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Open-Legislature Measure Hits A Nerve At California Capitol


(AP) — California lawmakers would be stripped of their ability to make last-minute changes to bills and all public hearings would be videotaped under a measure likely to go before voters in November.

A wealthy Republican donor, Charles Munger, Jr., and a former lawmaker have submitted signatures for an initiative that would require lawmakers to publish all bills for at least 3 days before the full Senate or Assembly could vote on them. Their initiative, touted as an overdue requirement for legislative transparency, has hit a nerve with lawmakers in the Democratically controlled statehouse who are advancing their own, weaker version of the measure.

Former Assembly Minority Leader Sam Blakeslee, a Republican who submitted the initiative with Munger, said one of the more frustrating parts of being a lawmaker was to be asked to vote on bills written and distributed just hours earlier.

"You have no choice but to vote what's in front of you without the information necessary," Blakeslee said at a joint committee hearing Wednesday. "That is the 'gut-and-amend' process that we want to put an end to once and for all."

The proposed initiative would also require the Legislature to publish all committee and floor proceedings online within 24 hours and keep them online in a downloadable format for at least 20 years.

Currently, Blakeslee said, about half of hearings can be streamed online.

Anyone would be allowed to record and broadcast public meetings. People are currently allowed to watch lawmakers doing business in person, but members of the public can only record them if legislative leadership approves ahead of time.

Journalists can record and broadcast hearings with prior approval.

Lawmakers said the measure would jeopardize their ability to meet deadlines and criticized its funding mechanism, which would require the Legislature to pay for its own transparency equipment and staff.

The state Legislative Analyst's Office estimates the cost would be about $1 million to $2 million initially then $1 million annually.

Assemblyman Ken Cooley, D-Rancho Cordova, said deadline crunches could not be suspended to accommodate a three-day wait period.

Cooley said the courts and governor's office should share the cost of cameras, data storage and staff time because transparency is in the interest of all three branches of government.

"To go in and say this is uniquely a legislative expense is anomalous," Cooley said.

Neither the ballot measure nor the legislative counterpart is certain to appear on the November ballot. But the secretary of state is expected to find the required 585,000 valid signatures among the 1 million signatures submitted last month; legislators face a June 30 deadline to approve their alternative.

Munger and Blakeslee asked lawmakers why their own measure was necessary, noting that it would likely be confusing to voters.

"Is there an idea you have right now that is so good that you want to have a possible head-to-head battle on the ballot with all of transparency on the line?" Munger said.