End of California Legislature’s session exemplifies sneakiness 

Not only did the California Legislature fail to produce a genuinely balanced budget this year, thus continuing a sorry tradition, but it also dropped the ball on other issues facing a large, economically troubled state.

Mostly, the 2011 session that ended early Saturday generated political favors by the dominant Democrats for their friends, especially those in organized labor. And in doing so, they displayed a penchant for sneakiness and secrecy.

Assembly Speaker John A. Perez dealt clumsily with a public revolt by a fellow Democrat, Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, who demanded release of the Assembly’s internal financial records after bucking the leadership on the state budget and then being accused of overspending his own budget.

Perez refused to release any records until being sued by two newspapers.

There is absolutely no reason for the Legislature to even partially exempt itself from open-records laws and other sunshine statutes that it imposes on local governments.

Perez and his counterpart in the state Senate, President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, pay lip service to openness, but when push comes to shove, they do their big business in secret and/or with little notice.

That’s the way they did the budget, after going through the charade of public hearings, and that’s the way they did most of the major bills in the session’s last hours.

Entirely new bills, such as one giving the governor the power to streamline permitting of some development projects and another shifting all ballot measures to November elections, popped up in the last two days.

It’s really an outrageous way of conducting the public’s business, and we shouldn’t stand for it.

One remedy would be to adopt a version of the model legislation that the Center for Government Reform in Washington state has written for its state Legislature, which was showing a similar penchant for secrecy and sneakiness.

It’s called the Legislative Transparency Act, and it would require adequate notice — 72 hours most commonly — before any bill could be taken up, require adequately noticed hearings on all bills, and also ban the practice, very common in Sacramento, of introducing “spot bills” that are empty shells to be filled later with whatever language leaders want enacted.

If Perez, Steinberg et al. aren’t willing to follow the same sort of open processes that they impose on local governments, they richly deserve their abysmally low standing in public approval polls.

Dan Walters’ Sacramento Bee columns on state politics are syndicated by the Scripps Howard News Service.

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Dan Walters

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