Cut “gut and amend”

State Senator Jeff Denham is a Republican lawmaker from Salinas

Whenever someone new is elected to public office, there are some bumps along the way. I was elected with business and agriculture experience but had never before served in elective office.

Being new to lawmaking, there were parts of the process that surprised and often shocked me. One of the most frustrating things I came across is a process commonly known as “gut-and-amend.”

Gut-and-amend is what happens to a piece of legislation when the original language is completely removed—the gutting of the legislation—and entirely new language is amended in.

For example, there was a piece of legislation—Senate Bill 328—that, as of September 8, 2003, was a measure that would make technical clarifications to the laws dealing with state courts. On September 12 (the last day of this year’s session), the measure came back to the Senate floor as a bill that would provide free tuition to illegal immigrants.

Regardless of how you feel about the policy, the process is appalling. This new version of Senate Bill 328 was not heard in any committee; it went straight to the floor and passed on a party-line vote only to be vetoed by the governor.

It disturbs me to see laws rammed through in the waning hours of the last day of the legislative session. The version of Senate Bill 328 that was passed was entirely new, and it circumvented the entire legislative process. There are specific rules in place that provide for public input and deliberate legislative action. There is an introduction deadline and a waiting period so that no action can be taken on a newly introduced piece of legislation for 30 days. This was meant to give citizens a chance to review legislation and provide input to their elected officials. All of this disappears with gut-and-amend.

The rules of the Senate exist for a reason. If we are to have a truly thoughtful lawmaking process, then we need to take the time to scrutinize legislation properly. The founders of our state did not dream of a Legislature that rammed through proposals at the last minute with little public scrutiny or press coverage. They meant for an orderly system that, through reasonable consideration, would lead to the best legislation for the state of California.