(Photo Credit: Justin Brockie)
In the cutthroat world of California politics good news can be hard to come by on the transparency front, which is why when there’s a positive development in Sacramento it needs to be pointed out.
The California Legislature is voting today on arguably its most important task of the year–approving the state’s nearly $100 billion General Fund budget. The budget bill was made public on Tuesday, while its more than 20 “trailer bills” — the detailed bills that make the budget a reality — were posted online over the following 2 days. The move by the Legislature means citizens were able to access the bills several days before their representatives actually voted on them.
This marks a major step forward for the state, and the budget’s three days of public availability are a stark contrast from how the budget has been approved in the past. “If you look back a year or two ago to the kind of middle of the night changes that were done, the way it was done was a mess,” says California Forward’s Fred Silva. “This time, for the first time in recent history, the two houses went to great lengths to get everything in print (online) several days ahead of the vote.”
California Forward has been a firm advocate of a rule that would require all legislation to be made public for 3 days before a vote: This “three-day-in-print” proposal was a key element of the California Forward Action Fund’s Proposition 31. That the Legislature would work to get the bill details out to the public despite having no legal obligation to do so is a credit to Senate pro Tempore Darrel Steinberg and Assembly Speaker John A. Perez, as well as the chairs of the two budget committees Senator Mark Leno and Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield.
“I think this is a big deal, we should be applauding their efforts to be more transparent,” Silva said. In fact, the entire process of the budget’s construction was a move toward transparency. “Anyone who wanted to follow the budget discussions of the two house conference committee could go to the Cal Channel on their computer and could watch it and look at the material that the conference committee had in front of it.”
While there has been some criticism over exactly how many hours the information will have been available for before it’s voted on, the budget’s details have been for several days longer than it has been in the past – a significant step forward in transparency.
California Forward is encouraged that the Legislature is moving towards meeting the provisions of Prop 31’s three day print rule, as well as legislation introduced this year that would require all bills to be public for a full 72 hours before a vote. (In fact, the California Forward Action Fund has endorsed both bills, SCA 10 and ACA 4.)
Although critics still argue that three or four days still isn’t enough time for adequate review of the trailer bills’ 1,648 pages, there are opportunities to follow along with the Legislature throughout the process before the release of the final details of the bills. And considering what has until now been the alternative – no time at all to look at the bills before a vote – it’s apparent just how pivotal this step is for California.
The release of this information to the public is as significant practically as it is symbolically. California Forward sees this as a positive step down the road toward greater transparency, something the citizens of California have a right to and deserve.