California Legislators: Gut and Amend is Gutless and Abusive

In civics and government books, you find diagrams summarizing “how a bill becomes law.”  It shows multiple steps during which citizens’ representatives consider bills before they can be enacted.  That imagery of responsible deliberation is also cultivated by candidates on the stump.

Unfortunately, the end of each California legislative session illustrates a much sadder civics lesson by way of “gut and amend”(GANDA) bills.

As legislators race to pass bills before the deadline, the powerful take unrelated bills and replace them with completely different bills. Then, in the last-minute frenzy, they try to rush them through the last steps with minimal scrutiny (e.g., it is not unusual for there to be multiple different committee hearings in one room in an hour).  A sharper contrast with the “good government” civics illustration is hard to imagine. 

2011’s GANDA crop is an impressive addition to a long history of legislative abuses.  Its “highlights” include SB 922, which changed from a measure to add tuberculosis to information that may be disclosed under California’s immunization system to a measure barring local governments from banning project labor agreements. SB 202 also makes the list by morphing a bill to raise the filing fee for ballot initiatives from $200 to $2000 into one that would only allow ballot initiatives at November general elections and explicitly delayed consideration of one (ACA 4) until 2014.  And those are far from the only examples, reflecting little change from last year, when Dan Walters reported that “Dozens of bills were changed, sometimes introducing entirely new pieces of legislation.”

GANDA bills deserve rejection as blatant abuses of the legislative process, designed to escape virtually all scrutiny rather than to enable diligent deliberation.

Bills that command the necessary consensus can pass in the light of day.  Only those without sufficient support need the subterfuge of last-minute GANDA maneuvers that leave too little time for reading, much less evaluation.

Those who benefit from GANDA changes defend the process, but their argument is preposterous.  It amounts to claiming that, despite missing deadlines or failing to get approval, sometimes the legislature “just needs to act.”  But that is not a reason; it simply assumes its conclusion—proponents need to be allowed to circumvent the rules to enact their failed pet projects and special favors for no other reason than that they decided it was necessary.

For a GANDA bill to benefit Californians would require several things to be true.  Unfortunately, they are typically false.

The bill would have to be the legislature’s business.  Although they inject themselves everywhere, in fact there is very little legislation that can advance our general welfare.  Benefiting some at others’ expense is another matter, but Californians’ welfare requires that such bills be stopped, not greased through the process.

Only the legislature must be capable of dealing with the problem.  Where people can work things out for themselves, no legislation is needed. Those whose wisdom politicians laud during campaigns deserve credit for equal intelligence about their own affairs.

The problem must be so urgent that it cannot wait for the next legislative term.  And the sponsor must actually know how to solve the problem efficiently and equitably.

Any bill that met these requirements to actually benefit Californians could navigate the normal legislative process.  So a legitimate GANDA candidate must also come as a sudden surprise.  But it strains credibility to think that a legislator could quickly develop a real solution to some serious problem that was both unrecognized and undisclosed just weeks before, yet need to sneak it through.

Gut and amend survives only because it lets legislative urgency disguise legislators last-minute actions from public accountability.  Proponents may “need” it for their purposes, but those purposes do not advance the welfare of all Californians.  So every gut and amend bill is not only gutless, but deserves rejection as a reprehensible abuse by those who claim to represent us.

 

(Gary Galles is a Professor of Economics at Pepperdine University)

Comments

  1. An eye opener to be sure. But such an eyesore might need two approaches to be cured.(or at least subdued). Parlimentry procedure requires a controller. Presumably that is the duty the majority leaders of either chambers. In absence of disciplined, responsible leadership, each last-minute stinker must become an albatross, with a neck to hang around. This idea hasn’t been such a problem, because (of course )historic procederal hijynx has occured outside daily public appraisal. My personal experience is that I recieve more updated information about farther-away Washington D.C. activity from mainstream media than closer-here Sacramento; which bring the second concern. The lack of daily public access of a bills status, and who is active in its passage, has permitted partisan guerilla tactics to become the norm. With internet blogging and its immediate notification, the legislature might be persuded to,’take the cure’.

    Can you imagine where we would be if the White House was not daily scrutinized?

    I’ll bet you are skeptical about the reprobate state legislature policing itself with self-imposed discipline (and why not?). I’d prefer to keep the courts out of the situation, and instead use the intitiative process. You know, the means that the public has to impose their will upon the legislature (and what it currently wants to insulate itself from) without in-house political spinning from the pros. PUT THE MAGNIFYING GLASS ON THEM. THEY WORK FOR US. PUBLICLY.

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