A late-blooming, business-backed drive to significantly alter the 42-year-old California Environmental Quality Act died late last week when it crashed into a wall of opposition from influential environmental groups.
That wasn’t the official reason, of course. Rather, legislative leaders insisted that putting off CEQA modification was a good government decision not to rush something so significant.
“This law, for all of its strengths and its faults, is far too important to rewrite in the last days of the session,” state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said.
Steinberg, who does public sincerity well, uttered those words with a straight face. But at the risk of sounding churlish, one must point out that the fact that just a few days remain in the session has not dissuaded him or other legislative leaders from ginning up almost countless numbers of new bills with far-reaching economic and social effects.
Virtually all of these and many other last-minute bills are being rushed through the process as “gut-and-amend” exercises, wherein a dormant bill’s contents are stripped out and an entirely new bill is inserted, bypassing the multiple hearings and other legislative hurdles that more ordinary measures must endure.
Some of these transmogrified measures are hundreds of pages long, making it virtually impossible for anyone outside the inner circles of “stakeholders” to fully understand what they would do. And some are being treated as budget “trailer bills,” thus qualifying them for fast action, even if they have little to do with the budget and just contain token $1,000 appropriations.
Good government? Taking the time to do it right? Scarcely.
Dan Walters covers state politics for the Sacramento Bee.