Skip to comments.Debate, Sacramento-style
Posted on 04/11/2006 8:52:25 AM PDT by John Jorsett
I know this happens every year in the Legislature, and sometimes I think that those who read my weekly discussion on Sacramento must get bored that I keep saying the same things over and over.
But then I realize that the news media does not report these events. In fact, I think people wouldnt believe it if the newspaper or television did report it. As I walk through the halls of the Capitol, I feel a little like Alice as she walked through Wonderland. I know Ive seen several white rabbits (who are always looking at their watch, claiming to be late), and Im certain that lots of my colleagues would fit the description of the Mad Hatter. At least one committee chairman, er, chair-madam, virtually personifies the Red off with their heads Queen. I wont name the King.
So, as to the setting: weve been in session since January and have been introducing legislation all these months since then. We only started hearings this week. That is, this week the Legislature finally began considering the bills that will regulate the way we all live in California.
I have to say that I disagree with how we do our job. Each legislator introduces a bill which, more often than not, makes a small, technical change in one section of the over 50 volumes of laws (each volume is at least 500 pages). The legislative committee looks at that one bill. The interest groups and the public each come before the committee and comment on the bill. Extensive lobbying, letter writing, and telephone calling are focused on the bill. Then the committee makes a decision on that bill, usually without reference to how that bill impacts the rest of the code.
The Legislature will consider about 2,500 bills per year. Interestingly enough, each committee will sit dormant for about three months, and then will consider their entire calendar of bills in just three weeks. As a result, each bill will receive only about 10 minutes of discussion. That means proponents and opponents have about three minutes each to say why they like or dont like the bill, with the Legislator taking about 4 minutes to say why he or she introduced the bill. Then the committee asks questions usually interrupted by the chairman constantly reminding everyone about the long calendar and that no one wants to be kept there all night. Being human, the members usually agree what, stay here and do our jobs?
I put up a bill this week to require anyone convicted of drunk driving more than once to put a red license plate on any car he or she drives to identify him or her as a potential traffic hazard. More than 1,400 people were killed last year from drunk drivers (up 38 percent from just three years ago) and more than 30,000 people were arrested on a second or worse offense. I thought this one small measure might save lives.
Twenty people wanted to tell the committee about the pain and loss theyve suffered as a result of drunk driving. But ahem the chairman, ever mindful of the members short attention spans and their pressing engagements elsewhere, conscientiously drew the line after one victim had spoken. Then I was given five minutes to make the case for my bill. When I tried to negotiate for the bill, I was cut off. I had had my chance to speak, I was told. This is what constitutes discussion and debate in Sacramento.
You may or may not like my bill. Thats not the point. Your representatives, shaping the lives you and all Californians live, who are entrusted by you to serve all the people of the state, and who must, if they are to prove worthy of that trust, show the humility and essential wisdom to know that so great a responsibility is too much to be taken lightly that it requires great care and the thoughtful help of other people and, above all, the often mysterious dynamic that enters in when careful, thoughtful people discuss and debate and trade information and insights and learn from one another (in a word: deliberate) before reaching their conclusion that your representatives, so entrusted, have ceased to meet these, their first responsibilities. Even worse, for the most part they show virtually no appreciation that anything is wrong. On the contrary, they are full of their own importance to just the extent that they should be humble, and down is up, dark is light, and right is wrong.
And so it is. Sacramento through the looking glass.