ he said. “I also don’t believe that a constitutional convention would address our problems with the speed that they need to be addressed.”

California Forward has unveiled its blueprint for suggested reforms. The group’s co-chairman, former Assembly Speaker Robert Hertzberg, says his group is looking to see if the Legislature might be able to reach some kind of bipartisan agreement, and work across party lines to put a Constitutional revision on the ballot next fall.

Feuer says all of that will be on the committee’s agenda.

“This needs to be the year that we act with tremendous urgency to solve our problems,” he said.

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