How powerful lawmakers are killing California bills – without a glance

In summary

Democrats who run legislative committees are using a powerful new tool to kill bills before they even get a vote. The trick? Simply do nothing.

Gun control, school spending, greenhouse gas reduction: With Democrats holding more power on Capitol Hill than they have since the 19th century, California’s legislative pipeline is filled with big ideas this year state blue.

In theory, no Democratic bill should be left behind. But that’s not what’s happening, and reason is shaking both sides of the aisle in Sacramento.

The complaint? Democrats who run legislative committees are using a powerful tool to kill bills before they even get a vote.

The tool? Simply do nothing.

Under a rule put in place by the California Assembly at the start of the current session, committee chairs can decide whether or not to submit a bill assigned to their committee for consideration. As key deadlines came and went this month for bills to be withdrawn from committee, Speakers used the new power to overturn bills by simply not scheduling them for a public hearing.

No hearing, no debate, no vote.

The Democrats – who hold all of the presidencies due to their party’s mega-majority in the legislature – have gone to great lengths not only to bury GOP legislation, but also to silently dismiss bills from fellow Democrats who might be embarrassing to vote against publicly.

Among the victims: Democratic legislation to change the funding formula for public schools to devote more money to underperforming students (a complex plan that emphasizes racial inequalities); a bill to develop a strategy to phase out sales of gasoline cars in favor of cleaner vehicles (guaranteed to create conflict for Democrats whose voters work in the oil industry); and a potentially conflicting proposal requiring gun owners to lock their guns when they leave their homes.

“I was very frustrated,” said MK Laura Friedman, a Democrat from Glendale whose gun storage bill was set aside without a hearing.

“The committee is there to discuss policy areas. If the chair has concerns about the policy, I think discussing it in committee is the right approach.

It’s the latest sign that the growing majority of Democrats in Sacramento does not necessarily mean more unity. Democrats now hold around three-quarters of the seats in the Legislative Assembly, a margin that gives the party the potential for great power, but also makes it vulnerable to the divide under the weight of its ideological, geographic and socio-political diversity. economic.

Refusing to hold a hearing for a bill isn’t the only way Democrats are quietly killing Democratic legislation. Several progressive bills were blocked this month because their authors knew they would fail in committee and therefore chose not to put them to a vote. They included measures to extend rent control, to broaden data confidentiality protections and ban large portions of a soda.

But lawmakers have long had the power to save face with their own bill if they could say it was not going to pass. The change this year is in the Assembly, where members grapple with the new power of committee chairs not to hear a bill. (The State Senate has not passed a similar rule change this year. Its custom is to let presidents decide whether to hold hearings.)

The lower house adopted new rules at the start of the legislative session, explicitly giving committee chairs the power to choose whether or not to hear the legislation. Previously, committees usually heard all bills if the author wanted them to be heard, and it was unusual for a chair not to show such courtesy.

The Assembly’s decision to make clear that chairpersons can decide whether or not to hold a hearing is in line with President Anthony Rendon’s long-standing philosophy that committee chairs should be given more power.

Assembly Republicans quickly jumped on the change as something that could doom their bills and voted against the rule.

“Presidents under these new rules would have the power to essentially kill a bill by denying it a hearing,” GOP MP Jay Obernolte said in December as the assembly voted on the new rules. “And they could do it… without a vote of the members of this committee and without any testimony from the public. This is a violation not only of the long-standing practice of this chamber, but also of the principles of democracy itself. “

Democratic MP Reggie Jones-Sawyer, who chairs the public safety committee that held Friedman’s gun storage bill, said that by not hearing it he was giving more time to his supporters to fix the issues and bring him back next year. He did not say why he opposed the gun stockpiling policy, although his committee analysis said it could conflict with local ordinances.

“I want to see if we can come together and improve the bill so that it’s not a contentious bill and we can get it through,” Jones-Sawyer said. “I’m trying to make sure the committee as a whole doesn’t kill the bill.”

Democratic MP Shirley Weber said that in more than six years in the Legislature – during which she passed many controversial bills – this month was the first time a committee chairman has refused to hear one of his bills. Its legislation for change the formula for funding public schools so that more money was spent on the groups of students with the lowest test scores was one of many funding formula actions that were not heard within of the education committee.

“Usually, even if the president opposes a bill, he’ll take it to a hearing and then people can vote it for or against,” Weber said.

The new way, she said, amounts to “one person’s decision.”

It hits a sore spot across the political spectrum, on the part of a Sierra Club lobbyist who is angry that a clean car bill was not heard, to a conservative Republican who rants because his campus freedom of speech bill– which makes it harder for colleges to restrict who can speak at campus events – was not put to a vote.

“When you don’t allow this bill to be heard, you don’t even have the discussion,” said GOP MP Melissa Melendez. “The opportunity for a healthy debate is taken away. “

Bernard P. Love