Proposition 54, the Legislature Transparency Act, is an initiative constitutional amendment and statute that currently has broad support and little apparent opposition.
It proposes to amend the California constitution to require any prospective bill be in print and made available to legislators, and posted on the Internet, for at least 72 hours before the Legislature could vote to pass it. In an emergency, such as a natural disaster, the Legislature could pass emergency legislation faster.
Additionally, the Legislature would have to ensure that all its public meetings are recorded and make videos of those meetings available on the Internet within 24 hours following the end of the meeting. Videoed meetings would have to be available to the public and downloadable from the Internet for at least 20 years. These requirements would take effect beginning Jan. 1, 2018.
Also, members of the public who attend meetings would be allowed to record and broadcast (audio and/or video) any part of a public legislative meeting. Prop 54, if passed, would also change the existing statute so that any member of the public could use videos of open legislative meetings for any legitimate purpose without paying a fee to the state for their use.
The intent of the initiative is to ensure that both the public and the Legislature have sufficient opportunity to read pending legislation before it comes up for a vote. Said section 2 a. of the initiative, “It is essential to the maintenance of a democratic society that public business be performed in an open and public manner, and highly desirable that citizens be given the opportunity to fully review every bill and express their views regarding the bill’s merits to their elected representatives, before it is passed.”
The costs of implementing the measure would, according to the California Legislative Analyst, entail “one time” expenditures of $1 to $2 million to buy cameras and other recording equipment, and annual costs of about $1 million for more staff and online storage for the videos.
These costs, said the analyst, would be less than 1 percent of the Legislature’s budget for its own operations.
Supporters include California Common Cause, California League of Women Voters, First Amendment Coalition, California NAACP, California Business Roundtable, California Chamber of Commerce, Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, Latin Business Association, and both the Los Angeles and San Francisco chambers of commerce.
Peter Scheer, executive director of First Amendment Coalition, said, “The First Amendment Coalition has long opposed the California Legislature’s practice of voting on bills submitted or materially amended at the last minute, before members have had a chance to read and understand them and without any opportunity for the press or public to weigh in. Proposition 54 would curb these abuses.”
The San Francisco Chronicle editorial board noted, “It’s important to know that several earnest legislators, Democrats and Republicans alike, have been trying to push a 72-hour rule for years — and those ideas went nowhere. The politicians had their chance. The good news is that the legislative transparency initiative had enough certified signatures to qualify for the November ballot.”