How California lawmakers 'gut and amend' bills in Sacramento
SACRAMENTO — Among the highest-priority bills passed toward the end of California's legislative session was one designed to benefit construction of a football stadium in downtown Los Angeles and speed the return of the NFL to the nation's second most populous city.
You'd never know that was the intent by the way the bill began its legislative life.
Senate Bill 292 was introduced in February as legislation addressing the transfer of community college credits to public universities. A companion bill rushed through in similar fashion would benefit other large construction projects but began as legislation requiring schools to install recycling and composting bins.
Both were entirely rewritten within three days of the Legislature's adjournment, using a maneuver referred to in political parlance as gut-and-amend.
The process has been used for years in the Capitol but this year was applied to some of the most high-profile bills now residing in the governor's office, including compromise legislation that will delay collection of sales taxes from Amazon.com and other online retailers.
It also was used on a bill that would prohibit ballot initiatives from appearing on the June primary ballot, another that would automatically certify a farmworker union if the farm was found to have committed election misconduct and still another to allow workers at child care centers to unionize.
The method was even employed on tax-reform legislation sought by Gov. Jerry Brown that ultimately failed to make it through the Legislature.
The gut-and-amend process allows lawmakers to bypass the usual deadlines for bill introductions and amendments, while circumventing a public review process that allows those interested in a particular piece of legislation to testify during committee hearings or write a lawmaker with their concerns.
The practice was so widespread toward the end of the session that concluded Sept. 10 that even many lawmakers registered their disgust.
The bill shifting all statewide initiatives and referendums to November general election ballots, when a higher percentage of Democrats are likely to vote, began as legislation to raise the fee for filing an initiative from $200 to $2,000. The same bill also postpones a vote scheduled for next June on California's rainy day fund until November 2014, a move that Republicans and Democratic Assemblyman Mike Gatto of Los Angeles said reneged on part of last year's budget compromise.
The initiative bill was pushed by Democrats, who have majorities in the Assembly and Senate, and never had a hearing before a Senate policy committee before it was passed about 1 a.m. on a Saturday, just minutes before the Legislature adjourned for the year.
"Sometimes we need to do gut-and-amends because a deal comes together such as this Amazon deal. Sometimes we need gut-and-amends because there's an intense urgency, such as 12 percent unemployment. This is not one of those bills," Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, said to his fellow lawmakers. "We as Democrats should be ashamed of how this came to this Senate floor."
Even though he condemned the process, Lieu voted for the bill. That drew jeers from Republicans who opposed the shift.
"The problem isn't just gut-and-amend, it's kind of gut-and-pervert," said Jim Mayer, executive director of the nonpartisan think tank California Forward. "Every gut-and-amend — it's really a power play — comes with the suspicion that it's to avoid public scrutiny."