Prop. 54 Tames Wild Late Nights at the State Capitol

For political nerds like me, there’s no rush quite like the last night of the legislative session.

Every year, legislators and staff literally work around-the-clock to pass final bills before the clock runs out.  To keep going, they drink too much coffee and eat lukewarm pizza and take-out Chinese food.  Over the years, I’ve come home as late as 8 AM after an all-night final day of session.

Late at night on the last night of session – when no one is seemingly paying attention – is often when the real action happens.

Inevitably, lawmakers and interests seize on the chaos and confusion to try and slip through their priority bills.

Consider the last few days of the 2016 legislative session.  A major plan to spend $1 billion in cap-and-trade money was announced and approved just hours before the legislative session adjourned.  A bill to change the employment status of the Assembly’s chief sergeant-at-arms and boost their retirement was proposed and passed at the eleventh hour.

Alternatively, bills that were thought to be dead suddenly spring back to life at the last minute.  A bill to give tax relief to those with underwater mortgages that was previously blocked in committee was revived and passed at the last minute (though later vetoed by the Governor).

This is not to pass judgment on the merit of these bills.  Rushing things through at the last minute without sufficient review is just bad process.  It doesn’t give the news media the opportunity to scrutinize these bills, or the public the opportunity to make their voices heard.

This was business-as-usual until this year.

Last November, voters enacted Proposition 54 to require all legislation to be posted online in its final form for at least 72 hours before the Legislature can vote.  It’s already making a difference.

Senate President pro Tem Kevin de León told Laurel Rosenhall of CalMatters that his legislation to require all California power to come from 100 percent renewable sources failed to pass because of the new 72-hour rule.

“It’s taken away a lot of the creativity in terms of last-minute, last-second negotiations,” he told her.   “People don’t understand: Seventy-two hours is like dog years during the last week of the legislative session.  Seventy-two hours is like three months.”

I think people do understand.  That last-minute “creativity” in years past led to the passage of shady deals and sweeping bills with unintended consequences that were discovered after the fact.  It’s also led to the passage of sloppy bills that required future “clean up” legislation to fix errors.

In the past, Sen. de León’s bill would have almost certainly passed – warts and all – on the last night of session.  That Sen. de León and the proponents of his bill were forced to slow down and write a better, more thoughtful bill shows that Prop. 54 is already doing what voters intended – fixing a broken legislative process.

Tim Anaya is communications director for Pacific Research Institute.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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