New Assembly rules provide the chairs of committees with the discretion to arbitrarily decide whether to set a bill for hearing or not, without any justification. While most committee chairs are even-handed and set all the bills that have been referred to them, this is not always the case. The saying, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely,” applies.
By Jay Obernolte and Sharon Quirk-Silva
Assemblyman Jay Obernolte is a Republican from Big Bear Valley, who represents Assembly District 33, Assemblymember.Obernolte@assembly.ca.gov. Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva is a Democrat from Fullerton who represents Assembly District 65, 65thAssembly@gmail.com. They wrote this commentary for CALmatters.
Legislators from both parties introduce bills that reflect their priorities. These bills may respond to issues that have occurred in a district, be constituent ideas, bill proposals from advocacy groups, or author-sponsored legislation.
Regardless of a bill’s origin, it seems reasonable to expect that each would be heard in a committee, supported or opposed by the public, and voted on by the committee members.
However, with the new house rules adopted by the California Assembly, that is unfortunately no longer the case.
Previously, Assembly rules required that every bill be set for a committee hearing. That rule was fair and reasonable. It ensured that members were not discriminated against based on their party or their standing within their caucus.
The rule prevented powerful special interest groups from silencing unfavorable legislation and kept controversial bills from being shelved because committee members simply did not want to cast a politically difficult vote.
Unfortunately, the new rules provide the chairs of committees with the discretion to arbitrarily decide whether to set a bill for hearing or not, without any justification.
While most committee chairs are even-handed and set all the bills that have been referred to them, this is not always the case.
The saying, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely,” applies.
Unfortunately, there are chairs who abuse their power and hold bills based on insincere or spiteful motives.
Regrettably, this year there have already been an alarming number of bills that have not been set due to this rule change. In particular, several bills related to operations at the Department of Motor Vehicle have not received a hearing.
These bills address issues including reducing DMV wait times, helping low-income customers pay their registration fees using a payment plan, and expanding DMV’s partnership services with AAA and others.
These bills were designed to improve the experience of California consumers and assist in the advancement of productivity at the DMV.
There are numerous examples of other bills that have been denied hearings for various reasons–more often than not, based on politics.
The public deserves to have their voices and legislative ideas heard. For the sake of our constituents and all Californians, we should not be censoring what comes before the Legislature.
This path is sure to lead us down a dark road that is anything but democratic.