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Legislation transparency measures sit in a dark corner

SACRAMENTO — At the state Capitol, no bill is ever dead.

Even the most moribund measure can be resurrected and sent to the governor, especially if leaders want to pass something without holding a bunch of hearings.

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That’s when a sneaky technique called “gut and amend” comes into play.

That’s legislative lingo for taking an idle bill, stripping its contents and inserting all-new language. In a flash, a bill that dealt with community college transfer students turns into one that eases environmental reviews to build a Los Angeles football stadium.

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Typically, lobbyists, lawmakers and staff resort to this trick in the closing days or hours of a legislative session. Often, many bleary members grouse that they are asked to vote on bills that they know little or nothing about.

But now, an unlikely, bipartisan coalition of government reformers, anti-tax activists, cities and rural counties wants to curb these gut and amends.

The group wants all bill rewrites in print and available to the public for at least three days before they are voted upon by either house of the Legislature. Doing so would require two-thirds majority votes in the Legislature and then a statewide vote. Two proposed amendments have been introduced: ACA 4 by Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen (R-Modesto) and SCA 10 by Sen. Lois Wolk (D-Davis).

The pair of bills aren’t making much progress. They’re both parked in committees. No votes have been cast, and no legislator — other than the authors — has taken a public stand.

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Olsen said she is frustrated. “It’s awfully hard to increase transparency, increase sunshine in the legislative process, when a bill we are carrying doesn’t even get the light of day for a vote.”

The only public criticism of Olsen’s bill has come in a report from the Assembly Budget Committee.

“For most things, this makes a lot of sense,” said the report’s author Christian Griffith, a committee consultant. “But there’s going to be the time when this doesn’t work.”

No more squinting

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Elderly people too often are taking the wrong medicines or too many pills, says Sen. Ellen M. Corbett, and she is fighting to get rid of the small print on prescription drug labels.

To prevent errors, the San Leandro Democrat is pushing SB 205. The bill would require larger print size (12-point type) for a patient’s name, drug name and dosage strength on prescription containers.

But she’s up against the California Grocers Assn., the California Pharmacists Assn. and the National Assn. of Chain Drug Stores. They contend there’s not enough room on labels for the bigger letters.

Su strikes again

Last week, state Labor Commissioner Julie Su issued a two-year progress report touting record high collections of unpaid back wages. The press release had just landed, when her inspectors were at it again: They handed out $585,000 in citations at three San Francisco Bay Area adult-care facilities for violating the law by not properly paying their workers.

marc.lifsher@latimes.com


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