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A little step toward transparency

Posted: August 12, 2016 5:22 p.m.
Updated: August 13, 2016 2:00 a.m.
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Voters on Nov. 8 may encounter the longest list of choices on a ballot they’ve ever seen, with all higher and statewide offices represented, along with 17 statewide measures – many featuring very weighty topics – as well as county measures and, for Santa Clarita Valley voters, school districts, a water district and the Santa Clarita City Council.

Of the plethora of measures on the statewide ballot, there’s one “no brainer” – Proposition 54, for which you can safely check the “yes” box and move on to pondering the pros and cons of legalizing marijuana, repealing the death penalty, overhauling bilingual education and allowing grocery stores to continue providing plastic bags.

Proposition 54 would prohibit the Legislature from passing any bill unless it has been in print and published on the internet for at least 72 hours – except in the case of public emergency.

It also would require the Legislature to make audiovisual recordings of all its proceedings, except closed-session proceedings, and post them on the internet.

When approaching ballot measures – which are often pushed by special interests that employ deceptive if not downright dishonest advertising – it’s helpful to begin with the question “Why not?”

Asking the question “Why not?” of Prop 54 is sufficient to see the best way to vote.

Why not let the public know what its elected officials, sent to Sacramento to represent the public, are voting on?

Why not let those elected officials themselves know what they are voting on?

How ridiculous to even ask such a question.

But we are told by legislators that blank bills are put before them – sometimes bills as important as the state budget – and the elected representatives are called on to cast votes without knowing what’s in those bills.

“The final version of the budget is negotiated between three people: the speaker pro tem, the speaker of the Assembly and the governor,” two-term Assemblyman Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, told Signal columnist Jonathan Kraut in a column published this week.

“The final budget is intentionally presented exactly at the constitutional deadline with no time for changes.”

“In my first year in the Assembly,” said Wilk, who is seeking a Senate seat in November, “the budget wasn’t even downloaded into the computer system, so no one saw the budget that was passed.”

Shades of Nancy Pelosi’s infamous “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it,” said while urging Congress to pass the Affordable Care Act.

In his interview with Kraut, Wilk blames the blank-bill fraud routinely being practiced in Sacramento on big business and big labor.

Whoever the perpetrator, it seems the real question for Proposition 54 is not “Why not pass it?” which is easily answered, but rather “Why?”

Why would the country’s most populous state, which was in the forefront of government transparency in 1953 when it passed its “sunshine” law, the Ralph M. Brown Act, ever allow itself to be placed in the position of expecting its legislators to vote on blank bills?

Why would legislators sent to Sacramento by the people see their way clear to participate in such a duplicitous act as voting on a blank bill?

Why would anyone think three days was a sufficient amount of time for the public or legislators to digest and make decisions about, for example, the state’s $170.9-billion budget passed in June by the Legislature for the 2016-17 fiscal year?

If anything, Proposition 54 is far too small of a step toward state government transparency.

But it’s a step in the right direction. So we urge you to vote “Yes” on Proposition 54. Let’s start down the path of transparency with Prop 54 and make sure more and bigger steps follow to shine a light into the darkened chambers of our own state government.

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