(TNS) -- There’s nothing like a good scare to make the state Legislature get religion. Open government is the “religion” we mean here. And the scare comes from the California Legislature Transparency Act, an initiative that appears to be headed for the November ballot.
Republican activist Charles T. Munger Jr. and Sam Blakeslee, a former state senator, are the primary sponsors of the California Legislature Transparency Act, which would change the state constitution to require that all bills be available for public and legislative review at least 72 hours before they’re voted on; that all open proceedings of the Legislature must be recorded by the Legislature and those recordings be made available to the public, and that members of the public be allowed to record and broadcast or post on the internet recordings of any open Legislative proceeding.
It would squeeze much of the secrecy out of the Legislature, especially those bills that have their contents replaced wholesale by something unrelated to the original subject – an insidious process known as “gut-and-amend” – and then get voted on before the public, or even legislators, can react.
The idea that bills should be available for study for three days before they’re put to a vote in either house is one this Editorial Board has long advocated. State Sen. Mike Morrell, R-Rancho Cucamonga, and Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen, R-Modesto, among others, for years have been putting forward bills to require such 72-hour publication, but their efforts have died at the hands of majority Democrats.
But now that the CLTA will be put to voters rather than to self-interested legislators, Democrats are ramming through Senate Constitutional Amendment 14, by Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Vacaville, which passed the Senate last week, the Assembly Rules Committee Tuesday and Assembly Appropriations Wednesday. SCA 14 has provisions that parallel those in the CLTA, but are weaker, with more escape clauses.
Why? Cynics might say it’s an attempt to keep the CLTA from becoming constitutional law, either by drawing more votes than that initiative in November or by confusing enough voters that both measures get rejected. Put us down as cynics.
By way of comparison, the CLTA requires the Legislature to publish a bill online and to distribute a printed copy to members of the house in question 72 hours before a vote; SCA 14 requires only the online publication, which means, as Mr. Munger and Mr. Blakeslee pointed out in a letter to Sen. Wolk, legislation might be posted at 1 a.m., starting the clock when no one is looking. How many bills might be posted late on a Friday night, seeking the cover of a weekend?
There are other important differences. The CLTA requires the Legislature’s audiovisual recordings of its proceedings to be accessible on the internet and downloadable for 20 years; SCA 14 requires only that they be “reasonably accessible,” whatever that might mean. The CLTA grants a right to individuals to record legislative proceedings (except legitimately closed sessions) and to transmit them; SCA 14 grants only an “authorization” to make recordings, “subject to reasonable restrictions,” with no right to challenge those restrictions.
Legislators should either drop their weaker, decoy initiative or write the stronger provisions of the CLTA into it – for true legislative transparency.
©2016 The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.