A peek under the Capitol’s hood

State Capitol in Sacramento. (Photo: Shuttesrstock)

This is the final installment in a series of articles dealing with the procedural myths and realities of the California Legislature.

Misconception: The “revolving door” limitation applies to legislators and staff alike.
Reality: Definitely not.
It only applies to lawmakers, and it bars them from lobbying, for compensation, for 12 months after leaving office. There is no such limitation on legislative staff.

Misconception: Lobbyists can communicate by phone or text with Assembly members.
Reality: Definitely, definitely not.
Whether on the Assembly floor during a session or while serving on a committee during a hearing, Assembly lawmakers cannot use cell phones to make or receive calls, nor send or receive text messages from any lobbyist.

Misconception: In the Capitol, both houses have adopted a formal Standards of Conduct for their Members.
Reality: No.
The Senate has adopted an official Code of Conduct for its members, while the Assembly has not. Both houses have ethics and conflict-of-interest rules, and both are bound by constitutional and statutory ethics rules as well.

Misconception: The $10 gift rule, which has been in effect since 1974, applies equally to lobbyists and lobbyist employers.
Reality: No.
The monthly $10 gift limitation only applies to registered lobbyists. Lobbyist employers have a yearly gift cap of $470. Electronic Distribution of Bills, Conference Reports, Amendments, and Analyses

Misconception: Only a court of law can remove a legislator from office.
Reality: Nope.
Each house of the Legislature can do it itself with a two-thirds vote taken in a roll call.

Misconception: The statewide general election for legislators is always the first Tuesday in November in even-numbered years.
Reality: Generally yes, but not always.
The constitution says Assembly members and Senators are elected on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November of even-numbered years, unless otherwise prescribed by the Legislature. So if Nov. 1 was a Tuesday, for example, the election would be held on Nov. 8, after the first Monday. This happened in the November 2016 general election.

Misconception: To qualify for the next statewide ballot, both a statutory initiative and a constitutional amendment initiative must obtain signatures from a minimum of 5% of the electors in the last gubernatorial election.
Reality: No.
While a statutory initiative must obtain signatures equaling 5% of the votes cast for all candidates for Governor at the last gubernatorial election, a constitutional amendment initiative must get signatures that equal 8% of the votes cast in that election.

Misconception: Constitutional office appointments require confirmation only by the Senate.
Reality: Nope.
Nominees to any constitutional office must be confirmed by both the Assembly and the Senate. In addition, the Senate confirms certain gubernatorial appointments. In the Assembly, this role is limited to the confirmation of nominees to fill a vacancy for a constitutional office.

Misconception: Committee jurisdictions are the same in both houses. So, if my insurance bill went to the Senate Insurance Committee, it will be referred to the Assembly Insurance Committee.
Reality: Not so simple.
There are 32 Assembly committees and 22 Senate committees. Not all Senate bills in the insurance area are referred to the Assembly Insurance Committee, and vice versa. Many committees are the same between the two houses in terms of jurisdiction and authority. But there are a few differences. For example, in the Assembly, worker’s compensation bills go to the Insurance Committee, while in the Senate, they go to the Labor & Industrial Relations Committee.

 Misconception: A new statute is in effect until voters decide on the referendum targeting the new law.
Reality: No.
The law is blocked from taking effect until the referendum on the statute is decided at the next statewide general election. If the referendum fails, the statute takes effect not retroactively to its originally scheduled effective date, but rather after the Secretary of State certifies the referendum vote.

 Misconception: An adjournment motion is always in order.
Reality: Nope
In the California Legislature, an adjournment motion is not in order if bills are still “on call” awaiting final votes up or down. Once the calls are lifted, then a motion to adjourn can be made.

Misconception: The Legislature and the people through the initiative process can make the same statutory changes.
Reality: No, but it’s a little complicated.
An initiative is a proposal to change statutory law or the California Constitution. It is submitted by members of the public – not the Legislature — and initiatives require voter approval at a statewide election. The Legislature does not submit statutory initiatives. It can only offer proposed constitutional amendments, because the Legislature passes bills that add, repeal or amend statutes. The one exception is a bond measure that is placed on the ballot by a bill passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor. Voters must approve bond measures.

Misconception: The Assembly and Senate always meet separately.
Reality: Nope.
The Assembly and Senate may meet together, usually in the Assembly Chamber, in a “joint session” to receive special information, such as the governor’s State of the State address or to hear from a foreign dignitary.

Misconception: The Senate leader appoints all committee members.
Reality: Yes and No.
In practical terms, the Senate leader (officially known as the President pro Tempore of the Senate) selects those who will sit on Senate committees. Technically, the members of the Rules Committee are elected to their positions by the members of the Senate, and thereafter the Senate Rules Committee selects the membership of the remaining committees, along with the chairs and vice chairs, pursuant to Senate Rule 11.

Misconception: Like Congress, committee membership is based upon seniority.
Reality: Again, Yes and No.
The Senate Rules Committee is supposed to give consideration to seniority, preference and experience of senators, as well as give equal representation to all parts of the state, when making committee appointments. But seniority does not play as great a role as it does in Congress.

Misconception: The Legislative Counsel provides legal advice to the governor and all the other constitutional officers.
Reality: No.
The Legislative Counsel provides legal advice to Members of the Legislature and the Governor, but not to the other constitutional officers.

Misconception: Resolutions used by the Assembly and Senate are essentially the same.
Reality: Yes, sort of.
There are actually three types of resolutions: House resolutions (HR or SR) deal with matters of a single house; concurrent resolutions (ACR or SCR) relate to matters to be treated by both houses, and joint resolutions (AJR or SJR) relate to matters connected with the federal government.

Misconception: The Republican Leaders in the two houses pick the vice chairs of the standing committees.
Reality: Yes, pretty much.
The Senate minority leader usually picks vice chairs and committee assignments, whereas in the Assembly the minority leader makes suggestions to the Assembly Speaker on committee assignments.

Misconception: Any resolution introduced by a Member is heard by a committee.
Reality: Depends on the house.
As a general policy, the Assembly Rules Committee does not hear resolutions weighing in on matters of foreign policy.  The Senate has no such limitation.

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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