Challenges to Lawmaking in California’s Legislative Process (transcript)

Today’s post is on the challenges to lawmaking in California’s legislative process.

Individuals and groups engaging in California’s lawmaking process may find several challenges in their legislative endeavors. There are certainly institutional challenges as well as political challenges that complicate the legislative process. These challenges must be overcome to achieve a successful outcome in enacting state legislation.

An initial, structural, challenge is California’s bicameral legislature and three separate branches of government. Naturally, in our form of government these separate branches are intended to provide a system of checks and balances on the other branches. In other words, our system of government combined with the two houses and 120 legislators that comprise the legislative branch of government means that there’s a natural, and intentional, tension in the lawmaking process.

In addition there are other institutional issues that can cause gridlock and create challenges in the lawmaking process. Two of the most commonly cited factors are term limits and the lack of bipartisanship. In the case of term limits, those who are newly elected and those who are in their final term of office are undoubtedly going to view each other’s role differently. Further, more seasoned legislators often are committee chairs, leaders, or otherwise in more influential positions to effect the outcome of pending legislation. One additional institutional factor that makes lawmaking is the sheer volume of legislation – roughly 2,500 bills per year.

Legislative rules can also create hurdles for achieving lawmaking success. For example, our state’s constitution requires a supermajority vote for passing tax increases in each house of the Legislature. The burden of achieving a higher vote threshold often increases the likelihood of failure with certain pieces of legislation.

In addition to these institutional factors we’ve covered there are also political reasons that can make the legislative process in the state of California evermore challenging. One such factor is the electoral process. In California, Assembly Members run for office every two years while Senators run for office every four years. As a result, these legislators are continually in a campaign mode and raising funds for their political races. Now, as a practical matter this can mean soliciting interest groups for campaign contributions – including those who regularly appear before legislators. Some of these legislators find it difficult to vote against their friends, especially those who might be helpful in their reelection efforts.

Other factors include the initiative process and voter approved ballot measures that constrain state spending and limit the ability of legislators to address public policy issues as well as competing funding priorities that are established by initiative for the state. These provisions of state law make it more difficult for legislators to craft solutions to public policy solutions facing the state because they often find their hands are tied by these constitutional or budgetary restrictions imposed by the voters.

In the end, there’s not a single factor that makes lawmaking in California difficult. Instead it’s a combination of factors that impact the resolution of public policy issues by the Legislature and that often result in gridlock and lack of success in lawmaking. The result can increase the partisanship in the Legislature, which then in turn creates hurdles, as both sides of the political spectrum engage in sometimes rigid ideology that in turn can create a lack of desire or need to compromise.

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