Blakeslee-backed initiative aims for transparency in California Legislature

October 25, 2016
Sam Blakeslee

Sam Blakeslee

A ballot initiative backed by former state sen. Sam Blakeslee and Republican donor Charles Munger, Jr. aims to prevent California lawmakers from ramming through legislation before their colleagues and the public have been given the opportunity to review it. The initiative calls for the adoption of a three-day waiting period prior to final action on bills. [LA Times]

If passed, Prop. 54 would require the final language of the bill to be posted online for 72 hours before either the state Assembly or Senate can vote on it for the final time. The ballot measure includes exceptions for declared states of emergency during natural disasters and instances in which a supermajority in both legislative houses overrides the rule.

Additionally, the initiative would require all legislative floor sessions and committee hearings to be videotaped, and the recordings would have to be posted online within 24 hours and be accessible for a period of up to 20 years. Likewise, the measure would eliminate an existing ban on using video of legislative meetings in political advertisements.

Blakeslee and other proponents of Prop. 54 cite numerous cases in which bills were rushed through the legislature. In 2014, the extension of a tax break for solar panels mysteriously appeared in the state budget, and in less than two days, it was on the governor’s desk. Three years prior, a plan to fast-track a proposed downtown Los Angeles NFL stadium received final approval from the state Senate just hours after the final language of the bill was unveiled.

In 2009, then-state sen. Abel Maldonado reached a late night deal with Sacramento Democrats and then-gov. Arnold Scwarzenegger to vote for a budget with tax increases in exchange for creating California’s top-two primary system. The bill was marked with handwritten scribbling when it went to the governor’s desk, and months later Schwarzenegger appointed Maldonado lieutenant governor.

Maldonado is currently listed as a supporter of Prop. 54.

“I understand that there are people out there who like the status quo,” Blakeslee said. “But virtually everyone who’s been there says this is long overdue.”

Blakeslee also said the ballot measure is just a single step toward transparency in the Legislature.

“This doesn’t protect the public from incompetence,” Blakeslee said. “But it does protect them from ignorance.”

The California Republican and Libertarian parties are supporting Blakeslee’s initiative, while the state Democratic Party is opposing it. Legislative leaders, like Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Paramount) have been critical of the initiative, but reluctant to take a formal position on it.

Opponents of Prop. 54 say some political deals are too delicate to last a three-day period prior to a vote. The ballot argument against the initiative says bipartisan budget agreements, the Fair Housing Act and last year’s bond measure addressing the drought would likely have never been enacted if there had been a 72-hour waiting period. The ballot argument also states Prop. 54 amounts to a billionaire trying to use the initiative process to pursue his own agenda, as well as to create unnecessary legislative restrictions under the guise of transparency.

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“Opponents of Prop. 54 say some political deals are too delicate to last a three-day period prior to a vote.”

If it’s a good idea now, then it will still be a good idea in three days. The only deals that are too delicate to last that long are ones that won’t hold up to public scrutiny.