Steinorth Blasts State Legislature’s Use Of ‘Gut And Amend’ Tasctic

(October 9) California Assembly hopeful Marc Steinorth this week decried the legislative practice of utilizing the so-called “gut and amend” process to radically alter bills just prior to their being voted upon as a means of keeping the state’s citizenry in the dark about pending legislation.
This tactic, Steionorth said, undercuts the democratic process as well as the faith of the people at large in the openness and reasonableness of the governmental process.
Steinorth, a city councilman in Rancho Cucamonga, is vying against Kathleen Henry in this year’s election in the 40th Assembly District. Steinorth is a Republican; Henry is a Democrat. Party registration in the 40th District is very evenly divided. Earlier this year, the Democrats held a narrow registration advantage of fewer than 800 voters over the Republicans. That circumstance has shifted, and at present registered Republicans now outnumber Democrats by 101 voters. Of the 219,214 registered voters in the district, 77,771, or 37.0 percent, are registered Democrats. Republicans boast 77,872, which is statistically likewise pegged at 37.0 percent.
While Steinorth is absolutely engaged in obtaining a berth in California’s lower legislative house on November 4, he said he harbors no illusions about the serpentine nature of lawmaking in Sacramento and the plethora of permutations and outright corruptions of what should be a straightforward and transparent process of carrying out the public’s business.
“We all like to believe that our state’s laws are crafted in an open and transparent process,” Steinorth said. “However in the state capitol, politicians often thrive on keeping the public in the dark because it is the only way for them to pass legislation they know would be unpopular or would exclusively benefit a special interest. Legislators are able to hide their actions by using a tool that has come to be known as a ‘gut and amend.’”
The intended deliberate and open approach to introducing and previewing laws so the constituents of the legislators, i.e., the people of California, have the opportunity to keep track of what the lawmakers are doing on their behalf has been turned around, Steinorth said.
“The state legislature has a long in-depth review process which usually takes at least six months for evaluating a potential law,” he said. “This allows for substantial public input and for the necessary time to consider any ramifications a particular bill may have. Getting a controversial bill through this time consuming process can be a challenge, which is why using the gut and amend ploy becomes an attractive option. To do this, legislators delete an existing bill of all of its provisions and then replace them with a policy that has nothing to do with the original version. This is often done in the final days–or sometimes in the final hours– of the legislative session, which is when thousands of bills are voted on late into the night in order to beat the constitutionally-imposed deadline for passing bills. The hope is that lawmakers have little understanding of the bill they are voting on because there will not be time to analyze it or receive feedback from the public.”
Steinorth provided a recent example of the use of this tactic.
“At the end of August, late in the night, the Legislature was set to adjourn. A gut and amend emerged from a bill which was to create regulations for painters applying toxic materials on public works projects. This union-backed bill had failed earlier in the year but was resurrected and passed on a party-line vote without any discussion. It was not clear what time-pressing issue the bill needed to resolve that would require its immediate passage, but it appears the true goal was to increase contracts awarded to the unions sponsoring the legislation. This is just the latest bill that has circumvented scrutiny using this controversial maneuver.”
While the hidden costs of some legislation appear to be indirect ones that will manifest at an indistinct future point, Steinorth said some gut and amend laws represent direct, and indefensible, burdens upon the taxpayers.
“Last year,” Steinorth said, “a special environmental review exemption worth millions of dollars to build a new arena for the Sacramento Kings was passed the night the legislature adjourned, using the gut and amend process. Ironically, this is the same legislature that has been completely unwilling to work on a comprehensive reform of the cumbersome environmental review process for the construction projects around the state that do not have the political influence needed to secure a special exemption. In 2011, a bill to allow childcare workers to form a union emerged late in the session and was passed by circumventing the usual legislative process. However, it was vetoed by the governor because it would drastically increase the state’s payroll costs.”
Steinorth continued, “There are countless other examples of how the gut and amend process has been abused by insiders and lobbyists to create special deals for favored groups. Unfortunately, this represents an attitude that has long been brewing in the Capitol—that the state is there to benefit insiders and not serve the citizens elected officials were sent to represent. All laws must be considered in an open and transparent process because democracy does not function correctly when the public is not permitted to be engaged.”

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