This is where California legislation goes to die

Bills and legislationShortly after last year’s presidential election, Democrats in the California Legislature drew headlines by introducing a flurry of bills attacking “fake news.” They called for more resources to teach media literacy, so public school students could better discern facts from the kind of bogus stories that proliferated online during the campaign.

Yet in the months since, all three of those bills have quietly met their demise, victims of the Legislature’s appropriations committees. Officially, the committees—one in each house—are supposed to pull the Legislature’s purse strings, weighing how much a proposal is expected to cost, and comparing bills against one another to establish priorities for spending state tax dollars. Unofficially, the appropriations committee is where bills go to die—especially the ones the ruling party wants to bury with little trace.

This month the appropriations committees quietly killed the last of the fake news bills, a pile of marijuana measures, a proposal to create a “pro-choice” license plate and another to allow cities to keep bars open until 4 a.m.—an issue few lawmakers outside of San Francisco seem to regard as a burning problem.

As befits a good murder plot, lawmakers target potential victims by placing the bills on what they call the “suspense file.” Then, twice a year, the appropriations committees cull through all these bills, allowing some to proceed to a floor vote but stopping many in their tracks. In other committees, lawmakers publicly vote when they kill a bill, attaching their names and reputations to the decision. But there is no public vote when the appropriations committees snuff out bills on the suspense file.

“It’s the closest thing that the Legislature has to a veto power,” said former Assemblyman Mike Gatto, a Los Angeles Democrat who chaired the appropriations committee from 2012 to 2014.

Sure, decisions are based on weighing the costs and benefits of the proposed policies, Gatto said. “But it’s also a cost-benefit analysis politically: How much does the house want to put a bill like this on the floor?”

Euthanizing a bill in this way shields lawmakers from having to cast a difficult floor vote—often choosing between a popular idea and one that aggravates powerful interests in the state Capitol.

A look at some of the dozens of bills that appropriations committees recently axed:

Making school spending more transparent: AB 1321 would have required every school to publish reports on how much money they spend per student. Civil rights groups said it would ensure that funds intended to help needy children are spent in their classrooms. But teachers unions and school administrators—influential forces in the Capitol—spent most of the year opposing the bill by Democratic Assemblywoman Shirley Weber of San Diego.

Water under the Mojave desert: Environmentalists backed AB 1000 as an attempt to block a controversial project that would pump groundwater out of the Mojave desert and direct it to more populous communities near the coast. The bill also had the unusual support of Gov. Jerry Brown and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein. But labor and business groups opposed it, and the project developer, a company called Cadiz, is a big political donor. After killing the bill, Senate appropriations chairman Ricardo Lara released a statement saying the project had gone through extensive environmental review and the Legislature shouldn’t interfere. Cadiz stock then shot up 31 percent.

Protecting whistleblowers in their midst: State employees who report government wrongdoing are protected from being fired under the Whistleblower Protection Act—but not if they work for the Legislature. So for four years, Republican Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez of Lake Elsinore has introduced a bill to extend whistleblower protection to legislative employees. And for four years, the bill has been buried by the Senate appropriations committee.

Blocking coastal oil drilling: After President Donald Trump signed an executive order that could expand oil and gas drilling into federal waters off the California coast, Democratic Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson of Santa Barbara introduced a bill intended to block it. Her SB 188 would have prohibited the state from approving new leases on pipelines or other infrastructure needed to support new oil and gas development. The bill would have cost the state millions of dollars in lost leases. Its demise in the Assembly appropriations committee marked a loss for environmentalists and a win for oil companies—and the Trump Administration.

Watchdogging the police: Prompted by a string of high-profile police shootings, Democrats introduced a handful of bills intended to create more public trust in police. AB 748 would have made public more footage from police body cameras. AB 284 would have required a public report on two years of police shootings in California. Law enforcement groups opposed both bills, but supported another that also was killed: AB 1428, which would have provided the public with more information about the status of complaints against police officers.

In a Legislature that processes thousands of bills each year, the two appropriations committees play a critical role in culling ideas—but many could have been rejected earlier if lawmakers were more willing to say no.

“There are pressures from lobbyists, pressures from leadership, pressures from constituents. And the path of least resistance is for members to rely on this end-game that plays out very quickly on a Friday,” said Steve Boilard, executive director of the Center for California Studies at California State University, Sacramento.

“It allows a critical mass of legislators to get the outcome they want without having to put their name on that hard choice of saying no.”

That might explain why the Assembly appropriations committee quashed a bill that would have reduced the fine for rolling through a red light on a right turn from $100 to $35. Who would possibly want to vote against that?

This article was originally published by CalMatters

Education update: Votes coming on teacher tenure, for-profit charters, other key bills

School educationBetween now and July 21, when they take a month off, state legislators will have to decide the fate of bills that passed one chamber of the Legislature and await action in the other. Among those are key education bills that would lengthen teacher probation periods, require more accounting for spending under the Local Control Funding Formula, mandate a later start time for middle and high schools and further restrict student suspensions. What follows is a summary of the bills EdSource is following.

Funding formula transparency

The federal Every Student Succeeds Act requires that school districts provide data on state and federal spending by school in more detail than before. AB 1321, by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, would go further, requiring a school-by-school breakdown of state spending by the Local Control Funding Formula’s component parts: base, supplemental and concentration funding. The latter two components are allocated to a district based on the proportion of English learners and low-income, homeless and foster children enrolled.

Why it’s important: Weber and student advocacy groups argue the public needs to know if schools with large proportions of high-needs students are getting money intended to go to them. In some districts, that’s clear. In most, it is not. Gov. Jerry Brown and school management groups counter that detailing every dollar spent would add accounting expenses without much benefit — and divert focus from the funding formula’s overriding goal of figuring out how to improve outcomes for underserved students. They argue that it’s premature to change the funding law.

Status: The bill passed the Assembly unanimously. Brown is expected to fight the bill as it moves through the Senate — and may veto it.

Teacher tenure

The probationary period for new teachers in most states is three years or longer. In California, it’s technically two years, though realistically 18 months, since the deadline for notifying teachers in the second year is March 15. AB 1220, by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, would give districts the option of extending probation a third year in instances in which they believe teachers could benefit from more supervision.

Why it’s important: Weber and sponsoring groups argue that districts often let go promising teachers go rather than grant them lifetime due-process protections known as tenure. Districts would make wiser hiring decisions with more time, they say. The California Teachers Association responds that a longer probationary period would send a negative message to potential teachers, compounding the state’s teacher shortage. The CTA wants due-process rights for probationary teachers in exchange for another year of probation. See earlier EdSource coverage.

Status: The Assembly Appropriations Committee weakened provisions of the bill; Weber must decide whether to add them back in the Senate. Senate Education Committee will hear the bill July 12.

Teacher shortage

The 2017-18 state budget includes $30 million to alleviate the state’s teacher shortage. Authors of two key proposals that were not funded are moving forward to establish the programs through two bills, in hopes that it will be easier to fund them once they become law. AB 12171, by Raul Bocanegra, D-San Fernando, would create the California Teacher Corps, a teacher residency program in which new teachers would work under a mentor teacher and receive a stipend in exchange for working at least four years in a high-need field, such as special education. AB 169, by Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach, would establish Golden State Teacher Grants, which would provide $20,000 stipends to new teachers who also agree to teach four years in a field facing a shortage.

Why it’s important: California is facing a teacher shortage in high-cost regions, like the Bay Area, and in specific fields, including science, math, special education and bilingual programs. The shortage is worse in urban schools serving low-income students.

Status: Both bills received overwhelming support in the Assembly. AB 1217 passed the Senate Education Committee on June 28; AB 169 awaits a hearing.

Suspensions for willful defiance

This fall, California will begin evaluating schools on their progress in lowering student suspension rates. SB 607, by Senator Nancy Skinner, D-Oakland, renews a law due to sunset on July 1, 2018 that removed “willful defiance,” a term with no specific definition, as a justification for suspending students in kindergarten through 3rd grade or for expelling students in kindergarten through high school. Skinner’s law extends the ban to kindergarten through 5th grade and proposes a temporary ban, through July 1, 2023, on willful defiance suspensions in 6th through 12th grades.

Why it’s important: Willful defiance suspensions accounted for more than 50 percent of all suspensions before the current law was passed. Advocates of alternative approaches note that suspensions for willful defiance, which rely on a school official’s interpretation, have been issued for minor offenses such as laughing, and are far more likely to involve African American students than students of other racial or ethnic backgrounds. But nearly 9 in 10 teachers surveyed by the California Teachers Association in 2016 said they need training and more access to school mental health providers if they are going to successfully cut back on disciplinary referrals. The California School Boards Association is asking that the bill be amended to allow suspensions for disruptive or defiant behavior in high school.

Status: Passed the Assembly and heading for a floor vote in the Senate.

Meal shaming

Across the nation, and in many California districts, students who don’t have money to pay for subsidized lunches are given a token meal, like a cup of milk and a piece of fruit, or, in some high schools, nothing at all. Sometimes, their hand is stamped in front of their peers in line, as a reminder to get their parents to pay on time. SB 250, by Robert Hertzberg, D-LA, would establish a uniform, statewide policy to ensure that a pupil whose parent or guardian has unpaid meal fees is served a full meal and is not shamed or treated differently than a pupil who is paid up.

Why it’s important: Teachers agree that students who are hungry can’t concentrate on their work; recent research from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that student test scores in California rose with good quality school lunches.

Status: The bill passed the Senate unanimously and the Assembly Education Committee 6-0. It will move to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

English learner reclassification

Researchers and advocates for English learners agree that determining when English learners are proficient in English and no longer need language assistance needs to be uniform — but are fighting over how to do this. SB 463, by Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, would standardize the four current reclassification criteria: performance on the state assessment of English language proficiency; evaluation by teachers; consultation with parents; and the mastery of basic skills, comparable to English-only students, on the Smarter Balanced assessment. Researchers and academicians want results on the new English language fluency test, called ELPAC, to be the primary factor; the test will debut in 2018.

Why it’s important: A 2014 study found that most districts adopt more rigorous, often subjective criteria for determining English proficiency, and a delay in reclassification can deny English learners access to advanced high school and college prep courses. Bill proponents worry that premature reclassification will deny English learners needed supports. See earlier EdSource coverage.

Status: The bill passed the Assembly unanimously and will be heard by the Assembly Education Committee.

Reserve cap

Ever since Gov. Jerry Brown agreed to a deal with the California Teachers Association three years ago that places a cap on the amount that school districts can keep in reserve for emergencies, the California School Boards Association has been trying to get rid of it. Neither of two bills in play would do that, but both would ease the restrictions that districts object to. AB 325 by Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach, would keep the limits, about 6 percent of the size of the budget for an average district, but set new, tighter preconditions on when they would go into effect. SB 751, by Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, which the school boards association prefers, would exempt most small districts and raise the cap to 17 percent for others.

Why it’s important: That depends on who you ask. The CTA says much is being made over nothing, since the conditions triggering the reserve cap are still years away. Districts say there should be no cap at all under local control, and Brown, the patron of the Local Control Funding Formula, had no business imposing it. See earlier EdSource coverage.

Status: Talks continue on a compromise. If there’s a deal, it will likely come at the end of the summer. Whether Brown will get involved is an open question.

Ban on for-profit charter schools

AB 406, by Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, would prohibit the creation of for-profit charter schools after Jan. 1, 2019.

Why it’s important: There are only six for-profit charters in California. The bill’s author said he was motivated when he learned that a for-profit company obtained millions in taxpayer funds while operating K-12 online academies that graduate less than half of their high school students. The company also allegedly counted students as present for a school day even if they were logged on for as little as a minute. The company last year reached a $168.5 million settlement with the state on those allegations. McCarty said the bill will end the privatization of public education and puts student success ahead of corporate profits. The bill’s critics say the legislation is really designed to curb the charter school movement. Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a similar bill in 2015. He said the bill could be interpreted to restrict the ability of nonprofit charter schools to continue using for-profit vendors.

Status: The state Assembly approved the bill in May. The state Senate education committee is now reviewing the legislation.

Restrictions on charter school expulsions and suspensions

AB 1360, by Rob Bonta, D-Oakland, would create new regulations that charter schools would have to follow when attempting to suspend or expel students. It also prohibits charter schools from requiring parents to volunteer for school activities.

Why it’s important: There has been push for all public schools to lower suspension rates, which are disproportionately high for African-American and Latino students. Charter school critics claim that some schools use suspension policies to push out low-performing students. Charter school supporters say the bill infringes on their state-mandated freedom. The California Charter Schools Association says its members should have the latitude to create their suspension and expulsion policies.

Status: The state Assembly approved the bill in May. The state Senate’s education committee is now reviewing the bill.

Late school start

SB 328, by Sen. Anthony Portantino, D-La Canada Flintridge, would require middle and high schools to start their regular school days no earlier than 8:30 a.m. by July 1, 2020, except for those in rural school districts that obtain waivers from the state Board of Education to delay implementation for at least two years. The requirement would not apply to so-called “zero period” classes offered at some secondary schools as extra periods before the regular school day begins. It could require the state to reimburse districts for mandated costs.

Why it’s important:  It is based on recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention related to the adverse effects of sleep deprivation on teenagers. It is supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics, California State PTA, American Academy of Sleep Medicine, California Federation of Teachers, California Sleep Society and several hospitals, school districts and student advocacy groups.  If adopted, California would be the first state to mandate a later start. The bill could improve attendance rates and graduation rates and reduce tardiness, according to a Senate analysis. However, the analysis also cited “potential unintended impacts” on working and single parents who may not be able to adjust their schedules, districts’ home-to-school transportation costs, extracurricular activities, and before and after-school programs. The California School Boards Association and California Teachers Association oppose the bill.

Status: Passed in the Senate, with 23 members voting in favor, 13 voting against and two not voting. It is scheduled for a July 12 hearing in the Assembly Committee on Education.

Sanctuary state

Senate Bill 54, by State Senate President pro Tem Kevin De León (D-Los Angeles), would prohibit local police and other authorities — including those who work at schools — from cooperating with federal immigration agents without a warrant.

Why it’s important: Immigrants make up 30 percent of California’s population, and half of the state’s children have at least one parent who is foreign-born, according to the Public Policy Institute of California. De León said the bill would bolster trust between immigrant communities and state agencies, and lead to improvements in public safety, school attendance and public health. Dozens of cities and school districts around California have already declared themselves safe havens or sanctuaries, offering varying degrees of protections for immigrants. The Trump Administration has threatened to withhold grants for so-called sanctuary cities and states, saying they hinder the federal government’s ability to enforce immigration laws. Some California county sheriffs have also opposed the bill, saying they can’t afford to lose federal grants and should have the flexibility to cooperate with federal immigration agents in certain situations. Other law enforcement officials, including Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck, are supporting the bill. In April, a federal judge sided with two California counties that had sued the Trump Administration over its threat to withhold funding.

Status: The bill passed the State Senate on April 3 by a vote of 27-12. It’s currently under review with the Assembly judiciary committee.

This article was originally published by EdSource.org

The relentless battle for legislative transparency

transparencyFor decades, it has been nearly impossible for ordinary citizens to pierce the veil of legislative secrecy in our state capital.

Of course, California is not unique — legislative bodies have sought to conceal their activity for millennia. This is inherent in the differences between rulers and subjects. But we all know too well that mischief feeds on secrecy. The Roman poet Virgil wrote more than 2,000 years ago, “Evil is nourished and grows by concealment.”

In California, the citizens have tried repeatedly to force legislative activity into the sunlight. So last year, to counter the common practice in the Legislature of introducing new bills and passing them within hours, often in the dead of night, voters approved Proposition 54. That important reform requires legislation be in print and available for public review for at least three days prior to final passage.

Passed as a constitutional amendment, Proposition 54 is not stated in discretionary language — its provisions are mandatory. And complying with its terms hardly places an onerous burden on lawmakers. Honestly crafted legislation should easily withstand a few days of public scrutiny.

The state Senate has complied with the will of the people, and even if some of the legislation this body has passed, like the gas tax increase, is repellent to many Californians, senators cannot be accused of keeping their lawmaking a secret.

The Assembly, on the other hand, has arrogantly continued business as usual by approving around 100 bills without the required time for members of the public to examine laws that they will be expected to obey. Assembly leaders say that the people cannot use the initiative process to mandate their conduct, making the lower house the poster child for the view that California government has become a militant special interest, more concerned with its own welfare and longevity, than that of the citizens it claims to serve.

In their pursuit of perks, pay and power, Assembly members are thumbing their collective noses at voters who, by approving Proposition 54, demanded greater transparency in the lawmaking process.

The initiative process in California dates back to 1911 and was a counter blow against the Legislature, most of whose members were beholden to the Southern Pacific Railroad. This form of direct democracy was intended to allow voters to become the lawmakers of last resort when their representatives proved to be indolent, incompetent or corrupt. The state’s most famous initiative, Proposition 13, came about when the Legislature proved to be both lazy and incapable of dealing with a property tax crisis that was forcing thousands of Californians from their homes.

Today, many state representatives are beholden to public employee unions and other special interests. Measures like Proposition 54 are valuable to prod lawmakers to behave in the best interests of all Californians, not just the Sacramento insiders.

If lawmakers continue to refuse to comply with Proposition 54’s reasonable, voter-approved mandate for transparency in their official conduct, there can be no doubt that resolution of this benchmark issue and the Assembly’s misconduct will end up before the courts.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. www.hjta.org

This piece was originally published by the Orange County Register.

Large Loophole to Government Transparency Overturned by California Court

transparencySACRAMENTO – Earlier this month, the California Supreme Court unanimously overturned an appeals court decision that had provided a large loophole in the state’s public-records act.

The case, City of San Jose v. Superior Court of Santa Clara County, revolves around one question: “Are writings concerning the conduct of public business beyond (the California Public Records Act’s) reach merely because they were sent or received using a nongovernmental account?”

The superior court ruled that records concerning the public’s business should be turned over to the public upon request; the appeals court, however, found that agencies do not have “an affirmative duty to produce messages stored on personal electronic devices and accounts that are inaccessible to the agency,” or to even search for them.

The case goes back to 2009, when a local citizen, Ted Smith, sought records regarding the activities of the city of San Jose’s redevelopment agency, its executive director and some elected officials including the mayor and two City Council members, as the court explained. The city produced the requested documents from official phone numbers and email accounts – but would not provide information stored on the officials’ personal accounts.

The city offered a simplistic defense. Messages created on personal accounts are not public records because they are not within the control of the city. If the city had prevailed, the ramifications would be immense. Elected officials and governmental staff working for California’s numerous government agencies could legally shield sensitive information from the public merely by conducting such business on their personal email account or cellphone.

The appeals court exempted “huge swaths” of information based on where the information was located, not based on content, explained Jim Ewert, general counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers’ Association, which filed an amicus brief in the case. “If the Supreme Court had not decided (this way), it would have eviscerated the California Public Records Act,” he added.

A Los Angeles Times editorial captured the likely effect had the appeals-court decision stood: “As soon as a public official realizes that his constituents have no right to look at anything he says on his personal cellphone or laptop, he’ll simply do all of his sensitive or secret communications on those devices. With a flick of the wrist, public officials will exempt themselves from accountability.”

The state high court recognized the new reality of email and other electronic communications, even though the state Constitution and the public-records act were crafted in a time before such communications were envisioned. “It requires recognition,” the Supreme Court found, “that, in today’s environment, not all employment-related activity occurs during a conventional workday, or in an employer-maintained workplace.”

The appeals court was concerned about the problems inherent in capturing and turning over records that were out of an agency’s control. But the state high court, while not mandating any particular policy in dealing with such matters, offered some possible scenarios in dealing with a public records request.

For instance, as a Lexology article explains, an agency could require employees to search their own emails for relevant records or develop a policy requiring “all emails involving agency business, sent by an employee through a private account, to be copied to the employee’s agency email account.” The main point is the court upheld the idea that the public has a right to access a public record, even if the details of obtaining it are up for debate.

In fact, the court explained that because the city did not try to search for any particular documents in its employees’ personal accounts, “the legality of a specific kind of search is not before us.” But it found that agencies are obliged to at least try to locate and disclose any such public documents on private servers “with reasonable effort.”

The decision, however, does not change the complex balancing act that exists between public access and privacy rights. Some documents are protected from public exposure, but the court’s ruling finds that the location of those documents – on a public or private server – has nothing to do with whether or not those documents are legitimate public records.

The high court quoted from the state’s public records act, which defines a public record as “any writing containing information relating to the conduct of the public’s business prepared, owned, used or retained by any state or local agency regardless of physical form or characteristics.” Not everything produced by a public employee is public, of course, and it might take hair-splitting to determine where to draw the line.

Here, the court used an example to illustrate the point: An employee’s email to a spouse complaining that “my coworker is an idiot,” is unlikely to be considered public, whereas “an email to a superior reporting the coworker’s mismanagement of an agency project might well be.” The court agreed that public employees do not “forfeit all rights to privacy.” But the city of San Jose claimed an exemption for all communications from personal accounts, which was an open invitation for employees to evade the clear intent of open-records laws.

The high court was not persuaded by the city’s argument that the Legislature required public access only to records “accessible to the agency as a whole.” Many genuinely public documents, it explained, are stored in “filing cabinets and ledgers” that would not be accessible to all of an agency’s employees.

The question, of course, is whether the document was produced by employees who are conducting business on behalf of the agency. It’s not a matter of where the document is stored that determines whether the public should have access to it. If, for instance, an agency contracted with a consultant to produce a report, then the agency – and therefore the public – has a right to that document even if the consultant is retaining that document, according to the court.

The recent presidential election reinforces the significance of these distinctions. “Our concerns are not fanciful,” the newspaper association’s brief explained. “For example, former Secretary of State and … presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton turned over 50,000 pages of government-related emails that she had kept on a private account, although federal regulations, since 2009, have required that all emails be preserved as part of an agency’s record-keeping system.” Many other states consider public records on private servers to be accessible to the public.

While local and state government agencies still need to come up with policies that detail exactly how such records must be maintained and disclosed, the court resolved the fundamental principle: A public document is a public document, even if it was created and stored in a private email account.

Steven Greenhut is Western region director for the R Street Institute. Write to him at sgreenhut@rstreet.org.

This piece was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Legislature Tries to Dodge Prop. 54 Transparency Requirements

TransparencyThe voters speak, the legislature interprets — and sometimes the translation is not faithful to the original meaning. We saw that last week with resolutions and rules changes that seem to fly in the face of the newly passed Proposition 54 demanding a waiting period before any measure is passed and last session with Senate Bill 1107, which ignores the clear language contained in 1988’s Proposition 73. Now there is a lawsuit on the senate bill charging the new law is out of bounds and a violation of Prop. 73. Perhaps a legal challenge will follow on the Proposition 54 issue.

SB1107 set up public financing of campaigns claiming that the bill was furthering the purposes of the political reform initiative, Proposition 73, passed by voters nearly thirty years ago. One major problem with the reasoning — Prop. 73 banned public financing. How can you further the purposes of a law when a bill takes the law in the exact opposite direction?

The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association teamed with former state senator and judge, Quentin Kopp, a co-author of Proposition 73, to file suit against SB1107. In a release, HJTA president Jon Coupal said, “California voters decided to prohibit taxpayer dollars from being used as political slush funds.  If politicians want to change that, they have to take the issue back to the voters.”

I signed the ballot argument on behalf of Proposition 73. At the time SB1107 was being considered I wrote in this space that the bill was a back door way to avoid the voters wishes on public financing. Only a vote of the people can change the dictates of Prop. 73.

I expect the courts to see the law the same way. That could lead to a test on the newly passed Proposition 54.

Prop. 54 requires that bills be in print for three days before a final vote can be taken. The idea is that due deliberation occur before legislators pass judgment. Yet, when the legislature was sworn in last week, resolutions were immediately passed calling on Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform and calling on the president-elect not to seek deportation of undocumented immigrants. In addition, the legislature set a rule that a bill passed in its original house did not have to submit to the three day rule under a theory that the bill would come back to that house with amendments from the second house.

The legislative majority made a rhetorical defense of their action on the resolutions justifying the procedure by declaring that Prop 54 only covered bills not resolutions or constitutional amendments.

One wonders if the voters made that distinction when voting on the ballot measure.

The proponent of Proposition 54, Charles Munger Jr., told Capitol Public Radio, “It is unfortunate that they would choose to pass their own rules and a resolution without giving their members and the public 72 hours to think about it.”

Perhaps Munger will go to court or wait to see how the Jarvis/Kopp lawsuit plays out.

One odd feature dealing with these two measures is that the Common Cause organization supported both Proposition 54 and SB1107. In fact, Common Cause sent out an email fundraising appeal preparing for a legal defense on SB1107. So here they support the legislature’s interpretation of the law. Will they be so willing to take the same course on Proposition 54?

The goal of the lawsuit is simple: When it comes to the initiative process the people’s verdict is final unless the voters themselves choose to change it.

This piece was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

Concealed Transparency: Legislature Tries to Fool the Public Again

TransparencyYou might have heard some news lately about legislative transparency, referring to efforts to subject what goes on in the California Legislature to meaningful public scrutiny. One headline actually read “California Senate Approves Measure Requiring More Transparency.” While an average citizen might rejoice at this news, they should be cognizant of what Paul Harvey used to characterize as “the rest of the story.”

Fact is, the California Legislature has absolutely no interest in exposing to public scrutiny how it does business. Indeed, the only reason lawmakers have introduced Senate Constitutional Amendment 14 is to try to force the proponents of a much stronger ballot measure to the bargaining table in an effort to dilute the impact of this genuine reform. It is our hope that the proponents of the real transparency measure, the California Legislature Transparency Act, decline the invitation.

On the surface, lawmakers’ SCA 14 doesn’t look too bad. It would require that bills be publicly available for 72 hours before they can be taken up for a vote and that visual recordings of all legislative proceedings be posted online. These are reforms that Californians have wanted for a long time.

So what has spurred the Legislature to pursue this needed reform? Have they suddenly turned a new leaf and actually desire to disclose to Californians what has, up to now, been transacted in secrecy and obfuscation? Hardly. They are looking down the gun barrel of a proposed initiative which gathered more than a million signatures and is on the verge of qualifying for the November ballot. Sponsored and financed by wealthy reformer Charles Munger, Jr., its requirement that bills be in print for 72 hours is airtight while the Legislature’s proposal has so many holes it resembles Swiss cheese.

We’ve seen the drill before. Citizens will clamor for reform but be rebuffed repeatedly by the Legislature. Then, someone puts a proposition on the ballot to achieve the desired results. Only then, does the Legislature find religion and admit there’s a problem.

Recall 1978. With homeowners angry, frustrated and scared of being taxed out of their homes, Howard Jarvis proposes real property tax reform in the form of Proposition 13. At first, the Legislature derides the effort and can’t fathom the notion that voters actually would support it. That is, until they start hearing from their constituents and seeing the polls. Only then did the California Legislature hurriedly place a very weak alternative (designated as Proposition 8) on the ballot. But voters would have none of it. By a 66 percent margin they effectively told the Legislature thanks, but no thanks.

We strongly suspect that a similar message will be sent to the Legislature in the event that two competing transparency measures appear on the ballot this November.

This piece was originally published by Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.

Transparency Ballot Measure Crosses Vital Threshold

CA-legislatureA ballot measure aimed at increasing legislative transparency crossed a vital threshold on Thursday and appears poised to be on November’s ballot.

The initiative is a constitutional amendment requiring the Legislature to make available online the final version of a bill at least 72 hours prior to a vote on either the Assembly or Senate floor.

The measure would also require all open legislative meetings to be recorded, with the videos posted online with 24 hours. It also allows individuals to record and share their own videos of open meetings.

“Voters are making it clear that they are fed up with special interest legislation being passed in the middle of the night, without time for input or careful consideration of how new laws impact them,” Sam Blakeslee, a former state senator and one of the measure’s proponents, said in a statement on Thursday. “We look forward to seeing these common sense reforms become a reality when all Californians have the opportunity to vote for this measure at the polls this November.”

The measure is backed by Republican donor Charles T. Munger Jr. and is supported by right-leaning groups like the California Chamber of Commerce, Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and the National Federation of Independent Business and the left-leaning California Common Cause.

The most outspoken and public opponent of the measure is Democratic political strategist Steven Maviglio, who argues it’s just another “tool” for special interests to unravel legislative deals at the last second.

Maviglio points to the 2008 budget agreement, the 1959 Fair Housing Act, the 2006 climate change bill (AB32) and the 2014 water bond were all tough votes taken without 72 hours notice. This measure, he argues, would subject iffy legislators to attacks from special interest groups.

“Let’s not give special interests any more tools to prevent lawmakers from doing the right thing, whether it be unnecessary delays in enacting legislation or ways to demonize the Legislature,” wrote in The Sacramento Bee.

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Practical Reforms to “Right-Size” Government Unions

Rolling back the power of government unions in a state like California is almost impossible. Their power has been unchallenged for so long that they now virtually control the state Legislature, and their grip on local politicians extends to nearly every city, county, school district and special district.

Unions2But there have been reforms in some places, and they can serve as examples for municipalities throughout the state. Several Orange County cities have tried transparency ordinances of variable effectiveness. San Jose has restricted the use of binding arbitration. Voters in San Jose and San Diego have both passed pension reform measures. Cities scattered throughout California have grappled with unions over project labor agreements and prevailing wage laws. And in the courts, reformers have won the first round in the Vergara case, which challenges union work rules governing teacher dismissals, layoff preferences and tenure requirements.

Against the remorseless advance of the government union agenda, these and other measures are decidedly incremental. They are often overwhelmed by deceptive union measures that carry the reform label but are actually reactionary shams, designed to turn back the clock. Or they are challenged in court by an avalanche of suits and counter-suits designed to eviscerate reforms that voters overwhelmingly supported.

The game is rigged, but the nonpartisan hunger for quality public education and civic financial health is universal. Sooner or later, the will of the people will always prevail. Here then is a partial list of public sector union reforms that have been tried, or should be tried, in every city and county in California:

(1)  “Right-to-Work” for all government workers:

This would forbid government unions from getting a government employee fired simply because they didn’t want to join a union. Right-to-work is especially compelling in government organizations, where altruistic individuals who want to become public servants may not wish to financially support the political agenda of their union. Because government unions negotiate over work rules that determine how we manage our public institutions, virtually all union activity is inherently political. Right-to-work in government organizations therefore not only forces unions to be more accountable to their members, but is based on an employee’s constitutional right to free speech.

(2)  “Worker’s Choice” for all government workers:

This law takes right-to-work a step further, and should be implemented in tandem with right-to-work. One objection that unions make to right-to-work laws is that it allows those workers who did not join the union to become “free riders” who enjoy the alleged benefits of union representation but don’t pay any dues. “Worker’s Choice” allows workers under a collective bargaining agreement to opt-out and represent themselves individually in their wage and benefit negotiations with their employer. Something that professionals throughout the private sector do as a matter of course.

(3)  Union Recertification:

This would require government unions to regularly hold a “recertification” election, preferably once every year. The election would require secret ballots and participation by a quorum (usually a majority) of employees in the collective bargaining unit. Most government employees in California started working long after the unions took over. They should be able to decide if they want a union to continue to represent them. Recertification, like right-to-work and worker’s choice, is a practice that would ensure greater accountability by unions, because if they lose the annual election, they would be decertified and could not represent those workers until regaining their approval in an election to be held at least a year later.

(4)  Reduced Scope of Collective Bargaining:

This reform is recommended in order to provide elected officials the latitude to equitably balance the interests of taxpayers and government workers. It gives them the latitude to cope effectively with budget deficits caused by economic downturns that have already affected private sector workers. Limiting negotiations on compensation to current benefits, for example, would mean that elected officials retain the authority to modify pension benefit formulas. Not only budget issues but work rule issues could be restricted under this reform. For example, “last-in-first-out” layoff rules which favor seniority over merit could be scrapped.

(5)  Pension Reform:

The most likely way to implement effective pension reform – which, ironically, is the only way to rescue the defined benefit plan for government workers – is to revise the California constitution via a state ballot initiative. Such a reform, at the least, would give elected officials or voters the right to reduce pension benefit accruals earned by active employees for future work. It would require active employees to pay 50% of their normal contribution, calculated at a rate of return permissable under ERISA statutes, i.e., a truly “risk-free” rate of return. It would impose stricter curbs on spiking and double dipping that would be harder to circumvent in court. And it would provide tools to be implemented to ensure system solvency in a financial state of emergency, such as suspension of COLAs for retirees (retroactively if necessary), retroactive reduction in pension benefit annual accruals for active workers, raising of the pension-eligible retirement age, and a ceiling on benefits.

(6)  “Paycheck Protection”:

This would require unions to obtain permission, preferably annually, before deducting the political portion of their dues from worker paychecks. California’s government workers currently assert their right to not pay the political portion of their dues – notwithstanding the argument that ALL dues paid to a government union are used for essentially political purposes – via a cumbersome “opt-out” process. This reform would change that to an annual “opt-in” process, making it much easier for government workers to avoid having to support the political agenda of their unions.

(7)  “Dues Checkoff”:

Under this reform, government payroll departments would no longer be required (or allowed) to withhold union dues from government employee paychecks and turn that money automatically over to the union. Instead unions would be required to bill and collect dues without relying on payroll withholding, just like other membership organizations. This is particularly justified in the case of government unions, under the assumption that the government should not be acting as a collection agent for a private organization.

(8)  Clarification of “Public Employee”:

This is an interesting reform that can be interpreted in two ways. On one hand, by broadening the description to include government contractors, then in conjunction with other reforms, appropriate regulations restricting inappropriate union activity can be extended, for example, not only to home health care workers, but to construction contractors whose unions negotiate for project labor agreements and prevailing wage agreements. On the other hand, narrowing the description of what constitutes a public employee can counter the aggressive expansion of government unions in states such as California where there are virtually no checks on government union power. Either way, the principle governing the application of this reform would be that unions that operate in the public sector should be subject to more restrictions than those unions that operate in the private sector.

(9)  Transparency in Negotiations:

Lost on most voters is the fact that government unions epitomize the so-called abuses of the elite establishment. Powerful corporate and financial interests make deals with government unions in an Alliance of The Big. More regulations drive out innovative commercial competition at the same time as they expand unionized government. Transparency in negotiations, obviously, means that unions have to disclose their wage and benefit demands for public review. But it means much more than that. Disclosure of their financial and operating reports, their membership dues, their internal leadership election processes. And more than anything, a spotlight on how government unions collude with the most powerful and corrupt among the private sector elites they claim they are protecting us from.

(10)  Ban on Political Activity:

Public employee unions, if they should exist at all, should not be permitted to use their resources to conduct any sort of political lobbying or campaigning. There is an inherent conflict between the agenda of unionized government and the public interest. Government unions, by definition, want to increase their membership and want to increase the pay and benefits of their membership. That causes more government to trump good government. It causes more spending to trump efficient spending. At its root, it means that failure of government programs constitutes success for government unions, because their solution is inevitably to call for more government spending. Political activity by government union should be illegal.

Perhaps the most important point to be made in the context of these ten recommendations is that they are utterly nonpartisan. Unions in the public sector bear little relation to unions in the private sector, for reasons that are well documented: They don’t operate in agencies that have to make a profit, which limits how much private sector unions can ask for from their employers. They elect their own bosses through massive campaign spending, something unheard of in the private sector unions whose management is determined by shareholders. And they run the government, which allows them to make common cause with the most powerful and corrupt among the private sector elites. What part of this is partisan?

Californians of all political persuasions are going to eventually have to face the reality that government unions are the reason our schools are failing students and parents, and the reason we can’t balance our budgets and control our debt. These reforms are all ways to begin to reduce the power of government unions, which will be a giant step towards making California’s state and local governments truly accountable to the interests of all workers – not just government workers.

*   *   *

Ed Ring is the president of the California Policy Center.

New Data Shows Obama Least Transparent President Ever

Sunshine Transparency CartoonPresident Barack Obama promised at the outset of his White House tenure that his would be the “most transparent administration in history,” but new data made public Friday suggests it has been the least transparent.

Federal officials said they couldn’t find any records for more than one in six, or nearly 130,000, Freedom of Information Act requests, setting a new record low, The Associated Press reported Friday.

“It seems like they’re doing the minimal amount of work they need to do,” Vice News investigative journalist Jason Leopold told AP. “I just don’t believe them. I really question the integrity of their search.”

Leopold sat on a panel of journalists who shared FOIA horror stories with lawmakers in June and said reporters often need to sue agencies before getting any records.

AP similarly reported instances where the government released tens of thousands of records following a lawsuit, after previously telling FOIA requesters they couldn’t find any documents. The Department of State, for example, told Gawker they couldn’t find any correspondence between Hillary Clinton aide Phillipe Reines and journalists, but found 90,000 records after a lawsuit.

Leopold also recently reported the Department of Justice previously lobbied heavily against FOIA reform moving through Congress.

The Obama administration answered more record requests and reduced its backlog, Department of Justice spokeswoman Beverly Lumpkin told AP. Additionally, the administration completed a 769,903 requests – a 19 percent increase over 2014 and a new record, AP reported.

Also, 77 percent of requests were either redacted or denied. That includes those where the requester refused to pay for records or when the government said they couldn’t find documents or that a request was either unreasonable or improper.

But the White House reported 93 percent, in fact, were released in full or in part, since they don’t include such caveats in their calculations.

Meanwhile, the inability to pay isn’t necessarily a requester’s stinginess. The Department of Defense said one FOIA request would cost $660 million  – the price of an Australian island – the Center for Public Integrity recently reported.

Additionally, more than half of the federal agencies took longer to answer last year’s requests than in 2014.

“It’s incredibly unfortunate when someone waits months, or perhaps years, to get a response to their request – only to be told that the agency can’t find anything,” Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press attorney Adam Marshall told AP.

AP reviewed all 2015 requests to 100 federal agencies.

“It was impossible to know whether more requests last year involved non-existent files or whether federal workers were searching less than diligently before giving up to consider a case closed,” AP reported.

Originally published by the Daily Caller News Foundation

LAPD awarded $1M by U.S. Department of Justice to buy body cameras

A reported by the L.A. Daily News:

The Los Angeles Police Department was awarded $1 million by the U.S. Department of Justice Monday for the purchase of body cameras, despite a complaint by the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union that the department’s policies on the use and release of the footage hinders transparency.

The LAPD was one of 73 agencies across the country to be awarded a total of $19.3 million in funding for the purchase of cameras. Pasadena was awarded $250,000.

Los Angeles officials had asked the federal government for funding to purchase 700 cameras. The city ultimately wants to purchase 7,000 cameras to outfit all of its field officers. The department already has about 860 cameras purchased through private donations. Distribution of those cameras began this month at three LAPD stations. …

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