Valley Voices

California voters will like this proposition, but special interests won’t

Proposition 54 would add transparency to how California lawmakers conduct business by requiring bills to be in print and online 72 hours before a final vote.
Proposition 54 would add transparency to how California lawmakers conduct business by requiring bills to be in print and online 72 hours before a final vote. jvillegas@sacbee.com

On Nov. 8 voters will be asked to cast their ballots on 17 statewide propositions and countless other local measures that most of us frankly don’t have the time or the inclination to thoroughly consider.

But as president and chief executive officer of the Fresno Chamber of Commerce, I want to highlight one common-sense, straightforward proposition that will give voters a voice when it comes to how laws are passed in Sacramento.

Proposition 54 changes only a few words in the California Constitution, but will make far-reaching improvements to the way business is done at the Capitol. It will prevent legislators from making last-minute changes to proposed laws that no one – other than a few powerful special interests – has had an opportunity to read or provide input before heading to the governor’s desk.

Here in Fresno, we will soon feel the effects of hastily drafted last-minute changes, known as “gut and amends,” made to a handful of bills that were passed in the waning hours of the legislative session. These new laws will directly have a negative impact on some of our small businesses as they struggle to comply with the new regulations imposed upon them. In fact, they may have no choice but to lay off workers.

While we’ll certainly work hard to encourage our state legislators to improve upon these new detrimental policies, it will no doubt be an uphill battle. However, voters have the power to stop these types of last-minute deals by voting “yes” on Proposition 54. Here’s how Proposition 54 will solve the problem:

▪ Requires all state legislation to be published in print and publicly posted online in its final form at least 72 hours before a final vote in the Assembly or Senate. This will result in better public policy by giving legislators, their staff and the public more time to review and comment on changes to legislation.

▪ Requires all open legislative meetings to be audio-visually recorded and posted online within 24 hours. This will allow the public to have the same access as special interests do to participate in the legislative process.

▪ Grants individuals the right to record and share videos of public meetings at the Capitol for any legitimate purpose and without fear of criminal consequences. This creates additional transparency so that even if the official record goes missing or breaks down, the public has the ability to share what goes on in legislative meetings.

Although there is no way to look back and know for sure whether or not a bill would have ultimately passed if Proposition 54 were in place, at least we can be assured, moving forward, that special interests will no longer have the power to rewrite laws behind closed doors at the last minute.

We will also be assured that all proposed laws will be available to legislators and the public for at least 72 hours so the voters can weigh in and legislators will know what they’re voting on.

That’s why the Fresno Chamber of Commerce has joined the diverse coalition of groups behind the measure, including California Common Cause, the League of Women Voters of California, the California Chamber of Commerce, the National Federation of Independent Business/California, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, the Latin Business Association, Hispanic 100, the Senior Advocates League, the California League of Cities and many, many others.

Here’s the bottom line: Our state legislators and the public need time to absorb proposed laws that could profoundly impact entire industries and communities. Enactment of Proposition 54 will help ensure public legislative meetings are conducted fairly and openly and it will enable the public to observe and share what is happening so we may all more fully participate in the political process.

For these reasons, I urge voters in Fresno and throughout California to approve Proposition 54.

Nathan Ahle is president and chief executive officer of the Fresno Chamber of Commerce.

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