A quest for government transparency

The state Capitol in Sacramento, viewed from 10th Street toward the West Steps.(Photo: Timothy Boomer)

The California Public Research Interest Group (CALPIRG) is a consumer group that stands up to powerful interests when they threaten our health and safety, our financial security, or our right to fully participate in our democratic society.  That is why we are strongly supporting Proposition 54, the California Legislature Transparency Act, on this November’s ballot.  Proposition 54 is a common-sense initiative that will reduce the power of special interests in Sacramento and give voters a stronger voice in legislation that impacts us all.

Proposition 54 directly addresses the secrecy and back room deal-making that occurs in Sacramento’s legislative process.  For example, a proposed law typically must make its way through several committee hearings over the course of many months – allowing all interested parties to weigh in to ensure the language of the bill is properly analyzed and vetted to produce sound policy.

It will require that all proposed laws be in print, distributed to all legislators, and posted online 72 hours before a final vote in either the Assembly or Senate.

Then, at the very last minute, just before the bill is up for a final vote, a deal may be struck between legislators to make changes to the bill language. These changes are often at the request of a lobbyist with access and influence, and the Legislature then votes on the bill before the public has had a chance to review and respond to the changes.

Scenarios such as this one have unfortunately become routine in Sacramento. These last-minute deals are much more likely to benefit the special interests at the expense of the rest of us. Proposition 54 will create more transparency and accountability at our state Capitol with three simple amendments to California’s Constitution:

First, it will require that all proposed laws be in print, distributed to all legislators, and posted online 72 hours before a final vote in either the Assembly or Senate.  This will give legislators a chance to actually read the bills before they cast a vote and allow time for the public to weigh in on policies that could impact them, their families, or their communities before the bill is passed.

Second, the Legislature will be required to video record all public hearings and post the video online within 24 hours.  Currently, many public hearings go completely unobserved by the public because the Legislature is not required to record all public meetings. Proposition 54 will bring these hearings into the comfort of our homes and businesses so anyone with Internet access can track a bill — even from places far away from Sacramento such as Los Angeles or San Diego.

Finally, it will allow individuals to create and share their own recordings of public legislative proceedings. People have this right in all public meetings of local governments and state boards and commissions; it should apply to legislative meetings, too.

By approving Proposition 54 this November, the people will have a chance to shine a bright light onto what goes on behind closed doors at the state Capitol and ensure our elected leaders are working for the voters, not the special interests.

CALPIRG joins a large diverse coalition of groups and individuals supporting Proposition 54 including the League of Women Voters of California, California Common Cause, the California Chamber of Commerce, the California Planning and Conservation League, National Federation of Independent Business of California, the California State Conference of the NAACP, the California Senior Advocates League, and voters from every political persuasion.

We all agree that Proposition 54 is a common sense, straight forward solution that will strengthen transparency and accountability in our State Legislature.  Join us in voting Yes on Proposition 54!

Ed’s Note: Emily Rusch is the executive director of CALPIRG and CALPIRG Education Fund


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