Calif. lawmakers "gut-and-amend" bills

August 23, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
A controversial short-cut is under fire at the state capitol. It's a back-door process that gets measures to the governor's desk quickly during the frantic final days of the legislative session. The practice, called "gut-and-amend," is part of a last minute tradition among lawmakers.

But not everybody thinks this controversial practice should be used, "It compromises a citizen's opportunity to participate in their government," Assm. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, said. "And I am screaming and yelling about it every day around here." With "gut-and-amend," lawmakers take an unrelated existing measure that's already been approved by several committees, then they empty the contents and add in another bill.

In one case, a proposal allows nurse practitioners and other non-doctors to continue performing abortions in a pilot study. It's a weaker version of an earlier bill, but still ensures expanded access, "We have a shrinking availability, and yet we have a need, and it is a legal right that women have," Assm. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, said.

But critics say six days before the end of session is not the time to revive a bill. "And now to have it gutted and amended with no ability for the public to come and voice their opposition again like they did in committee is absolutely inexcusable," Assm. Kristen Olsen, R-Modesto, said.

Senate President Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, defends the practice. He himself has a bill that would allow mail-in ballots that are postmarked on Election Day to be counted since the post office is closing some warehouses and possibly slowing delivery, "Sometimes a gut and amend is necessary to deal with a pressing issue," Steinberg said.

One bill formerly dealing with air pollution from old vehicles now would allow up to two million undocumented immigrants to live and work openly in California so they can pay their state income taxes. The author defends his proposal saying there has been debate on the issue when it was an initiative that ultimately failed to get enough signatures, "It's major policy, but we've been having these conversations for a better part of a year," Assm. Felipe Fuentes, D-Sylmar, said.


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