Assembly Republican Leader Kristin Olsen (R-Modesto) introduced Assembly Constitutional Amendment 1 on Dec. 2, with the goal of increasing government transparency by requiring all legislation to be in print and publicly available for at least 72 hours before a vote.
“Each year, the Legislature passes bills requiring greater transparency of various agencies and local governments,” said Olsen. “However, it fails to hold itself accountable to those same standards of open, transparent, citizen-driven government. ACA 1 will improve public policy and will increase transparency and trust among the public in an institution that too often inspires neither.”
Bills exempt from this requirement would be those in response to a state of emergency formally declared by the Governor. Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff (R-Diamond Bar) and Senator Lois Wolk (D-Davis) have both signed on to the measure as Principal Co-Authors.
Under current law, once a bill has been in print for 30 days, it can be amended, distributed to and passed by members of the Legislature, which in some instances results in votes at the same time members first receive bill information.
Conversely, many state that most bills are debated in public committee hearings weeks prior to a vote. Olsen, however, notes that final details of significant bills, like that of the State budget, are negotiated behind closed doors and then presented to legislators for a vote rather quickly in order to minimize controversy.
Other leaders chimed in regarding the matter.
According to Wolk, during the previous two-year session, between the two chambers, there were nearly 5,000 legislative proposals, many of which became law.
“While most of those proposals were publicly shared and well-vetted, some were not,” said Wolk.
Wolk made the argument that last-minute changes to bills can lead to confusion, making it difficult to ensure that legislators understand what they are voting on.
Additionally, these changes do not necessarily allow the public to voice their concerns due to time constraints.
The amendment, Wolk argues, would ensure the public’s access to proposed legislation while maintaining sufficient flexibility for the Legislature to function.
According to Huff, Senate Republicans called for an up-or-down vote on both Senate Constitutional Amendment 10 (Wolk, D-Davis; Huff and Correa, D-Santa Ana) and ACA 4 (Olsen, R-Modesto) as part of their Legislative Reform and Transparency Act of 2014 requiring that all legislation be available in print and online for 72 hours before a final vote is taken.
“It’s time for the Legislature to prove to Californians that we support a transparent process, and I’m proud to once again be a principal co-author of this constitutional amendment,” said Huff.
Olsen’s argument in favor of the legislation was that it would lend to transparency by the government for constituents, giving them an opportunity to voice their opinions, end backroom deals and midnight votes.
“True democracy is dependent upon an educated electorate,” said Olsen. “As legislators, we owe it to our constituencies to be open and honest and to encourage their participation in the legislative process, not to tell them what happened in the middle of the night after it’s all over.”
ACA 1 was introduced on Dec. 1, 2014 and awaits assignment to its first policy committee.