Tag Archive for Assembly Bill 1946 (2012)

“The vast majority of Californians have an unfavorable view of their state legislature – and for good reason.”

In today’s FlashReport on California’s Most Significant Political News, Assemblywoman Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield) gives her concise perspective on the quick defeat of her three “good government” bills to address what she called “malpractice” in the California State Legislature. The bills were Assembly Bill 1946, Assembly Bill 1947, and Assembly Bill 1948. As reported on this web site, I submitted letters to legislative committees in support of these three bills and testified in committee hearings for two of them. All three bills were defeated on party-line votes: Republicans in support, Democrats opposed.

See the opinion piece here: California Democrats Oppose Open and Transparent Government.

Read my letter in support of Assembly Bill 1946, my letter in support of Assembly Bill 1947, and my letter in support of Assembly Bill 1948.

I would like to believe that Republicans would run the state legislature differently if they were in control. And maybe it would be run differently if someone with solid principles was selected to be Assembly Speaker. But the experience of Republicans winning control of the U.S. House of Representatives in 1994 after 40 years out of power does not build a lot of confidence. (I was a legislative assistant working in the House at the time of the 1994 election.)

Upon taking control, Republicans proposed getting rid of the 10 elevator operators in the House office buildings (out of 22 total in the U.S. Capitol complex) who pushed the buttons for members of Congress and sometimes for the staff and the public. This would have saved taxpayers $263,000 annually and eliminated an obvious symbol of elitist pomp.

On June 22, 1995, Congressman Jon Christensen (R-Nebraska) irked many of his peers by offering an amendment to eliminate the House elevator operators, saying the following: “The time has come for Members of Congress to start pushing their own buttons. Yes, that grievous, arduous task of pushing your own elevator button. No, my amendment does not propose to eliminate elevators, nor does my amendment require the Members to take the steps from here out. All my amendment requires is that we begin pushing our own elevator button.”

The subsequent debate on the House floor appears to take place in an alternative universe. See page H6222 of the June 22, 1995 Congressional Record, here.

As you might guess, many Republicans joined Democrats to defeat the amendment solidly, on a 177-246 vote. Business as usual was already taking effect, almost eight months after the elections. The button pushing (in the elevators) continues today at the U.S. Capitol complex.

Shameful! Democrats Reject Assemblywoman Shannon Grove’s Bill to Codify Court Decision Allowing Public Access to Certain Legislative Records

I’m 3 for 3 on guessing the outcome of the triad of bills introduced by Assemblywoman Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield) to reform the operations of the California State Legislature. On April 26, the Assembly Rules Committee rejected Assembly Bill 1946 on a 5-4 vote, with five Democrats opposed, four Republicans in support, and two Democrats not voting.

The bill was supported by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and the Dayton Public Policy Institute, a project of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC. (See my support letter here.) I was not able to attend the committee hearing to speak as a witness for AB 1946 because I was in Orange County on other business at that time.

This bill would have codified the December 2, 2011 Sacramento County Superior Court decision in Los Angeles Times Communications LLC v California Legislature (Case Number: 34-2011-80000929). It would have added to state law a statement of the court that “The language of the Open Records Act at issue here reflects a strong presumption in favor of public access to legislative records.” AB 1946 also would have added to state law the court’s statement that records that “reflect how Assembly money is budgeted and spent” are public records. According to the court, these records “indisputably contain information relating to the conduct of the public’s business” which is “critical to an understanding of the Legislature’s operations.”

The committee’s bill analysis for AB 1946 was essentially useless, although it suggested a clarification to the bill language that alluded to the practice of moving staff around from committees to personal offices to avoid budget restrictions.

News Media Coverage:

Assembly Kills Bill to Require Disclosure of Member Budgets – Sacramento Bee – April 26, 2012

Assembly Scuttles Bill to Make Budget Disclosure Permanent – Sacramento Bee – April 27, 2012

Assembly Errs in Keeping Its Process Closed – Bakersfield Californian (editorial) – April 30, 2012

Sacramento, A Place of No Surprises – Santa Maria Times (editorial) – May 1, 2012

Here’s a powerful excerpt from the Bakersfield Californian editorial:

One of the bills that died was an attempt by Bakersfield Assemblywoman Shannon Grove to stipulate in the Legislative Open Records Act that member-by-member budgets for individual lawmakers and their offices are public record. Grove’s bill came in response to a court decision in which a judge ruled legislative budgets are public records despite the Legislature’s long insistence otherwise. The Democratic-led committee said the judge’s decision was enough; the bill wasn’t necessary.

But why not codify the judge’s decision into law? The Legislative Open Records Act has long been regarded as a joke among open government experts and Grove’s bill could have helped bolster its legitimacy. It’s hard to see any political motivation on Grove’s part here, other than her well-documented disdain for big government and willingness to shine the light on those who take their duties as stewards of the public trust lightly. Her bill deserved more consideration and it’s a shame it was given short-shrift.

And an excerpt from the Santa Maria Times editorial:

The author of the disclosure bill, Assemblywoman Shannon Grove, a Bakersfield Republican, admitted she filed the legislation knowing it had little chance of survival — which tells you a lot about how little confidence she had in her colleagues’ ability or willingness to be honest about how they spend your tax dollars.

It’s interesting to note that Assemblywoman Grove, who tried to launch the legislation mentioned above to require full financial disclosure, is also helping the group trying to promote the part-time Legislature notion. Well, at least we know one person in Sacramento is focused on making a better government.

What a Place! More Bills to Clean Up the California State Legislature

On Thursday, April 26, the California State Assembly’s Rules Committee will consider the third of a triad of bills from Assemblywoman Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield) to reform the operations of the California State Legislature.

Assembly Bill 1946 deals with public access to records of the legislature. It would add language to the Legislative Open Records Act (Government Code Section 9070-9080) to state that this law shall be construed with a strong presumption in favor of public access to legislative records. It also states that a record that reflects the approved budget allocation for a legislator or the legislator’s office is not exempt from mandatory disclosure under the Legislative Open Records Act.

Here is my support letter for this bill, which cites the failure of the legislature to provide records indicating which legislator gave the secret unilateral directive for an “all-union workforce” to build the Capitol Safety and Security Improvements Project in 2005:

Dayton Letter in Support of Assembly Bill 1946

This 2011 report from the Pacific Research Institute (based in San Francisco) discusses problems with government compliance under the Legislative Open Records Act and Public Records Act (Ralph M. Brown Act), and it cites some of my difficulties getting public records when I was employed by Associated Builders and Contractors of California:

Bringing More Sunshine to California: How to Expand Open Government in the Golden State

Assembly Bill 1946 codifies the December 2, 2011 decision of a Sacramento County Superior Court judge in Los Angeles Times v. California Legislature. The Los Angeles Times and the Sacramento Bee – both members of the California Newspaper Publishers Association – sued the legislature to get legislative office budget records after the legislature refused the requests of Assemblyman Anthony Portantino (D-Pasadena) and various newspapers for these records.

This controversy began in July 2011 when Assemblyman Portantino claimed that his office was being unfairly deprived of extra funding for excessive office expenses because he was the only Democrat to vote against the 2011-12 state budget. (He opposed education cuts, prison realignment, and elimination of redevelopment agencies.) Portantino was upset about the possibility of having to furlough his office staff, and he tried to obtain budget records for other offices to prove that many offices besides his own spent more than their official allotment set by the Assembly Rules Committee. When the legislature finally released the records, those records indicated that Portantino spent the most on personal office staff. But a Palo Alto group called California Common Sense analyzed the records and concluded in a report that the information had been manipulated to falsely smear Portantino, whom they claimed was actually ranked 18th.

See these Los Angeles Times articles about the controversy:

Portantino Accuses Democrats of Reprisal for Budget Opposition – July 12, 2011

California Legislature Releases Members’ Spending Records – August 27, 2011

Judge Rules State Assembly Must Disclose Lawmakers’ Budget Records – December 5, 2011

Also, see this interesting commentary by Steve Greenhut in www.CalWatchdog.com:

Portantino Late Convert to Openness Issue – August 29, 2011

Also, see this Los Angeles Times article about how Democrat leaders in the legislature punish Democrat mavericks and troublesome Republicans:

State Lawmakers Toe the Line or Risk Losing Their Parking Spots – August 1, 2011

I predict that Assemblywoman Shannon Grove will soon suffer at the hands of Democrat leaders for calling for a part-time legislature and backing up her argument with her triad of three bills to reform the California State Legislature. But right now legislative leaders have to deal with Assemblyman Portantino again for introducing these three reform bills:

Assembly Committee Kills Portantino’s Whistleblower Protections for Legislative Employees – Again – April 24, 2012 Press Release

Portantino Wants Accurate Reporting of Outside Compensation for Public Officials – April 17, 2012 Press Release

Portantino’s Bill to End Special Perk for Legislator’s Vanity License Plates Passes Key Committee – April 16, 2012 Press Release

California Legislative Committee to Again Consider Putting Legislature Under Same Fair Contracting Laws as Other State Agencies

UPDATE: The committee analysis for Assembly Bill 1947 has been issued, and the Dayton Public Policy Institute (a project of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC) is the sole party in the universe that bothered (or dared?) to submit a comment. I’ll be at the committee meeting tomorrow to testify as a witness. Perhaps there will even be some committee members there besides the chairperson to hear it.

Assemblywoman Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield) has introduced a package of three bills (Assembly Bill 1946, Assembly Bill 1947, and Assembly Bill 1948) that would eliminate some of the special privileges of the California State Legislature. I call these bills the “Glass Houses” package because they reveal how the state legislature hypocritically enacts laws to control the activities of businesses and government entities, but makes sure to exempt itself from those same laws.

On Tuesday, April 17, the Assembly Business, Professions & Consumer Protection Committee will meet at 9:00 a.m. in Room 447 of the Capitol and at that hearing will consider Assembly Bill 1947. This bill changes state law to require the California State Legislature to bid its contracts under fair and open competitive bidding, for the purpose of stimulating competition in a manner conducive to sound fiscal practices and for eliminating favoritism, fraud, and corruption. AB 1947 also creates transparency in the development and execution of bid specifications, so that the legislature is accountable to the people for its policy decisions concerning contracts funded by the people. A preliminary fact sheet explaining this bill, the need for this bill, and the inspiration for this bill is here:

Assembly Bill 1947 – Preliminary Fact Sheet

My letter in support of Assembly Bill 1947 is here:

Dayton Letter in Support of Assembly Bill 1947

Posted NEW on April 16: Assembly Business, Professions, and Consumer Protection Committee Analysis of Assembly Bill 1947

To express your support for Assembly Bill 1947, go to Shannon Grove’s My Legislation, select “AB 1947 – Competitive Bidding for Legislative Contracts” – and then select Support/Oppose AB 1947.

What Are the Chances of Assembly Bill 1947 Becoming Law?

Based on past history, the Democrat leadership will NOT let this bill pass out of committee.

In a shameful vote on April 23, 2007, the Assembly Business and Professions Committee rejected Assembly Bill 1070, a bill introduced by Assemblyman Paul Cook (R-Yucaipa) that would have subjected the state legislature to the same competitive bidding requirements as state agencies and local governments in California. One Democrat, Assemblywoman Wilmer Amina Carter (D-Rialto), joined committee Republicans to vote in support of the bill, reportedly because she recognized the historic legacy of racial discrimination in awarding government contracts.

A freshman legislator at the time, Assemblyman Cook learned through frustrating experience about how Democrat legislative leaders control their fiefdom. The Legislative Counsel’s office, which drafts bills, included an unnecessary provision in the bill that Cook could not manage to get removed despite his efforts. The Democrat committee analyst used the provision as the basis for an argument against the bill. Even though Assemblyman Cook received no letters of opposition, and not a single speaker at the committee hearing testified against the bill, the bill was rejected without comments.

Following the vote, the May 11, 2007 Orange County Register published a column by the newspaper’s “Capitol Watchdog” Brian Joseph entitled “Committee Quashes Contract Rules: Bill Would Have Required Legislature to Follow Fair Play Rules in Awarding its Projects.” The column reported on the committee rejection of Assembly Bill 1070. It also reported that in 2005 an unknown person or persons in the legislature unilaterally decided to insert a provision in bid specifications for the Capitol Safety and Security Improvements Project to require all contractors to use an “all-union workforce.” Such a requirement would not be allowed under the state’s competitive bidding laws, but the state legislature has exempted itself from those laws.

The column also referred to a court case – The Zumbrun Law Firm v. California Legislature – in which the legislature was accused of illegally using that union-only bidding requirement and also accused of illegally withholding documents from the public that would reveal which legislator initiated this behind-the-scenes bidding scheme. That lawsuit lost in Sacramento County Superior Court in 2006 and lost on appeal in the California Third District Court of Appeals in 2008. The California Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal. The courts ruled that the legislature could indeed and was indeed exempt from the State Contracts Act when bidding construction contracts.

In 2009, Assemblyman Curt Hagman (R-Chino Hills) introduced Assembly Bill 641, which would have required the legislature to abide by competitive bidding laws. The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association sponsored the bill in response to the two court decisions in The Zumbrun Law Firm v. California Legislature. The Assembly Business and Professions Committee defeated Assembly Bill 641 on a party-line vote (Republicans in support; Democrats opposed).

Will the third time be the charm for competitive bidding? The California State Legislature may want to heed the advice of Benjamin Franklin in Poor Richard’s Almanack:

Don’t throw Stones at your Neighbours’, if your own Windows are Glass.