California State Senate

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.

 

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.

 

 

 

The Suspense File (transcript)

Today’s post is on the suspense file and the process used to consider fiscal legislation in the California Legislature.

The two appropriations committees in the California Legislature have a unique procedure and each of them terms it the “Suspense File.” In California, as opposed to the US Congress where the appropriations committees actually appropriate money, the two appropriations committees in the Senate and the Assembly are the ones charged with considering the fiscal effects of legislation.

A measure that is keyed, or tagged, fiscal by the Legislative Counsel generally means that the bill will be referred to the fiscal committee in each house after the appropriate policy committee(s) has/have actually heard and considered the bill, and passed it out.

Under the Joint Rules of the Senate and the Assembly, a bill is re-referred to the fiscal committee when the bill does one of four things:

  1. It appropriates money;
  2. It will result in a substantial expenditure of state money;
  3. It will result in a substantial loss of revenue for the state (one of the most common examples of this is a tax credit or tax exemption the reduces money to the state); or:
  4. It results in a substantial reduction of expenditures of state money by reducing, transferring, or eliminating any existing responsibilities of any state agency, program, or function.

The fourth one is a little more ambiguous and I would note that while the last three all talk about substantial, nothing in the Joint Rules – specifically Joint Rule 10.5 – defines the word substantial.

Under the rules of both houses, as opposed to the joint rules, the respective committees on appropriations may maintain a suspense file. Basically, that’s a file to which bills are referred by a majority vote of the members of the committee to allow further consideration and ultimate vote by the fiscal committee. A bill can be taken off the suspense file and heard with a two-day notice that is published in the Assembly Daily File or the Senate Daily File. Taking a bill off the suspense file requires a vote of the majority of the members of the committee.

There’s more on the suspense file process in the audio portion of today’s post. Thanks for listening.

 

 

 

 

Concurrence in Bill Amendments (transcript)

Today’s post is on concurrence in bill amendments.

The California Legislature is a bicameral body with two houses in the legislature. After a bill has been passed by the house of origin, it is then transmitted to the other house for further consideration. If the second house makes amendments to the bill, then the bill must return to the house of origin for a final vote called a “concurrence vote” prior to being submitted to the Governor for his or her signature or veto.

When the Senate amends and passes an Assembly Bill or the Assembly amends and passes a Senate Bill, then the Senate, if it’s an SB, or the Assembly, if it’s an AB, has one of two choices- it must either concur or non-concur in the amendments made to that bill by the other house. If the Senate concurs, if it’s an SB, or if the Assembly concurs, if it’s an AB, then the Secretary of the Senate or the Chief Clerk of the Assembly notifies the house making those amendments that the house of origin concurred in the amendments and the bill is ordered to enrollment before being sent to the Governor’s desk.

If the amendments are more technical in nature, then they can be considered on the floor without a re-referral to a policy committee in the house of origin. In such a case, the bill must be on file at least one day, although this rule is waived during the final days of the legislative session. However, if substantive changes were made to the bill in the other house, then a policy committee in the house of origin will need to consider the bill as amended by the other house. The house of origin must concur in the other house’s amendments in order for the bill to be sent to the Governor for his final action.

In most instances, the concurrence vote is relatively straight forward because the bill has already passed its house of origin once, and so it is anticipated that the measure will pass again after the other house has also passed the bill. On occasion, however, a bill that has been amended in a manner that’s objectionable to the house of origin, which creates a lack of support for the bill, can occur.

Misconception Monday – Committee Hearings

Today’s Misconception Monday podcast concerns committee hearings. Before we dive in, remember that you can find all my Misconception Monday podcasts here.

Today’s first misconception has to do with the legislative calendar, which states, “No committees may meet during the last two weeks of session,” but that isn’t always the case.

With a rule waiver, policy committees can meet during this time period. Further, under Senate Rule 29.10 and Assembly Rule 77.2, when dealing with bills that have been substantially amended in the other house that are referred back to a policy committee hearing, those committees are not subject to the prohibition.

Another misconception is that supermajority vote bills must pass out of committee by a supermajority vote. This is not the case. The supermajority vote specification by Legislative Counsel only applies to floor votes in the California Legislature. All bills require only a majority vote to pass out of committee.

Another important misconception is that a committee can pass a bill based on the majority of the committee members present and voting. The majority vote requirement applies to the full membership of the committee, not just the members present. So, if a standing committee has nine members, five votes are required to pass a bill from that committee, even if only seven members are present to vote on it due to abstentions or absences.

There is also the misconception that both the Assembly and the Senate fill vacancies on committees for hearings. While the Speaker of the Assembly may appoint replacements for a committee hearing when a member is absent for the day that is only a custom and practice of the Assembly. The Senate Rules Committee does not fill absent slots for committee hearings.

The last misconception that I will cover here – you’ll have to listen to the podcast to hear the rest – is that a Committee Chair cannot preside at a committee hearing on a bill for which he or she is the author. This is the general rule, with one key exception. That exception is when the Budget Committee is hearing the budget bill, of which the Budget Committee Chair is the author.

 

 

 

As I’ve discussed before, the #MeToo and We Said Enough movements are starting to bring change to the California legislature’s persistent culture of sexual assault and harassment. That process of bringing change has been slow, perhaps too slow.

Furthering that concern are the reports about state Senator Tony Mendoza. He is under investigation for sexual harassment and misconduct and agreed earlier this month to take a paid leave of absence. However, after taking his leave, he has returned to the Capitol to work on legislation as well as attend and host events. He’s remained active in his district as well, posting pictures from a boat tour he hosted for high school seniors this past weekend. It needs to be noted that he has consistently denied the allegations against him. His actions – which fly in the face of the spirit of, if not the letter of, taking a leave of absence – are in line with these denials.

Mendoza’s actions led to current Senate President Pro Tem Kevin De León stating that Sen. Mendoza “does not have an understanding of the gravity of the situation with no decency and little respect for the institution.” My feeling is that statement driven as much by De León’s need to create space between the sexual harassment scandal that came to light while he was Pro Tem and the rest of his record in the California legislature if he wants to have any chance of being competitive in his campaign against incumbent U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein as it is by outrage at Sen. Mendoza’s actions.

That leads me to an interesting report by Melanie Mason of the Los Angeles Times about local Democratic Party activists who are asking candidates “in explicit terms to divulge any history of sexual harassment.” This development could be a tipping point in changing the culture in the California Legislature and rooting out bad actors.

I’ve worked with candidates and shepherded them through the party endorsement process in the past. Questionnaires sent to candidates by local party clubs are the first, and sometimes the only, step in gaining that group’s endorsement. That endorsement means access to volunteers, it means potential campaign contributions, and it makes securing the party’s endorsement easier. When it comes to earning the party’s endorsement, these local club endorsements are beneficial because they send delegates to the party convention who are bound to vote for the candidate their club endorsed. By racking up club endorsements it becomes much easier to get the requisite number of votes at convention to receive the party endorsement. That’s the background to why these endorsements matter. The main reasons they matter are the access to volunteers that their endorsements bring, and more importantly, the potential access to money.

Campaigns run on volunteers. They are the foot soldiers who are out knocking on doors and calling voters. The more volunteers that a campaign has access to, the more voters it is able to directly contact. But these local clubs also collect membership dues and fundraise and can donate to candidates’ campaigns. Party endorsed candidates – and again, local endorsements help lead a state party endorsement – can receive contributions from the state party. More importantly, the state party can raise unlimited amounts of money, and through independent expenditure councils (I.E.’s), spend unlimited amounts of money. If sexual harassment becomes a line in the sand for local activists there is potential for incumbents who have sexual harassment in their history to lose support that they previously had. If that happens, volunteers go to other campaigns or stay home, money for direct mail or TV or radio ads dries up, and I.E.’s either disappear or fail to materialize.

All of that combines for a much harder reelection bid, and potentially, lead to a new wave of elected officials replacing an older crop of bad actors.

Misconception Monday – Ethics

Hello, and welcome to Episode 5 of my Misconception Monday series. In this series of podcasts, I identify and dispel common misconceptions that are related to the many aspects of the California legislative process.

Today we’ll be moving away from podcasts on common misconceptions as they relate to bills. If you want to refer back to those, you can always go back and listen to my podcasts on bills, bill deadlines, bill referrals, and bill amendments.

Today we’ll move in to a topic that ties in to the news about the sexual harassment that has been going on in the Capitol, both here in Sacramento and in Washington, D.C.. The topic of today’s podcast is common misconceptions about legislative ethics.

Relevant to the ongoing conversation about sexual harassment in the Legislature are the following common misconceptions that I call out in the podcast.

One misconception is that both houses of the Legislature have adopted a formal standard of conduct for their members. In fact, only the California State Senate has adopted an official code of conduct for its members. The Assembly has not adopted one.

Another misconception is that only a court of law can remove a legislator from office. Actually, the California State Constitution, Article IV, Section 5 (a) (1) reads:

Each house of the Legislature shall judge the qualifications and elections of its Members and, by rollcall vote entered in the journal, two-thirds of the membership concurring, may expel a Member.”

So it is the members of the Legislature, and not a court of law, that can remove a member from office. You can also refer to a post by my colleague, McGeorge Professor Leslie Gielow Jacobs, on disciplining elected officials to learn about some other ways elected officials can be removed from office.

I hope you enjoy today’s post and podcast on common misconceptions related to legislative ethics.

Prop 54 and the 72-hour in print rule

Hello. In today’s podcast I’m exploring how the California State Assembly complies with the 72-hour in print rule that was put in place by Prop 54. Prop 54 was a constitutional amendment that was passed by the California voters in November 2016. It did two things, but only one of those things is germane to today’s discussion.

The 72-hour in print rule became a hot topic of discussion in 2017 – the first year Prop 54’s rules affected the California Legislature – during the House of Origin deadline on June 2nd. Before we get in to that, what exactly is the 72-hour in print rule? The rule is, essentially, that before a bill can be voted on to become a statute, it must be in print and published on the internet for at least 72 hours. Colloquially, this has been referred to as the 3-day in print rule, but that is incorrect. The language in the constitutional amendment refers specifically to hours, not days. There is an exception made for bills necessary to address a State of Emergency that has been declared by the Governor.

That leads us to the question at hand. During the House of Origin deadline week, the Assembly passed 95 bills that had been amended but had not been in print for 72 hours since being amended. The author of Prop 54 publicly claimed that this action violated the new rules. So what happened to those 95 bills after they left the Assembly?

Of the 95 bills, only three were not amended in the Senate. The other 92 bills were amended in the Senate, which means that when they left the Assembly they were not in their final form. What of the three that were not amended? Those bills returned to the Assembly for what they called a final form vote and that is how the Assembly complied the Prop 54’s 72-hour in print rule.

Differences Between the Assembly and the State Senate

In today’s podcast, I explore some the differences between the California State Senate and State Assembly, as they relate to the legislative processes of both houses. For the most part, the differences are fairly minor, since they both play similar roles in the legislative process. In other cases, the differences are more interesting. As to the differences between the two houses that aren’t just about legislative processes? Well, that’s another podcast.

 

 

 

Hate Speech

Yesterday, the California State Senate Committee on the Judiciary held its first hearing on “Combating Hate While Protecting the Constitution.” The Senate Committee heard testimony from constitutional scholar and dean of the University of California, Berkeley School of Law, Erwin Chemerinsky, and from Joanna Mendelson with the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism. Ben Shapiro, a conservative commenter and former editor at Breitbart, was invited to give testimony by the Republican members of the committee, but was not given a spot on the panel. Shapiro gave public comment instead.

You can read a recap of the hearing by Taryn Luna in the Sacramento Bee’s Capitol Alert. You can also watch the full committee hearing on The California Channel. There will be a second hearing on this topic by the Senate Public Safety Committee on October 18.

Want to learn more? Check out our In Brief podcasts.