Over the weekend, I made the rounds of various bipartisan holiday parties filled with California politicos. The late-night vote on the Senate GOP tax plan was certainly the conversation du jour.
My liberal friends decried the harried, last-minute nature of the vote, specifically hundreds of pages of bill language being dropped in lawmakers’ laps just a few hours before votes were taken. Some amendments were even written in by hand – in some cases, in illegible handwriting.
They are right to be concerned about the process, but last-minute deal-making is a bipartisan problem.
In my past life working in the California Legislature, there would be a handful of bills every year that were brought to life by majority Democrats at the very last minute before key legislative deadlines.
Sometimes, these were bills that were previously defeated, but were resurrected with last-minute amendments to try and give the author a second chance for passage. In some cases, the proposals had never been heard before. Often, last-minute provisions were snuck into the state budget and related “trailer bills,” or policy changes needed to enact the budget.
This last-minute legislation often appeared in what was called “mock up form” – the Legislature’s version of rushed bill language.
There was very little time for Republican staff, the news media, or the public to review the bill language before votes were taken. Inevitably, these rushed bills required “clean up” legislation the following year when everyone realized just how many mistakes were in these last-minute bills. Stopping to take a breath would have surely caught these unintended consequences.
Now I didn’t hear my liberal friends object when the Legislature rushed through these last-minute proposals, but it is just as wrong as what’s going on in Washington today.
Government at any level should not be writing major policy changes at the very last minute, shutting out the public and news media from the process.
Last year, fed-up California voters passed Prop. 54 to require that bills be in their final form for 72 hours before votes are taken. As I wrote earlier this year on Right by the Bay, Prop. 54 is already doing what voters intended by ending last-minute deal making and fixing a broken legislative process.
I think a lot of the ideas being put forward in the tax reform legislation being considered by Congress are good ones, but the process matters. Congress should follow the spirit of California’s Prop. 54 and allow bills to be sufficiently reviewed before final votes are taken.
Good policy is good policy, and should stand on its own in the face of sunshine and public scrutiny.
Tim Anaya is communications director for the Pacific Research Institute.