Among a slew on ballot propositions that Californians will be asked to consider on Election Day (Nov. 8) is Proposition 54, a proposed constitutional amendment that seems like a no-brainer. If passed, the law would require that the final text of all proposed legislation be published on the Internet for 72 hours before lawmakers can conduct a final vote. Typically, the text of bills in California is put online as it goes through the committee and voting process, but sometimes those bills can change at the last minute. Accessing those changes isn’t always easy.
The initiative, which seems all-but-certain to pass, has massive support from Charles T. Munger, Jr., the son of billionaire Charles Munger. The younger Munger, an experimental physicist at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center and a longtime Republican activist, has donated over $10.6 million to the “Yes on Prop. 54” campaign. The effort supporting the opposing view has taken in just over $27,000.
Proposition 54 would also force the Assembly and State Senate to allow the public to record meetings as well, which could potentially be used in political advertising.
Other supporters of Proposition 54 include many of the state’s largest newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times, The Mercury News, and The San Francisco Chronicle. Other supporters include the League of Women Voters, the California Republican Party, and Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom (D). Meanwhile, its opponents include the California Democratic Party, the California Nurses Association, the California Federation of Teachers, and others.
“Most Californians want to see legislation before it’s passed,” Mary Ellen Grant, spokeswoman for the Yes on 54 group, who also works for the Redwood Pacific consultancy group, told Ars.
This 72-hour notice only applies to end-of-session so that the very last minute deals that happen in the dead of night are revealed to the public. Again, I think that if you look at all of the groups that represent political positions across the spectrum, and many legislators who are currently elected, are supporting this measure, I think it’s very clear that most people believe that transparency is better than secrecy. That’s how our government was designed to work.
She noted that the recording rule would really only apply in the Assembly, as the Senate has allowed recording for many years.
This proposition, which already has analogs in New York, Idaho, Hawaii, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina, seems all-but-certain to pass.
Politics as usual?
So why would anyone oppose the bill?
According to Steven Maviglio, the director of Californians for an Effective Legislature, a campaign committee formed to oppose Proposition 54. It all comes down to who is behind the initiative, and why.
“The first thing you need to do is follow the money,” he told Ars, pointing us to Munger, Jr. “He’s been the top contributor to the California Republican Party. His goal is to disrupt the power of a legislature that’s getting things done.”
Indeed, with a near-super-majority in both legislative houses in the Golden State and control of the governorship, the Democratic Party is poised to continue its reign.
A small number of potentially controversial bills have been changed at the last minute in what’s been dubbed the “gut and amend” process. Gutting-and-amending leaves the shell of a bill intact only to be suddenly replaced with new language.
According to the Los Angeles Times, there have been a few such examples in recent years:
There was the time in 2014 when an extension of a tax break for installing solar panels mysteriously appeared in the state budget and was on the governor’s desk in less than two days.
Or the time in 2011 when a plan to fast-track a proposed NFL stadium in downtown Los Angeles received final approval from the state Senate only hours after the final bill language was unveiled.
And then two legends in Sacramento’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it hall of fame: Two days for review of the 1996 plan that deregulated California’s energy industry, and the late-night deal in 2009 to create the top-two primary system. That one still was marked with handwritten scribbling when it went to the desk of then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Maviglio, himself a former member of the New Hampshire House of Representatives and a former press secretary to California Gov. Gray Davis (D), said that this type of negotiation is part of the political process.
“Typically, if you allow the bills to sit there on the shelf… for three days… every special interest [can] attack the bill,” he said. “Sometimes when the sausage making is not pretty, and we have to let legislators do what they need to do to get things done.”