Today’s post is on obstacles faced in the legislative process.

As one might contemplate, there are numerous obstacles to overcome during the legislative process here in California. These are generally characterized as policy, fiscal, and political obstacles that may have to be addressed as a bill travels through the legislative process. Our effort here is to pose a few questions that one might want to ask before proceeding with a bill in the California Legislature.

The first set is policy obstacles. Naturally, there should be a good policy rationale for the legislation. Unfortunately, the Legislature generally examines a proposed solution rather than examine the policy problem that is attempted to be addressed and then determine what the best solution to that problem actually is.

At this early point, the bill’s proponents need to address these questions.

  • In presenting the bill, which contains a solution, has the policy problem been clearly explained?
  • Is this bill the best solution to the stated policy problem?
  • Are there other viable solutions to address the problem?
  • What are the potential policy problems with the other solutions?
  • Is there sufficient policy justification to make the proposed change in the law?
  • Is there evidence that the alleged shortcoming in existing law actually exists?

The next set is fiscal obstacles. Assuming the policy implications are addressed, the fiscal impact is duly considered by the respective appropriations committees. Note that even some policy committees do consider the fiscal impact of proposed legislation. The questions for addressing fiscal obstacles are:

  • Is there any fiscal impact due to the proposed law change contained in the bill? If so, how significant is the fiscal impact?
  • If there is a fiscal impact, is it to the state government, to local government, to the private sector, or a combination thereof?
  • If the fiscal impact is significant, is there some sort of funding source or a mechanism to help pay for the cost of the bill?
  • What is the likely position of the Governor’s Department of Finance: support or oppose or neutral?

Third is political obstacles. Some of the questions to pose in this area include:

  • Which groups are likely to support or oppose the bill and how can they impact the proposed law change?
  • Is there potential grassroots support for either side of the bill, in support or in opposition?
  • And how do the key legislative staff view the proposal?

In some instances, vote requirements may become an obstacle if the bill requires a super-majority vote for passage.

As one would expect, each controversial bill can create its own unique set of obstacles that will need to be addressed. That’s why there’s not a clear set of rules that apply in the same way for all pieces of legislation.

You can find a transcript of today’s podcast here.

 

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.

 

Publishing Letters to the Journal (transcript)

Today’s post is on publishing letters to the Journal for determining legislative intent.

Sometimes in order to explain the intent behind a specific piece of legislation, one or both houses of the Legislature will utilize a process by which a legislator publishes a letter stating his or her intent to explain the piece of legislation. For Assembly Members, this is published in the Assembly Daily Journal, and for Senators this is published in the Senate Daily Journal.

Generally this letter from the legislator is used to explain perhaps an ambiguity in the bill, or explain the purpose of a particular change in the law or for some other reason. Again, in both the State Assembly and the State Senate such a letter to the Journal is a rather formal process. For example, the letter must be on the legislator’s letterhead and signed by that particular legislator.

The general custom and practice of the two houses of California’s Legislature is to have the respective leadership staff – meaning both the majority Democrat and minority Republican parties – review the contents of that letter from the legislator and determine whether or not either party has any objections to the contents found in the letter. Now, the consultants to the majority and minority parties may request revisions to that letter to the Journal, otherwise they’ll give their consent.

Now, if approval is not received by both sides of the aisle – and this is a rare occurrence – then the legislator can request that the letter be printed in the respective Daily Journal with a majority vote.

The general practice is that the Assembly letters are authored by the individual Assembly Member and they’re addressed to the Chief Clerk of the Assembly. Senate letters are written by the individual Senator, of course on his or her letterhead, and are addressed to the Secretary of the Senate.

 

Rules of Statutory Construction (transcript)

Today’s post is on rules of statutory construction primarily for the non-lawyer.

For those working in and around the California State Capitol, it’s important to understand general rules of statutory construction whether you’re a lawyer or a non-lawyer.

The general rule of statutory construction is to effectuate the intent of the Legislature, which basically requires the courts to give the statutory language its usual and ordinary meaning.

The fundamental rule of statutory construction is known as the plain language rule. Basically, this rule provides that when the meaning of a statute is clear and unambiguous, there’s usually no need for a court to apply any of those rules of statutory construction because the plain meaning of the statute can be ascertained without resorting to what we call the use of extrinsic aids to help in understanding the language.

Under this rule, if the statute is clear then the courts presume the Legislature meant what they wrote in the statute and the courts give effect to the plain meaning of that statute.

In order to resort to the general rules of statutory construction, a court must determine that there’s ambiguity in the statutory language and as a result it’s unclear what was intended by the Legislature in enacting the particular statute. The courts have determined that a party demonstrates statutory ambiguity by providing an alternative meaning to the statutory language and, as a result, the statutory language can be given more than one interpretation, then a court generally should consider extrinsic aids to determine the purpose of the statute and the intent of the Legislature.

Among the extrinsic aids are the legislative history of the statute, the public policy surrounding its enactment, the statutory scheme in which the language is found, and other related issues. In this regard, the language of a statute should be construed in light of the rest of the statutory scheme in which the particular statute is found. The goal of the court is to harmonize the parts of the statute by considering the context of the statutory framework in which this particular statute is found.

 

Court Cases Related to California’s Legislative Process (transcript)

Today’s post is an overview of specified court cases related to California’s legislative process.

As you can imagine, there are a number California Appellate Court decisions that related to the legislative process. These cases deal with a number of separate and distinct issues. While I don’t cover all of them, there are some major cases that capitol observers and insiders should be aware of.

The first one is Kaufman & Broad Communities v. Performance Plastering which was a California in Appellate Court decision 2005. The 3rd District Court of Appeal clarified that a determination of the existence of any ambiguity occurs not at the time of a motion for judicial notice but by the panel of judges that hear the appeal. The case has been cited more than 80 times by other appellate courts in California for what documents may be utilized to ascertain legislative intent in interpreting statutes.

Another case you should aware of is Yamaha – Yamaha Corporation of America v. the State Board of Equalization. This case was decided by the California Supreme Court in 1998. The decision says that in general the deference afforded to an agency’s interpretation of a statute by the agency that is charged with enforcing and interpreting that statute will vary based on a legally informed and common sense assessment of the statute’s context.

The next case of interest is Association for Retarded Citizens v. Department of Developmental Services. It was decided in 1985 by the California Supreme Court. The lawsuit alleged that certain spending decisions issued by the Director of the department were void. The Court entered an order granting a preliminary injunction at the lower level and said administrative action that is not authorized by or is inconsistent with acts of the Legislature is void.

This is just a sampling of the cases I go over in today’s podcast.

The California Legislature’s Organizing Session (transcript)

With this year being an even numbered year, the California Legislature’s organizing session will take place next Monday, December 3. Today’s post and podcast is an overview of California’s legislative organizing session.

As you may be aware, the California Legislature operates during two-year legislative sessions. At the commencement of the two-year session, the Legislature must organize itself.

In that regard there are several provisions related to organizing the Legislature. The first is found in the California Constitution, and the other provisions in the California Government Code. According to Article IV, Section 3a of the state constitution, “The Legislature shall convene in regular session at noon on the first Monday in December of each even numbered year, and each House shall immediately organize.”

This date falls every two years, roughly three weeks – perhaps four on occasion – after the statewide General Election has taken place. The two houses convene that first session at noon and it generally lasts about two hours.

At these organizing sessions, both the elected officials and their families and supporters are in attendance. They rarely engage in regular business other than introducing their first bills, which not all legislators do on that first day in session.

They’ll often visit with colleagues and former legislators, and attend and enjoy the pomp and circumstance of that organizing session. Thereafter, in the first week of January when they reconvene, that’s when legislators commence the serious work ahead that will last for the following two years.

Please be sure to listen to today’s podcast which covers the sections of California’s Government Code that dictate the rules for the California Legislature’s organizing session.

 

Methods of Floor Voting (transcript)

Today’s post is on the methods of voting on the floors of the California State Assembly and State Senate.

In the two houses of the California Legislature, there are differences in how voting by legislators is conducted on the floors of the State Assembly and State Senate. The main difference is that the Assembly uses an electronic means of recording votes on the floor while Senators record their votes with a verbal response to an announced roll call. The other major difference is that Assembly Members may change their votes under specified circumstances. Generally, Senators cannot.

We’ll first look at the rules governing voting in the Assembly. Under Assembly Rule 105 the ayes and noes are recorded by the electrical voting system on the final passage of all bills. The names of the Legislators and how they cast their votes are then entered in the Assembly Daily Journal. And pursuant to Assembly Rule 106, when begun, voting may not be interrupted except that before the vote is announced any legislator may have the total pending vote flashed on the visible screen recorder and then any Legislator may move a Call of the Assembly after the completion of the roll before that final vote has been announced.

Now let’s look at the Senate. Pursuant to Senate Rule 44, whenever a roll call is required by the Constitution or the Rules or it is ordered by the Senate or demanded by at least three legislators, every legislator within the Senate without debate answers aye or no when his or her name is called. This Rule requires that the names of legislators be called alphabetically, and a Senator may not vote or change his or her vote after the announcement of the final vote by the presiding officer.

There is an exception for the two party leaders. Under the Senate Rule, on a legislative day when the President Pro Tem or the Minority Floor Leader is in attendance throughout a session but he or she in absence of any objection may instruct the Secretary of the Senate to add his or her vote to any previously announced vote that was taken while he or she was performing a responsibility of their respective office. Here, then, is the limitation: provided that the outcome of the vote is not changed by the addition of their vote. As explained by Senate Rule 44, the intent of this paragraph is to allow the President Pro Tem and the Minority Floor Leader to carry out their unique and special duties that their offices hold without losing the opportunity to vote on matters before the State Senate.

The deadliest fire in California history is still raging, and there still hundreds of people unaccounted for in this ongoing tragedy. In addition to earning that moniker, the Camp Fire is also “the most destructive in California history … 8,817 structures have been destroyed, including 7,600 homes.”

Like the fires in 2017, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) appears to be the focus of the finger pointing. There’s already talk of lawsuits directed at PG&E – should they be the ones found responsible for the Camp Fire. California State Senator Jerry Hill is in the camp of those who believe PG&E is to blame, telling Politico, “The main culprit here is the spark, and what cause the spark. … Here, PG&E reported a break in their line where the Camp Fire started. It looks like there’s a causal relationship there.”

Politico is further reporting that Sen. Hill is “having a number of conversations” about introducing legislation in the 2019-2020 session that would create a statewide publicly owned utility company – a la SMUD here in Sacramento – as an alternative to investor owned utility like PG&E.

Sen. Hill is a well-known antagonist of PG&E, so his stance is not surprising. And it also needs repeating the Cal Fire is still investigating the cause of the Camp Fire, so it could very well mean that PG&E is not responsible this time.

However, if PG&E is found responsible for the Camp Fire, things could get very expensive for the utility very quickly. That’s because SB 901 – last year’s grand compromise on wildfire liability – allows utilities like PG&E to pass on the cost of lawsuits to ratepayers for 2017’s wildfires and for wildfires sparked after Jan. 1, 2019, leaving PG&E shareholders on the hook for the Camp Fire it be determined PG&E was liable. Should that be the case, I would not be surprised if PG&E sponsored legislation in 2019 in an attempt to shift costs of the Camp Fire from shareholders and on to ratepayers.

Looking ahead – between potential lawsuits, the cost of lobbying, and dealing with unbridled rage of Northern Californians who have lost their loved ones, their homes, and their possessions – it is increasingly looking like PG&E will have hell to pay in the near future.

 

Conducting Business on the Floors (transcript)

Today’s post is on conducting business on the floors.

The California Legislature conducts its business both in policy and fiscal committees as well as on the floors of the State Assembly and the State Senate. Each house determines its own rules and specifies how business will be handled on their respective floors. This process of conducting their activities on the floors is called the Order of Business.

The processes between the two houses are similar in many regards, but there are a few differences as well. So let’s look at the Assembly and the Senate and how each conducts business on the floors.

Pursuant to Assembly Rule 40A, the Assembly’s Order of Business is:

  1. Roll Call
  2. Prayer by the Chaplain
  3. Reading of the Previous Day’s Journal
  4. Presentation of Petitions
  5. Introduction and Reference of Bills
  6. Reports of Committees
  7. Messages from the Governor
  8. Messages from the Senate
  9. Motions and Resolutions
  10. Business on the Daily File
  11. Announcements, and
  12. Adjournment

In addition, under Assembly Rule 63 the following constitutes the Order of Business of pending legislation as contained in the Assembly Daily File:

  1. Special Orders of the Day
  2. Second Reading – Assembly Bills
  3. Second Reading – Senate Bills
  4. Unfinished Business
  5. Third Reading – Assembly bills, and
  6. Third Reading – Senate Bills.

As for the State Senate, under Senate Rule 4, the Order of Business of the Senate is:

  1. Roll Call
  2. Prayer by the Chaplain
  3. Pledge of Allegiance
  4. Privileges of the Floor
  5. Communications and Petitions
  6. Messages from the Governor
  7. Messages from the Assembly
  8. Reports of Committees; Motions, Resolutions, and Notices
  9. Introduction and First Reading of Bills
  10. Consideration of the Daily File in the following order:
    1. Second Reading,
    2. Special Orders,
    3. Unfinished Business, and
    4. Third Reading
  11. Announcement of Committee Meetings
  12. Leaves of Absence, and finally

There are no additional special rules for the Senate found in the Senate Rules. When a bill is taken up that is not on the Daily File, it is done so without reference to file – most often known as its acronym WORF. When a bill is subject to a WORF, what the Senate or Assembly is actually doing is suspending the Orders of the day as set forth in their respective rules providing the order of business.

 

 

Floor Items (transcript)

This post is on floor items. We’re going to cover, briefly, the unfinished business file, the inactive file, the use of floor managers, and WORFs. What are they?

The unfinished business file: both the Assembly Daily File as well as the Senate Daily File contain a portion titled “Unfinished Business.” This is the section of the daily file that contains the bills that have returned to their House of origin from the opposite House.

This section of the daily file also contains bills that were vetoed by the governor. Note that vetoed items remain on the daily file for a 60‑day period following the gubernatorial veto. Thereafter, unless voted upon, they are removed from the daily file and can no longer be considered.

What’s the inactive file? Another portion of the daily file to be aware of is for bills that made it to the floor of either the Assembly or the Senate but, for whatever reason, the bill’s author has chosen not to proceed with the measure.

Bills that have failed passage can be moved to the inactive file for further consideration. If an author has moved the bill to the inactive file, he or she can remove it from the Inactive File at a later date, with specified public notice, for further consideration on the respective floor.

What are floor managers? When the bill’s author presents his or her bill on the floor of the bill’s House of origin, that is, when the Assembly bill is presented by an Assembly Member or a Senate bill is presented by the Senator, that’s different when the bill is for consideration in the opposite House.

While a bill’s author is responsible for taking up his or her measure on their own floor, a floor manager is required in the other House. A member of the other House, designated by the bill’s author when the bill is considered by the other House, is called the bill’s floor manager.

What’s a WORF? According to the rules of both Houses, bills that are not listed on the daily file can only be taken up with either unanimous consent by the members of that House or by suspension of the rules.

A bill that is not listed on the daily file but which is taken up nonetheless is referred to as a WORF. The process of taking up a WORF’ed bill is without reference to file, W‑O‑R‑F.

In order to WORF a bill, a majority of the House’s membership, that’s 41 votes in the Assembly and 21 votes in the Senate, is required to take up the bill without reference to file.