Assemblyman proposes legislative reform
At midnight on Aug. 31 the 2005-06 Legislative Session drew to a close. Leading up to that late night, the California State Assembly had spent long days and nights during the previous four weeks debating and voting on over 1,000 bills. As the dust begins to settle from the frenetic activity, we must reflect on and question our legislative process.
The sheer volume of bills introduced gives pause as to whether the current system allows for the necessary thoughtful consideration and deliberation these bills demand. Consider that in the 2005-2006 session, the Assembly introduced 3,352 bills while the Senate introduced 1,441 for a combined 4,793 measures. Since I took office in December 2002, the Legislature produced a combined total of 9,299 measures.
The massive bill load keeps Assembly and Senate members on the run. Members not only present their own bills in committees, but they also sit on committees to hear numerous bills. As both a participant and observer of this process, I have seen members go in and out of committees rushing to present or vote on bills in their respective committees. These simultaneously scheduled events create even further frenzied activity as legislative deadlines loom. One recent late-night committee hearing occurred after Floor session. As the committee wrapped up its business, one committee member popped in, called out her three votes and then disappeared within a half-minute. This is hardly how the public envisions legislators considering and voting on bills that can drastically change how Californians live.
Because of the thousands of bills introduced each year, the Legislature suffers from an avalanche of silly bills. Numerous proposals are what I call “nanny government” or “feel good” legislation. Proposals in the past included voter outreach to inmates, permission for teenagers to use tanning beds, regulation of the delicacy foie gras, and making sure state buildings follow the principles of feng shui.
This year proved no different. Measures include micromanaging what drivers can or cannot do in their car, such as one requiring the use of a hands-free cell phone in the car or another that would require a booster seat for children up to 8 years old. Another ill-designed bill would criminalize those who leave their dogs tethered for more than three hours a day no matter how long the tether. These are just a few in a long list of many.
Not only does the overabundance of bills create bad public policy but it is costly to the taxpayers. Every bill introduced, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office, costs an average of $18,600 dollars. That entails overhead for all those who participate in a bill’s creation including drafting, printing, staffing, and shepherding the bill through the legislative process. When you consider the number of bills introduced the costs quickly add up to over a $100 million per session.
Rather than just bemoan the culture that prevails in Sacramento, I decided first to take personal responsibility and introduce no more than 10 bills a year. I then took further action and introduced Assembly Constitutional Amendment 19. This constitutional amendment would set a limit on the number of bills legislators are permitted to introduce. As it stands now, the Assembly and Senate Rules committees determined a 40 and 50 bill limit, respectively, for the 2005-06 regular session. My constitutional amendment would cut this number in half and limit Assemblymembers to 20 and Senate members to 50 bills. Reducing the number of measures a member may introduce would not prohibit intrusive or silly government bills, but it would contribute to significantly reducing the number of bills introduced. Lower bill limits would encourage legislators to put forth well thought proposals rather than some of the frivolous measures mentioned above.
The Assembly Budget Committee provided ACA 19 a hearing last January. The debate and dialogue was constructive, and as I continue to push this issue, I hope it will gain traction and bring about much needed reform.
Rick Keene is a District 3 California State Assemblyman.
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