End Backroom Deals, Vote Yes on 54

Friday, October 28, 2016

[This oped was originally published in the SCV Gazette found here.]

This year, California's election ballot may be as big as a biology book, but luckily there is one measure that's an easy “yes” vote – Proposition 54.

Prop 54 will help bring legislative transparency to our state Capitol by ensuring voters — not special interests or political elites — are put first and that Californians are given the opportunity to review and weigh in on legislation.

The simple fact is, Sacramento has been hijacked by a political few who pick and choose the winners and losers. Their top-down, command-and-control governing model is outdated and undemocratic — and I'm not alone in that assessment.

In 2015, the Center for Public Integrity gave California a “C-” for corruption and transparency, which included an “F” in public access to information.

Another report from the non-partisan Sunlight Foundation gave California a “D” grade after evaluating how complete and open the legislature is, or in our case is not, with the public.

By far, the most glaring problem in Sacramento is the practice of “gut-and-amend,” where bills are drastically changed at the last minute, then rushed through the legislature. This sinister tactic is used by the ruling political class to bypass the legislative process with little to no time for us legislators — let alone the public — to review or comment on bills.

For example, during my first year in the Assembly, we had to vote on a $103 billion budget, but when I tried to pull it up on my Assembly desk laptop, I was greeted with a screen that read, “Document not available.” Policymakers were voting on a budget that almost no one had read.

Even more recently, this year's AB 1613 California state budget and companion bill SB 859 appropriated a massive $900 million to cap-and-trade funds, which was passed only hours after the bill became public mid-day on August 31 – the last day of session.

Last minute deal making made behind closed doors is not how democracy is supposed to work. The legislative process exists for a reason: bills we pass affect millions of people, and when the ruling elites shut the public out of the conversation, special interests are the ones who win.

But Proposition 54 will put California back on the right path, shining a light on legislative secrecy in Sacramento.

There are three areas Proposition 54 looks to fix. First, it will require all legislation to be published both online and in print 72 hours before any vote takes place. This ensures that legislators and the public have a chance to read and analyze proposals before voting takes place.

Second, it will mandate all legislative meetings are recorded in both audio and video and made available to the public within 24 hours online. This will guarantee that all legislative business is conducted in the eyes of the public.

And finally, Proposition 54 will allow individuals to record legislative proceedings themselves, and to share those recording with the public, thereby granting further access and accountability.

These three changes are critical to greater transparency in the legislature, allowing lawmakers the appropriate time to review bills before voting on them and allowing all Californians time to review and comment.

As your State Assemblyman, it is my duty to represent you and your interests in Sacramento. Since I was elected in 2012, I have fought hard for a greater flow of information because the more voices heard in Sacramento, the stronger and more inclusive our democracy becomes.

It's time we stand up to the political elites and shed light on the work being done in Sacramento – the people's business. Californians deserve an accountable and honest government, and proposition 54 is a step in the right direction.

The California ballot will require some studying this year, but Proposition 54 is a policy long overdue. Vote yes on Prop 54.

Assemblyman Scott Wilk represents the 38th Assembly District encompassing Simi Valley, the northwestern section of the San Fernando Valley and most of the Santa Clarita Valley.