Floor action in the Legislature

Earlier this week, I asked Speak Out California’s big supporter, AssemblymemberJackie Goldberg, to share her thoughts and observations with us as the Legislative process unwinds in the frantic last days of session. The following is her direct-from-the-Assembly-floor analysis of the day’s activities. It’s no wonder we shouldn’t be watching how legislation or sausage are made! And as you can see further, the power and influence of lobbyists can be overwhelming, if not simply undemocratic. From the floor on Thursday, August 24, 2006:
It’s about noon, and we, in the Assembly, are all in Legislative Session on
the”floor.” We have been at it since about 9:30 a.m. There are 101
amendments on 96 bills before us today. Among the amendments there are 18
amendments that begin with the words,”Delete the language in the current
bill” We call such bills “gut and amend bills.” There are two ways to do
this process. Both require permission of the Speaker of the Assembly and/or
the permission of the Senate Pro Tem. The first is to revive a bill that
was held in some committee and thus was “killed” earlier in the process.
The other is to introduce a new issue, the need for which occurred in recent
days, long after all the deadlines for introducing new bills had passed.
We have both in the 18 “gut and amends” before us. For the bills that
“died” in other committees, it is just new life. They have mostly been
heard in two to four committees, and for some reason, lost out in the
process. We who vote on those bills, have indeed already heard them, and
are familiar with them. But the second group, the “new” bills, we must
scurry to read and understand. They will get a very brief visit in a
committee, but the kind of scrutiny bills normally get will be missing.
Often, the late amended bills and the “gut and amends” are the result of
deals made among the lobbyists for and against the bill. Sometimes, they
are items slipped in the middle of the night (literally!) and people vote on
them thinking they know what the bill says, but actually it has been
dramatically changed.
Let me give you an example from last year. On the very last day of session,
a bill by Senator Maldonado was on the floor of the Assembly for action.
The bill allocated about $18 million to provide “fresh fruit and vegetables”
to schools for their breakfast programs. We all thought this was great and
it passed the Assembly and Senate with full hearings from the Members. But,
late at night., amidst lots of chaos we got an amendment, amidst literally
70-80 other amendments. The change was to eliminate the work “fresh” and to
substitute the word “nutritious.” A deal had been made in the Governor’s
office to allow canned fruit, dried fruit, and otherwise processed fruit and
vegetables to be served with the new subsidy. The amendment almost went
unnoticed. But it was caught. Now mind you, this bill was in the
Governor’s package of bills designed to reduce obesity in children. But
because those who can goods were powerful supporters of Schwarzenegger, he
allowed his bill to be amended to allow a subsidy for canned fruit in HEAVY
syrup! After much misinformation about how the law would be carried out, it
was amended again. This time they added words that would say the “priority”
would be for “fresh fruits and vegetables.” The bill passed.
One of today’s proposed “gut and amends” is SB 1696 by Senator Joe Dunn (D).
The existing bill was designed to prohibit the state’s National Guard from
engaging in domestic surveillance. That bill, if the amendment passes will
die. Instead, SB 1696 will become a labor bill designed to upgrade the pay
of employees of the Los Angeles County Superior Court. Now, I support the
new bill, but I am disappointed that we are losing Senator Dunn’s original
bill to do it.
Now, stay tuned, because it is possible that Sen. Dunn’s National Guard bill
will reappear at a different “gut and amend.”
Jackie has indicated she might continue this “series” during the final week of session, so long as the hijinks continue to make this an interesting and insightful discussion.