Yes on Prop 54 — Voters First, Not Special Interests

This election, Californians will find Proposition 54 on their ballot, an initiative dealing with “legislation and proceedings.” This may sound like a remote topic to everyday Californians concerned with taxes, jobs, and other issues that just seem more relevant.

But once voters understand how the State Legislature is so often gamed to benefit special interests at the expense of everyday Californians, voting “yes” on Prop. 54 may just be your most enthusiastic vote this election. That’s because Prop. 54 will give power back to the voters by enacting proven, commonsense reforms.

California’s Legislature wields enormous power over its constituents. It passes laws impacting jobs, safety, education, the environment, vital public services, and a countless range of other issues that affect California’s families and economy.

That’s why the process of passing laws is supposed to be deliberate, inclusive, and transparent. To become a law, a bill must be heard by legislative committees in open public meetings. It must be passed by the full membership of both houses of the Legislature. And at every step, legislators should have an opportunity to fully review the bill and hear from their constituents, so when they cast a vote, they understand what they are voting on, and can be held accountable by the voters.

But in practice, bills are routinely passed by the Legislature before most legislators even have a chance to read them – a deceptive practice which benefits special interests at the expense of voters.

Here’s how it works: A bill can go through the entire ordinary process of being heard and passed by committees, until it makes it to the floor of the Assembly or Senate, where special interests sneak new language into the bill – sometimes adding hundreds of new pages. The revised bill is then dropped onto lawmakers’ desks and put to an immediate vote before anyone has time to read it.

This happens dozens of times every year.

And it gets worse. The committee meetings where bills are heard are supposed to be open to the public. But few Californians can afford to travel to Sacramento every time the Legislature takes up an issue they care about. Cities solved this problem years ago by putting their meetings online.

But the State Legislature still only puts some meetings online, while others go completely off-the-record. So in many cases, only the special interest groups that can afford lobbyists attend the meetings.

Prop. 54 would enact several reforms to shed light on the legislative process and empower the voters to participate and hold their elected representatives accountable.

First, Prop. 54 would require the Legislature to post a new bill online for at least 72 hours before a final vote on the floor of the Assembly or Senate. This “waiting period” would give all legislators time to read the bill and hear from their constituents.

Prop. 54 would also require the Legislature to video-record every public committee meeting and post the videos online within 24 hours so constituents can follow what’s happening with the issues they care about. This won’t cost taxpayers a dime in new taxes since the minimal costs to upgrade must come out of the Legislature’s existing budget.

And Prop. 54 would guarantee the right of any individual to make their own videos of an open public meeting and post them online, ensuring your right to expression and promoting full transparency.

Prop. 54 is a well-crafted and reasonable reform that more than fifty nonprofit, taxpayer, and local business groups throughout the state have carefully reviewed and endorsed. We believe it will bring greater transparency and accountability to the California Legislature. Prop. 54 deserves a “yes” vote this Election Day!

 

Gary Toebben, President and CEO, Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce

Kathay Feng, Executive Director, California Common Cause

Joanne Leavitt, Vice President, League of Women Voters of California and Past President, League of Women Voters of Los Angeles County

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