California cities, counties and state agencies must adhere to transparency rules to ensure the public’s right to know. Which is a very good thing for our democracy.
So why then does our state Legislature, the body that makes the laws all Californians must live under, get to avoid the same level of transparency? With passage of Proposition 54, this will no longer be the case.
Now, the Legislature can introduce a new law about one subject then, at the last minute, change some or all of the language in the law – often to address a completely different subject matter – and push that proposed law through the approval process in a matter of hours. The public never has the opportunity to review it or provide input. When this happens, even legislators barely have time to read the proposed laws that are being approved.
These last-minute changes can happen in the dead of night, behind closed doors and usually benefit special interests who have access to our state lawmakers. Often, the result is passage of flawed policy with unintended consequences that impact our communities, businesses and jobs.
Proposition 54 will stop this practice. Under Proposition 54, all bills will have to be in print, distributed to legislators and posted online for 72 hours before a final vote can be taken by legislators. In addition, all public legislative hearings must be recorded and posted online within 24 hours so those of us who cannot travel to Sacramento to attend hearings, or who do not have the means to hire lobbyists to monitor proposed legislation, can know what is going on. Proposition 54 also allows the public – from the Capitol’s galleries – to record legislative proceedings and share what they have recorded with others.
With passage of Proposition 54, the public’s right to know and provide input on policy that affects them will finally be protected.
Enactment of Proposition 54 will help ensure the legislative process is conducted fairly and openly, and enable the public to observe and share what is happening so citizens can more fully participate. And Proposition 54 contains no new costs to taxpayers as funding for legislative recordings will come out of the Legislature’s existing budget.
Hundreds of local governments and state agencies have been providing such transparency for years. Under the Brown Act, local governments must provide advanced and meaningful notice to the public about what they will discuss at their meetings, and these meetings are broadcast and can be recorded by the public. Under the Bagley-Keene Act, state agencies, like the State Board of Education, must do the same. But until now, the state Legislature has avoided these requirements.
Under Proposition 54, transparency in our Legislature will come into line with that of local governments and state agencies. It’s the right thing to do.
Proposition 54 is supported by a broad and diverse list of individuals and organizations who often don’t agree on much, but agree it is time we all have access to what is going on at the Capitol.
It will result in more access to state government and the laws that affect us – ensuring the public’s right to know. I hope Sun-Star readers will join me in voting yes on Proposition 54. We deserve the transparency it will create.
Deborah Howard is the executive director of the California Senior Advocates League; she wrote this for The Modesto Bee.