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Out of sight, out of mind

On Friday afternoon, just before 3 p.m., the Assembly was wrapping up its budget process after a nearly 15-hour-long session. Among the last votes taken was a controversial measure to allow new oil drilling off the coast of Santa Barbara.

The bill went down to defeat, with only 28 Assemblymembers voting for the bill, and 43 members voting No.

But look for the vote on the state’s public database, and you won’t find it. In a bit of Assembly magic, the vote disappeared from the official record when the house agreed to expunge the vote on the oil-drilling bill.

“Certainly, George Orwell would be proud,” said Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, R-Irvine, author of the bill. “It sure went down the memory hole, didn’t it?”

DeVore noted that anyone who wanted to see the vote could simply watch the CalChannel’s video of Friday’s floor session. “It almost draws attention to the vote. I don’t understand why they even bother.”

Assembly Democratic sources said the vote was expunged at the request of Republican leader Sam Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo. Blakeslee, who represents a coastal district, was tepid in his support for the plan, but agreed to vote for it as part of the overall budget deal.

Blakeslee’s office denied those charges. “The only action requested by Assembly Republicans was to have to measure taken up for a vote,” said Blakeslee spokeswoman Jennifer Gibbons.

The formal motion to expunge the vote was made by the Democratic floor leader, Alberto Torrico, D-Newark, who voted against the bill.

Unlike the Assembly, the Senate does not allow the erasing of recorded votes. “We don’t expunge or allow people to change,” said Steinberg spokesman Jim Evans.  Evans also noted that members are not allowed to switch their votes from yes or no to “not voting,” as members can in the Assembly.

After just about any Assembly session, a short parade of members approaches the dais to announce vote changes on bills. The changes are allowed after session is over as long as the results do no change the final outcome of a bill.

Certainly, there are some senators who would love to have some votes expunged. Since the oil drilling and local gas tax borrowing plans failed, some senators in both parties are now on record as voting for unpopular measures that never even became law.

Sen. Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, opted to vote for the gas tax-borrowing plan after some arm twisting from Sen. Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento. On the oil drilling votes, Republican Tony Strickland put up a vote for the measure, even though it is unpopular with many people in his district. (In the Assembly, Strickland’s wife, Audra, voted against the bill).

The defeat of the oil bill meant tweaking of a pre-scripted budget deal, raising some tensions between the Assembly and Senate. “That certainly doesn’t do anything to build trust in the bicameral relationship,” DeVore said.

The only way to get the results of an expunged vote is to physically print out a copy of the tally from the Assembly computers in the back of the chambers immediately after the vote was taken.

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