Proposition 54: Not What it Seems

Too good to be true?  Probably is.  Proposition 54 is another example of the adage.  Pledging to bring more transparency to the legislative process, this proposition simply provides another tool for moneyed interests to stop progressive policies in California.  Sponsored by billionaire Charles Munger and wealth manager (and former legislator) Sam Blakslee, this Constitutional Amendment would require all legislation to be in print for 72 hours prior to being voted on.  Any interest could sue the legislature to enforce this provision.

Most bills considered by the Legislature are already in print for 72 hours prior a vote.  Bills considered by the Legislature that are in print in final form for less than 72 hours are usually due to one of three scenarios:   the bill is part of a hard fought, complicated compromise; the bill is part of the budget package or; the bill has technical problems and needs to be amended prior to final floor action.

California’s most significant compromises have been forged in a crucible of pressure and heat from all sides that creates the resolve for action.  Often in such circumstances, moneyed special interests may not be satisfied with the final agreement.  Prop 54 essentially creates a three-day “time out period” on all legislation.  This time can allow the resolve for action to dissipate, and corporate special interests can exert pressure and work to block carefully-crafted agreements.  Prop 54 is akin to requiring juries to wait three days after making a decision, the waiting period allows courage and willpower to be undermined by second thoughts and doubt.

This measure would also make the small technical changes at the end of session more difficult.  These include a common practice of eliminating an urgency clause from a measure, to add coauthors, to reconcile bills that amend the same code sections.  Under Prop 54, any of these changes would trigger a 72-hour in-print requirement, which will mean it will add complexity to the final days of each legislative session.

Prop 54 is littered with drafting ambiguities, as highlighted by the Legislatures legal counsel and presented in public hearing on the initiative.  From “72 hours before the vote” – which vote?  Committee vote, first floor vote, final vote?  To “aggrieved party” left undefined in terms of who can sue the legislature for not complying with Prop 54 on a specific vote.

Prop 54 will open up the ability for corporate moneyed interest to sue the Legislature for procedural issues on policies they oppose.  It will provide the ability for deep pockets another path to stop progressive policy adoption.

Think that is a leap?  Look who is supporting the measure.  Multi-millionaire Charles Munger, chief proponent of paycheck deception in 2014 and financier of corporate sponsored Republicans.  The Chamber of Commerce and every local chamber throughout the state.

Prop 54 won’t engage the public more in state policy making.  It will simply empower those with endless resources to find another tool to stop government.

This blog represents the personal opinion of the author, Eric C. Bauman, Vice Chair of the California Democratic Party and Chair of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party.

For a full list of California Labor’s 2016 endorsements, visit our Endorsements page here. 

This is the fifth installment of California Labor’s Top Props, a blog series on priority propositions for working Californians. Click here to see other posts in the series.