Frequently Asked Questions

Why is Proposition 54 important?

Special interests have too much influence in the California Legislature, locking average voters out of the process by striking backroom deals to pass legislation at the last minute without any public review. Too often such legislation ends up benefiting well-connected interest groups while hurting California families and voters.

Reforms are needed to prevent the special interests from dominating a process that is supposed to be open to the public. Prop. 54 will prevent the special interests from inserting last-minute changes into legislation without any public review or discussion, and it will require the Legislature to put all its meetings online so that every Californian can access the legislative process.

By shining a light on the backroom deals, this initiative will increase transparency, accountability, and the public’s ability to participate in the political process.


What can we do to reduce special interest influence in the Capitol?

Bringing the Legislature’s work out into the light of day would prevent the secretive deals that lobbyists can only get done by the cover of night.

Sometimes, this literally means prohibiting secret legislation from getting passed in the middle of the night when no one is looking (which actually currently happens on a regular basis). It also means putting the Legislature’s meetings online (which local governments have already been doing for city councils and other local boards for years).

This initiative would do both by requiring a 72-hour notice period to pass new legislation, requiring the Legislature to post public video records of its meetings, and guaranteeing the right of every individual to freely record and share what’s going on in the Capitol.


How will this initiative benefit the average voter?

The California Legislature passes hundreds of new laws every year affecting average Californians. These laws are supposed to be enacted through a process that is open to the public so that average Californians can make their voices heard.

But too often the special interests control the process, locking out the average voter through off-the-record legislative meetings attended only by special interests and passing new legislation in the dead of night when no one is looking. These hand-picked laws benefit only the well-connected interest groups at the expense of average California families. But the average voter can’t know who to hold accountable because the process is cloaked in secrecy.

Prop. 54 will give the average voter access to every legislative meeting by posting them online and end the practice of sneaking last-minute bills into law, so that every lawmaker can be held accountable by voters for how they vote on such measures. This initiative will give voters the information they need to participate in a political process that, currently, has been dominated by special interests.


How will requiring a 72-hour notice period to pass legislation increase transparency?

Under the current system, legislators, often at the request of special interests, can make any change to legislation and put it to an immediate vote. This includes adding hundreds of pages of new language, and having lawmakers vote on it before anyone has time to read it. It sounds crazy, but new laws are secretly enacted this way every year.

This initiative would require the Legislature to wait at least 72 hours after a bill has been amended before either house can vote on it. This allows lawmakers to actually read what they are voting on. Also, during those 72 hours, the bill must be posted online so anyone can read it and contact their representative with any concerns or questions.


How will the 72-hour notice period increase accountability?

Under the current system, lawmakers often vote on legislation they didn’t get time to read. So, if something harmful gets passed into law, it’s difficult to hold your legislator accountable.

Prop. 54 will change that by guaranteeing every lawmaker has at least 72 hours to review new legislation.

For example, let’s say a bill is introduced in the Assembly and it goes through the Assembly’s committee process to arrive on the Assembly floor. Then, somebody amends the bill to add 100 pages of new language. Under the current system, the bill could be put to an immediate vote before anyone has time to read and understand the 100 new pages, which is why special interests use this maneuver to get their political favors passed.

But under this initiative, the Assembly would have to post the new version of the bill online, including the 100 new pages, for public viewing. Only after 72 hours have passed, with the new version of the bill online for public viewing, can the bill be voted on the floor.

This 72-hour period would give every legislator time to read the new version of the bill and hear from constituents about it – before being asked to vote on it. So constituents will be able to hold lawmakers accountable for the vote they ultimately cast.

A new 72-hour notice period would be required every time the bill is amended, whether it is in the Assembly or Senate. But it’s important to note, the 72-hour period would only apply to floor votes in the Assembly and Senate, not committee votes. This way, the initiative would prevent more secret legislation from getting passed, without bogging down the committee process.


How will publishing video records of legislative meetings increase transparency?

Currently, the Legislature holds numerous meetings where legislation is amended, passed, or voted down. Although the California Channel broadcasts and webcasts some of these meetings, many other meetings go completely unrecorded.

It’s just not realistic to expect citizens from all over California to travel to Sacramento every time the Legislature takes something up that they care about. So ultimately the only ones with access to these meetings are lobbyists and others funded by special interests.

Publishing video records will allow every Californian to watch these legislative meetings and create a record for interested Californians to check to see how a law got enacted or blocked.

Given that hundreds of local governments already do this for their city councils and other boards, there is no reason the State Legislature can’t join the 21st century by putting their meetings online.


Is requiring a 72-hour notice period to pass legislation a new idea?

No, the states of New York, Idaho, Hawaii, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina all require a similar notice period for their legislatures. In fact, New York and Idaho have required a 72-hour notice for over a hundred years!

Local governments in California have provided a similar notice for their own legislative meetings for decades. State law prohibits a city council, county board, or other local boards from meeting to do business unless it has posted a complete agenda at least 72 hours before the meeting, describing every item. Local governments routinely comply with these requirements every time they meet.

More than two-thirds of the current members of the California Legislature previously served on local legislative bodies subject to these rules so they should already be accustomed to getting work done in the Legislature under the notice period created by this initiative.


Will a 72-hour notice period create a burden in cases of emergency when lawmakers need to act quickly?

No, this initiative would allow the notice period to be waived in cases of emergency. For an urgent piece of legislation, the Legislature may waive the requirement by a two-thirds vote of both houses, provided the Governor has certified the legislation is necessary to address a state of emergency.


 What about instances where a quick fix is needed to a bill before it goes to a vote? Will even minor changes require waiting a whole 72 hours before it can be voted on?

 “Quick fixes” are sometimes used by special interests to sneak self-serving provisions into bills just before they’re voted into law. We believe it’s important that everyone has time to read the bill, including the quick fixes, before it’s enacted.

Because most bills don’t go into effect until the 1st of January after they were enacted, waiting another three days to pass a bill won’t have any impact on how quickly it goes into effect. In other words, if the bill doesn’t become law until January 1, then does it matter whether it was passed on September 1 or September 4?

Of course, in cases of emergency, the Legislature passes an “urgency” bill that goes into effect immediately. But, under existing constitutional provisions, passing an urgency bill requires a two-thirds vote of the Legislature. So that same two-thirds can vote to waive the 72-hour notice period as a matter of emergency.


Does this initiative change the number of votes required for the Legislature to pass legislation?

No, the vote requirements for legislation would stay the same. Ordinary legislation would require a majority vote of both houses of the Legislature. Urgency legislation (which takes effect immediately) would require a two-thirds vote of both houses.

But this initiative would require lawmakers to wait at least 72 hours before passing a bill that’s just been amended, so that everyone has time to read it. This initiative would also provide that a complete video record exists of all the legislative proceedings that are supposed to be open to the public.


How much will Prop. 54 cost to implement? Paying for cameras, maintenance, other expenses?

This will not raise costs to taxpayers. Instead, any costs would come out of the Legislature’s current budget, which is capped by the Constitution so higher costs cannot be passed on to taxpayers, but must be absorbed by the current legislative budget.

The cost would range from minor to zero, depending on how the Legislature chooses to implement it. For example, the Legislature could choose to continue using the free and independent services of CalChannel, which already records most (but not all) of the public hearings.

Or the Legislature could buy its own cameras and hire its own camera operators, though it doesn’t need to. If the Legislature wants to cover the expenses, those costs would comprise less than one-half of one-percent of the Legislature’s operating budget.

According to the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst and California Department of Finance, the total costs would include one-time expenses of $1 million to $2 million to purchase cameras and other equipment, and ongoing expenses of about $1 million annually for additional staff and storage. This would come out of the Legislature’s $298 million budget.

By the way, the Legislature’s budget grew by more than $16 million last year. This incremental increase alone would easily absorb the costs of implementing this initiative.