“Trailer bills” to the state budget are meant to enact the budget’s financial decisions, but they have become convenient vehicles for enacting non-budgetary laws that have nothing to do with the budget.
As detailed in this space a few days ago, the Legislature is using a budget “trailer bill” to deprive voters of vital information about local government and school bond issues.
The legislation, drafted without public hearings or other input, would suspend for two years a new law, which took effect on January 1, requiring proposed bond measures to reveal to voters how they would affect property tax bills.
The local officials who sought the suspension apparently believe that revealing the tax consequences to voters would make them less likely to vote for bond issues.
Sadly, however, it is not an isolated example of how the Capitol’s politicians are misusing trailer bills, meant to implement the state budget, to enact far-reaching policies that have virtually nothing to do with the budget, and without any of the traditional safeguards, such as waiting periods and public hearings.
Take, for example, one provision in a trailer bill devoted mostly to the state’s health care services.
It would make immense changes in how those believed to be mentally ill are treated in the criminal justice system, essentially making “diversions” out of the courts and into treatment much easier.
It’s a serious topic that deserves to be treated seriously and, in fact, legislation to reform diversions was already moving through the Legislature with input from all of the authorities and outside interest groups.
Suddenly, however, the trailer bill popped up late last week, short-circuiting the legislative process and drawing ire from the California District Attorneys Association both on its substance and its sneakiness.
“Simply put, diversion would be available for any crime,” the prosecutors complained in a “budget alert,” adding, “Additionally there are no limits on the number of times someone can receive diversion under this scheme, nor would anyone be excluded based on their criminal history.”
A broader example of how trailer bills are being misused is the one labeled “general government and public employment.”
California’s public employee unions, who are joined at the hip with the Legislature’s dominant Democrats, are very worried about a pending U.S. Supreme Court case that would ban them from collecting partial dues from non-members.
In anticipation of the decision, which is likely to be issued this month, union-friendly legislators have carried new laws to minimize its effects, such as requiring new employees to attend “orientation meetings” aimed at persuading them to join unions and giving unions access to employee contact information that no one else – especially anti-union groups – could have.
The newest effort would make the location of those orientation meetings a secret, expand the ability of unions to seek deduction of dues, make it somewhat more difficult for employees to opt-out of payments and expand the public agencies whose workers are subject to dues deductions.
The secret meeting provisions are drawing criticism from the California News Publishers Association (disclosure: CALmatters is a member), which zealously defends the state’s open records and open meeting “sunshine” laws. The CNPA calls it “a limitation on the public’s right of access with no discernible public benefit.”
There are many other questionable provisions in the 26 budget trailer bills. They have become legislative Christmas trees, festooned with ornamental goodies for those with political pull that should be aired fully and publicly, not drafted in the dead of night and enacted with minimal notice.