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TOPIC: Government Operating Policy

Change Sacramento’s business-as-usual tactics

Ever heard of “Gut and Amend”? It’s when a bill goes all the way through our state legislature…through the multiple committees that must approve it…to a vote in the Assembly or Senate…only to see it completely gutted and changed before the official vote…and passed in this new form.

It’s how backroom deals get done in Sacramento! The content of the bill is radically changed, utterly new—but since it has “technically” been through the system it can still be voted on and passed, in its new form!

These bills are passed without oversight or committee…without public comment and without your knowledge or consent…becoming a new law all Californians must obey.

This “gut and amend” process can take as little as one day and usually less than a week. The bill moves to the governor’s desk and a vastly altered bill is law.

In the most recent session:

  • SB 202 was rewritten 24 hours before it passed, changing a bill on voter initiatives to one the Sacramento Bee said “will favor Democrats in 2012.”
  • AB 853 started as a bill about college tuition for veterans and became a bill accompanying one that bans removal of shark fins.
  • SB 292 was a measure about community college transfer students but now changes the environmental review process for a new stadium in Los Angeles.
  • SB 946 began life as a measure about restaurant sanitation and morphed into one requiring insurance companies to provide treatment for autism.

The legislature rewrote 48 bills in the past 3 weeks of the 2011 regular session, long past the deadline for new bills. And 30% of the bills were amended after that deadline had passed, as well!

Twenty-two bills made it to Governor Brown’s desk; he signed 19 of them—joking about Gut and Amend: “As they say, making sausage and legislation ain’t pretty.”

Legislators will do nothing on this—unless we force them to. This is the sort of thing that stays “hushed up” forever unless pressure is brought to bear. The legislature is the only one that can change this rule: Force them to!

One potential reform is requiring all bills to be in print for at least 3 days before they’re voted on. That would be a good start!

End Gut and Amend!