Assem­bly ex­pands cap on leg­is­la­tion

Los Angeles Times - - ESSENTIAL POLITICS - JOHN MY­ERS john.my­ers@la­times.com Twit­ter: @john­my­ers

Just min­utes af­ter tak­ing the oath of of­fice last week, new and re­turn­ing mem­bers of the Cal­i­for­nia Assem­bly re­ceived an early hol­i­day gift, one that no law­mak­ers in Sacra­mento have been given for more than two decades.

They’ll be able to write more bills, an ex­tra al­lot­ment to­tal­ing as many as 800 new pieces of leg­is­la­tion that could cir­cu­late through the state Capi­tol be­fore the next elec­tion in 2018.

Leg­is­la­tors of­ten have ideas for new state laws long be­fore they un­pack their bags in the cap­i­tal city. Some are weighty ef­forts on com­plex pol­icy is­sues; oth­ers are sim­ple re­ac­tions to a per­ceived need, from new tax cuts to a crack­down on heinous crimes.

With a full-time Leg­is­la­ture and a ro­bust com­mu­nity of pro­fes­sional lob­by­ists, the glut of ideas usu­ally means some se­ri­ous thin­ning of the herd. This time around, though, the Assem­bly has cho­sen to be more gen­er­ous.

“Lots of peo­ple are bring­ing ideas for­ward,” said Assem­bly­man Ken Coo­ley (D-Ran­cho Cor­dova), the new chair­man of the Assem­bly’s rules com­mit­tee.

The de­ci­sion to ex­pand to 50 bills per Assem­bly mem­ber — a 25% in­crease from the 40-bill limit put in place in De­cem­ber 2002 — was tucked into a 69-page res­o­lu­tion Mon­day that set in place the cham­ber’s or­ga­ni­za­tional rules.

The state Se­nate, on the other hand, kept in place its pre­vi­ous rule of 40 bills per mem­ber.

In the last years of the 20th cen­tury, both houses had an even lower 30-bill limit for law­mak­ers.

There were 4,423 pro­posed statutes or con­sti­tu­tional amend­ments writ­ten by mem­bers of the Leg­is­la­ture in the most re­cent reg­u­lar ses­sion, an av­er­age of about 37 bills per leg­is­la­tor. Tack on pro­pos­als writ­ten dur­ing special ses­sions on health­care and trans­porta­tion plus a pot­pourri of hon­orary res­o­lu­tions — none of which count un­der the cap — and there were 5,103 bills.

More than half made it to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk, where he more of­ten than not signed them into law.

There was an era, of course, in which law­mak­ers in the state Capi­tol could in­tro­duce as many bills as they wanted. In 1985, The Times pub­lished a story about one Van Nuys leg­is­la­tor who in­tro­duced 134 bills, many deal­ing with the in­sur­ance in­dus­try.

The Assem­bly’s de­ci­sion to loosen its long-stand­ing lim­its was only briefly men­tioned when the cham­ber’s or­ga­ni­za­tional rules were adopted last week, and only briefly crit­i­cized.

“I would imag­ine there’s in­creased tax­payer ex­pense at that,” said Assem­bly­man Travis Allen (R-Hunt­ing­ton Beach).

Cal­cu­lat­ing the cost of more bills to be con­sid­ered by the Leg­is­la­ture is dicey. While staff and fa­cil­i­ties are al­ready in place and paid for, work­load would cer­tainly in­crease. More bills could be in­tro­duced as place­hold­ers for is­sues that might arise, the Capi­tol equiv­a­lent of an empty ves­sel wait­ing to be loaded up with cargo for an in­ter­est group that bends a law­maker’s ear.

Coo­ley, who said the in­creased bill limit was in the works prior to his ap­point­ment as the over­seer of the Assem­bly’s rules, said longer leg­isla­tive term lim­its cre­ated four years ago have pro­duced law­mak­ers with the ex­per­tise to han­dle more pol­icy pro­pos­als.

“It gives them a lit­tle more room to ex­er­cise their re­spon­si­bil­i­ties un­der the state Con­sti­tu­tion,” he said.

Even so, the sim­ple ex­is­tence of any rule makes clear that a limit on bills is seen as a good thing, per­haps even a nec­es­sary thing when it comes to writ­ing laws some 40 mil­lion Cal­i­for­ni­ans will ul­ti­mately be re­quired to fol­low.

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