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Will transparency be forced on California Legislature?

June 17, 2016 GMT

For decades, the California Legislature has shown a fundamental hostility to transparency and accountability. The most egregious examples involve the “gut and amend” tactic in which bills are radically changed in the final days of a legislative session and quickly voted on before their effects can be analyzed and debated.

Former Assembly Minority Leader Sam Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo, and wealthy Republican activist Charles Munger Jr. got more than 1 million signatures — nearly double the amount needed to qualify for the November ballot — for a measure that would mandate the language of all bills be posted online for at least three days before they could be voted on by either the Assembly or Senate. It would also mandate that all legislative hearings be taped and made available online within 24 hours.

As The Associated Press reported Wednesday, this has unnerved legislative leaders, who have responded by introducing two measures — Senate Constitutional Amendment 14 and Assembly Bill 884 — which have similar but significantly weaker requirements. Most notably, there is no three-day notice requirement before either the Assembly or Senate adopts a bill, only before a measure gets final enactment. If it gets two-thirds support in the Assembly and Senate, the constitutional amendment could go before voters in November. Lawmakers hope that if this happens, Blakeslee and Munger would consider withdrawing their measure, as is allowed under a 2014 law meant to promote compromises on ballot initiatives.

Thankfully, Blakeslee told us that’s not going to happen. If his measure has enough valid signatures, as seems very likely, California voters will have a chance in November to take a bold stand for open government — and any attempt by the Legislature to muddy the waters by placing a similar measure on the ballot will only make the case for the reform initiative even stronger.