BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — Last year Eyewitness News told you about budget trailer bills; essentially blank bills going through the state capital with little to no input from the voters.
Today California lawmakers are still voting on legislation that legitimately says and does nothing, until they fill it up at the last minute.
These bills start off with the same exact single sentence; “It is the intent of the Legislature to enact statutory changes relating to the Budget Act of 2019.”
However, these same bills end up dictating every penny California spends.
So, if you want a voice in this system you need to know exactly where to look.
First look to the state capitol building in Sacramento where it’s business as usual. Lawmakers are working to put together a budget. According to Assemblyman Vince Fong it’s the most important process lawmakers undertake.
“It is also the least transparent process,” Fong said.
The reason why Fong believes this, is because of blank budget bills soaring through the process with little to no public oversight or input.
The typical bill, if amended, is voted on seven times before reaching the Governor’s desk. These blank bills stay blank for the first four votes.
AB 72 is an example of a blank budget bill. It started with the same sentence mentioned earlier. After four votes, it was 15 pages long. About two weeks later it was on the Governor’s desk.
Those two weeks are long as far as blank bills getting pushed through is concerned. In most cases, after the bill is full of language, the final three votes in the process can happen in as little as three days.
This is only possible if lawmakers vote to break the rules set for them to make sure the legislative process is transparent.
“Those things are happening in the dark of night where the voters can’t see it and it’s happening last minute,” Fong said.
This year there were 98 blank bills all with just that one sentence. Of those bills, 97 are still blank. In the case of 48 of those bills, lawmakers voted to break their own rules to speed up the process.
So what can you do to be part of a process designed to keep you out of it?
First, know what bills are blank.
In the Assembly, bills 74 to 121 are blank. In the Senate, bills 74 to 85, 87 to 98, 100 to 119 and 121 to 125 are blank.
All of those bills have already gone through more than half the legislative process.
So how are these bills getting that far when lawmakers don’t even know what the bills will do? That answer is simple, many lawmakers are voting yes on bills that are nothing more than empty shells.
Here is a list of every assembly member who voted yes to a blank bill this legislative session:
Aguiar-Curry, Bauer-Kahan, Bloom, Boerner Horvath, Bonta, Burke, Calderon, Carrillo, Cervantes, Chau, Chu, Cooper, Daly, Eggman, Frazier, Friedman, Gabriel, Cristina Garcia, Gipson, Gloria, Gonzalez, Gray, Grayson, Holden, Irwin, Jones-Sawyer, Kalra, Kamlager-Dove, Limón, Maienschein, McCarty, Medina, Mullin, Muratsuchi, Nazarian, O’Donnell, Petrie-Norris, Quirk, Quirk-Silva, Ramos, Reyes, Luz Rivas, Robert Rivas, Rodriguez, Blanca Rubio, Salas, Santiago, Smith, Mark Stone, Ting, Weber, Wicks, Wood, Rendon.
And here is every Senator that did the same:
Allen, Archuleta, Atkins, Beall, Bradford, Caballero, Dodd, Durazo, Galgiani, Glazer, Hertzberg, Hill, Hueso, Hurtado, Leyva, McGuire, Mitchell, Monning, Pan, Portantino, Roth, Rubio, Skinner, Stern, Umberg, Wieckowski, Wiener.
If you think this shouldn’t be happening, you’re not alone, and there is something California voters can do to put an end to it: Get it on the ballot and make it illegal for blank budget trailer bills to exist.
However, Fong believes this is something Sacramento needs to self-police, before voters get fed-up with the political runaround.
“The only losers in this are Californians,” Fong said. “And so we need to change the process. I think every one admits the process is broken, but now we need the political will to change it.”
What makes keeping up with these blank bills so difficult is when they’re blank they don’t say what part of the budget they’ll control.
Also there’s no announcement when they get filled up. So you need to check each bill every day to find out what, if anything, is in them.