Dan Walters

By Dan Walters
dwalters@sacbee.com
June 14, 2016 – 3:52 PM

  • Capitol politicians sneak measures through process
  • Ballot measure would require waiting period
  • Legislature responds with its own proposal

The timing could not have been more perfect.

As dozens of state budget “trailer bills” were being given their first public airing Monday, in another part of the Capitol legislators were mulling whether the public should be given more time to review legislation before it is passed.

Over the years, trailer bills, which are supposed to make changes in law to implement the budget’s financial decisions, have morphed into very sneaky vehicles for politicians to do all sorts of things that have little or no connection to the budget.

That’s been particularly true ever since voters decided to reduce the required vote on the budget – and its trailer bills – from two-thirds to a simple majority.

The Capitol’s dominant Democrats have exploited the parliamentary loophole shamelessly, even inserting token $2,000 appropriations in some bills to claim attachment to the budget.

Finally, after years of criticism, the Legislature cleaned up its act, more or less, by posting trailer bills on the internet at least a few days before their enactment. But the potential for abuse remains – and it’s not confined to trailer bills.

Many other measures have been drafted in the dead of night, their contents known only to lobbyists and other insiders, and then passed before anyone had a chance to object.

Apologists for procedural abuse have offered a strange, and obviously self-serving, rationalization – that sometimes sneakiness is the only way to get good legislation passed before evil opponents can marshal forces to kill it.

Minority Republicans have routinely introduced legislation to require a 72-hour waiting period before a final vote on legislation. And routinely, Democrats have killed it.

To read expanded column, click here.