Gut and Amend: A Legislative Horror Story

By Assemblyman Brian Jones

In the interest of the upcoming holiday of Halloween, I thought I would offer you my own “Nightmare on Bill Street.” It’s called the “Gut and Amend.”

This is a process that violates almost every legislative rule, not to mention rules of decency and fairness which the citizens of California deserve.

The Legislature has fixed “Constitutional” rules we must follow, but we also have what are called “House Rules” which can be broken with a simple majority vote. Thus, anytime the majority party wants to break a rule, they can — and they do.

That’s a scary thing in my book and why it’s particularly relevant to address in October.

To put it in plain terms, each bill that is introduced must go through a process: it must be heard in a “policy” committee (education bills go to the Education Committee, etc.) and if the bill pertains to anything financial, it will also go to a “fiscal” committee. After that, bills are voted on by either the Assembly or Senate (depending in what House the bill was introduced), and if it passes, it goes through the exact same process in the other House.

In other words, there are plenty of opportunities for the public to review and comment on legislation.

A “gut and amend” is a ticket straight to the front of the line — and bypasses all the steps that are put in place for purposes of transparency — so YOU, the public, can have some time to review legislative shenanigans. Great concept, right?

Unfortunately, the “gut and amend” is a popular tool used at the end of session by those in power, particularly when there is a strong desire to avoid a public “vetting” or examination. A bill that is nearing the end of the legislative process will suddenly become a “vehicle” for another purpose: all wording is stricken and replaced with entirely new language that does something completely different.

Oftentimes, the bill is not even in “print” and we have to look at a mocked-up version of what we are supposed to cast a vote on.

One of this year’s most egregious examples of a “gut and amend” was SB 922. Just days before the session ended, a bill about tuberculosis screening suddenly became a bill that denies state funding of public works projects by charter cities that have banned the use of project labor agreements (PLAs). Make no mistake about it. This is a bad bill that will cost cities around the state millions of dollars.

The reason the new language was dumped into SB 922 in the final days was because it’s a sneaky way to squelch opposition. If no one has time to organize to oppose the bill — and if staff has no time to research and analyze the possible effects of the bill — it’s a lot easier to get votes.

Thus, SB 922 was quickly approved by both the Senate and Assembly — with no committee or fiscal review — and was sent to the governor for signature. Now that’s what I call that a legislative horror story. Watch for future posts as I hope to bring you other examples of legislative roadblocks to public scrutiny and transparency in government.

Assemblyman Brian Jones represents District 77, which includes Ramona, Lakeside, El Cajon and other East County communities.

   
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