Misconceptions – Bill Deadlines

Welcome to another edition of Misconception Monday where I dispel common misconceptions about the California lawmaking process. In this week’s episode I will go over misconceptions concerning bill deadlines. To learn more, you can also listen to my first Misconception Monday podcast from last week on bills.

Misconceptions – Bills

Welcome to Misconception Monday. This is the first in a series of podcasts that will go up on Mondays about common misconceptions about the California lawmaking process.

Each week, I will dispel misconceptions around one aspect of that process. Today, in my first podcast in the series, I will go over misconceptions related to bills.

Regular vs. Special Sessions (transcript)

Today’s podcast is on the differences between regular and special sessions of the California Legislature.


As you may be aware, the California Legislature can be in regular, or special, or even joint sessions. A session is the designated period of time in which the Legislature meets. There are three types.

Our state constitution provides the dates for convening and adjourning the regular session. Other than that, the Legislature has the freedom to set its own calendar for meetings and recesses.

Generally, the Legislature begins meeting in the first week in January of each calendar year and concludes its work for the year either in mid‑September during the odd‑numbered years, or August 31st, the constitutionally mandated adjournment date in the even‑numbered years.

In terms of the period of time in which the legislature meets, they may do so in either regular or special session. A regular session is the one convened in December of the even‑numbered year pursuant to Article 4 Section 3A.

That section of our state constitution states, “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. Each session of the Legislature shall adjourn sine die,” that is for good, “by operation of the Constitution at midnight on November 30th of the following even‑numbered year.”

A special session, on the other hand, is one that’s convened pursuant to a proclamation that’s issued by the governor of the state. Found in Article 4 Section 3B of the state constitution, this section reads, “On extraordinary occasions the Governor by proclamation may cause the Legislature to assemble in special session.

When so assembled, it has power to legislate only on subjects specified in the proclamation, but may provide for expenses and other matters incidental to the session.”

One common misconception is that the Legislature must enact bills when called into special session. While the Legislature must convene a special session once it has been called by proclamation by the Governor, there is no legal requirement that any legislation actually be enacted, nor even be voted upon.

A joint session can occur in either a regular or a special session. A joint session is one in which both houses of the Legislature ‑‑ that is the Assembly and the Senate ‑‑ meet for a specified purpose. Due to its physical size, joint sessions are normally held in the chambers of the State Assembly.

Comparing the President and the Governor

Today’s post features another podcast that leads up to Governor Brown’s final State of the State Address tomorrow. In today’s podcast we’ll be comparing the US President and California’s Governor, and their respective roles in the legislative process.

We already touched on some of the similarities and differences in my post on Monday, which covered the Governor’s line-item veto authority, a power that the President does not have. Another point of comparison was on the pocket veto and the pocket signature.

Let’s touch on some similarities. In relatively broad terms, both the Governor and the President are extensively involved in the legislative process because they can propose – as well as sign and veto – legislation, they can propose and sign budgets, and they make appointments to executive branch agencies and departments.

They also both make major policy addresses to their respective legislative bodies. As I mentioned earlier, Governor Brown will be delivering his final State of the State address to the California legislature tomorrow morning. The President will be giving his State of the Union address to Congress next week.

Another difference between the President and the Governor is the California Governor’s ability to call the Legislature into extraordinary session. This power allows the Governor to call the California legislature into a session to address specific issues, such as a natural disaster, a budget crisis, or some other high profile policy issue. The US President does not have this power.

The President and Governor are both actively engaged in proposing and reviewing the federal and state government budgets. The Governor largely participates in the California Legislature’s review and adoption of the budget through the Department of Finance (DOF). Similarly, the President engages in this process with Congress through the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). While the two agencies have similar duties, DOF doesn’t achieve the same level of power that is vested by federal law in the OMB.

Please listen to the rest of the podcast for more comparisons between the President and the Governor, and their respective roles in the legislative process.

Initiatives and Referendum

In yesterday’s podcast, I discussed common misconceptions about elections in California. Today I am taking a deeper look at elections in California. Specifically, I will be talking about initiatives and referendum – two of three direct democracy processes available to voters in California. The third process is the recall.

The direct democracy process dates back to the early 1900s and was proposed by the Progressive Party as a means to counter the all-powerful Southern Pacific Railroad. At the time, California was the tenth state to enact direct democracy procedures – the initiative, the referendum, and the recall.

As a brief overview, there are two types of initiatives – statutory and constitutional amendment. This process is used to create laws or changes to the constitution that the people of California believe the elected officials are either unable or unwilling to enact themselves. To qualify an initiative, the initiative is first drafted, then is given to California’s Attorney General for Title and Summary. Then it must gain a sufficient amount of signatures in order to be placed on the ballot. One difference between statutory and constitutional amendment initiatives is here at the signature gathering phase. In order to qualify for the ballot, statutory initiatives must receive signatures equal to 5% of the votes cast for all candidates for Governor in the previous gubernatorial election whereas constitutional amendment initiatives must receive signatures equally 8% of that number. Proponents have 180 days to collect that number of signatures.

Referendum are used to approve or reject – usually reject – recently enacted statutes in whole or in part. There are some exceptions to this that I mentioned in yesterday’s podcast. Referendum go through a similar qualification process. Referendum must also receive a number of signatures equal to 5% of the votes cast for all candidates for Governor in the last Gubernatorial election. However, referendum campaigns only have 90 days to collect the required number of signatures.

In recent years, the direct democracy process has been more often utilized by special interest groups and wealthy individuals who end up funding multi-million dollar campaigns in efforts to change the law – sometimes in a very self-serving manner. We’ve also seen recently a growth in the use of the initiative process and an increase in the cost of initiative campaigns.

We did a little calculation over the first 100 years of the initiative process being available. That is, from 1912 through July of 2013. And what we found were the following: 1,767 initiatives were given Title and Summary and circulated for signatures. Of those, 1,311 – or 74% of them – actually failed to qualify. Moreover, 92 of them were withdrawn. So as a result, 360 initiatives, or only 20% – qualified for the ballot. Of those 360 initiatives that qualified, and therefore appeared on a California state ballot, only 122 of them were approved by the people – just under 7%. So, even if initiatives are increasingly becoming the tool of special interest groups, the odds of success on the statewide ballot are pretty slim.