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California News

How the game is played in Sacramento – Orange County Register

The California legislature is a waste of money and space.

Each year, the Legislature goes through motions to pass laws through its regular process, appearing as a deliberative body. In fact, it’s a corpse. The real decisions are made behind the scenes and the regulatory agencies, where the public is excluded or ignored.

One aspect of this ramshackle process is currently on display in Sacramento. Governor Gavin Newsom recently announced a set of laws aimed at streamlining infrastructure projects. “Streamline” is a word used in Sacramento when government officials want to override their own strangling mess of regulations and requirements, but only for certain people or certain projects, not for everything and everyone.

It is best understood as a fundraising technique. It’s pretty simplified in that regard.

The typical California government process works like this: the legislature passes dumb laws that set arbitrary targets and goals within arbitrary time frames, then hands them over to regulators to implement. Regulators go through a suffocatingly dense rule-making process to comply with laws and try to meet targets and objectives, which can be impractical and even irrational. At this point, elected lawmakers are out of place, or rather, pose for photos, while regulated industries and affected individuals line up to submit their public comments to regulators. These powerful agencies are run by government appointees but run by full-time staff who are invisible to the public and answerable to no one.

This is how California ends up with costly and sometimes insane requirements, bans, mandates, fees and delays that drive up the price of everything you buy in that state: energy, water, food, housing and all goods and services. What regulators did to truckers in California should be prosecuted as a war crime.

Rather than openly admitting that silly laws cause trouble, the state government uses a clandestine process to change the law, or even write entirely new laws, when no one is watching.

Every year, the Senate and the State Assembly each pass a stack of blank bills – really blank, with only a bill number and a single sentence indicating that the bill is intended to relate to the budget. These blank bills are formally tabled, sent to a committee where they are “heard” and adopted, and sent to the prosecution and adopted, thus respecting all the deadlines of the legislative calendar. Then the bills wait to be needed.

Once the budget is passed, behind-the-scenes deals are negotiated by the governor and legislative leaders with “stakeholders.” The offers are then written on the blank invoices as an “amendment”. No further hearings are necessary, as blank bills have already been “heard” in committee and passed through the floor of a house, so amended bills are quickly approved in both houses and sent to the governor’s office.

Immensely complicated and far-reaching laws have been enacted in this way. For example, the local control funding formula that completely overhauled school funding was an “amendment” to a blank bill related to the budget. The same goes for energy legislation that now requires investor-owned utilities to impose a new system of fixed income-based charges for electricity.

It’s become routine in Sacramento. Last week, Governor Gavin Newsom announced a plan to “streamline” state regulations and authorize infrastructure projects through a package of 11 bills. But these are not ordinary bills that will be heard in political committees in full public transparency. These are “trailer bills,” Sacramento’s term for blank bills that are “amended” and passed quickly at the end of the budget process.

Everyone in and around the California government is acting like it’s normal, and that’s okay. Judge by yourself. Here is the link on the Department of Finance website where the trailing bills can be found: https://esd.dof.ca.gov/trailer-bill/trailerBill.html

Click on the category titled “Infrastructure Package” and you’ll find draft language and fact sheets for the governor’s proposed “streamlining” bills. One of them is the “Delta Reform Act Streamlining”, which would reduce regulatory and legal obstacles to the extremely expensive and highly controversial Delta tunnel project. Whether this is a good or a bad idea is a separate question from whether it should be enacted at lightspeed as an amendment to a blank bill as part of from the budget.

Another of the Governor’s proposed trailer bills is titled “Reclassification of Fully Protected Species.” It would repeal four existing laws designating species as “fully protected” and reclassify 37 fully protected birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and fish as “threatened”, “endangered” or having no listing status. It might be good, or it might not be, but if you want to attend or watch a legislative hearing on these changes, you’re out of luck. There will be no hearing. This is a trailer bill, to be finalized behind closed doors, and then amended to a blank bill. It will receive a positive or negative vote in each chamber of the legislature without any public debate, and it will take effect immediately as a budget-related bill.

California Daily Newspapers

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