What Makes California lawmaking difficult (transcript)


Today’s podcast is on what makes lawmaking in California difficult. There are a number of factors that influence the lawmaking process generally and make it particularly an arduous process in the state of California.

I think that the difficulty in the lawmaking process in California starts with the bicameral legislature. That is, we have two houses of the legislature, as well as separate branches of government, each of which play a critical role in California’s lawmaking process. There’s naturally going to be tension in the lawmaking process as these three branches of government and two houses of the Legislature have an equal say in adopting legislation.

There are also a number of institutional issues that can affect and cause gridlock and other difficulties in the lawmaking process such as term limits and the lack of bipartisan cooperation. Those are often the two most cited examples.

For term limits, there are newly‑elected officials versus those who are in their final terms of office. Undoubtedly, these individuals have a different role and a different view that they bring. Do they view themselves as equals? Is there a difference between a freshman legislator and one that’s on his or her way out?

Sometimes legislators, in the early stages of their career, are on a steep learning curve, not just about the issues, but also about the institutions and the legislative process itself.

There are times where political extremes from both sides of the political aisle impact the legislative process. Is there a lack of bipartisan cooperation? What about between the two houses and the legislators themselves?

Without collegial working relationships, coming to consensus is harder in the legislative process, and laws enacted along party lines are less stable. If everyone does not agree to what is the best answer to addressing a public policy issue, then that often causes concern.

In addition to some of these institutional factors, there are also a number of political reasons that make the legislative process in the state of California difficult. Constituents, the public generally, and the media expect quick action by the Legislature on public policy issues facing the state of California.

One is the electoral process. Assembly members have to run for office every two years while Senators run for office every four years. Some of these legislators, particularly those in the state Assembly, have to continually be in campaign mode and raise funds throughout the legislative process.

This means soliciting interest groups for campaign contributions, including those who regularly appear before them in the California State Legislature. Some legislators find it difficult to vote against their friends, especially those who are helpful in their re‑election campaign efforts.

Also the initiative process and a number of voter‑approved ballot measures that constrain state spending, limiting the ability of legislators to address public policy issues. Moreover, competing funding priorities that have been set forth by the electorate create difficulties for lawmakers as well as hurdles to enact budget priorities.

In the end, there isn’t a single factor that makes lawmaking in California difficult. Instead, it’s a combination of political and institutional factors that impact resolution of public policy issues facing the legislature. These often result in gridlock and a lack of success, or on occasion, one‑sided results that leave others with the process unhappy.