Should California lawmakers bring back ’tombstoning’?

ICYMI, grandiose titles and pithy wordplay abound

Greg Lucas’ state-politics column Capitol Lowdown appears every other week in SN&R. He also blogs at

Tombstones used to be central to the California legislative process. Not the kind up on boot hill; the kind found up at the top of pieces of legislation. The kind that puffed egos, unruffled feathers, eased re-election and, generally, greased the sometimes clunky mechanics of lawmaking.

“Tombstoning” was the practice of lawmakers naming pieces of legislation after themselves. Sometimes their colleagues conferred the honor as a tribute to a job well-done. More often, it was legislators pimping their own action.

Numerous landmark laws are known by their tombstones: the Williamson Act Program, the Knox-Keene Health Care Service Plan Act of 1975 and the Unruh Civil Rights Act, to name three. Open meetings in California are governed by the Brown Act—Ralph M., not Willie L.

There’s the Hughes-Hart Educational Reform Act of 1983; the Roberti-Roos Assault Weapons Control Act of 1989; and the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act, relating to state mental-health treatment.

A recent state supreme court ruling that prompted some of this year’s renewed attention on privacy centers on the Song-Beverly Credit Card Act of 1971 and whether its restrictions on information needed for a credit-card purchase apply to online transactions. (The court said no.)

Tombstoning was prevalent enough that it sparked a parlor game among legislative denizens to create amusing fake ones. The Lockyer-Boatwright Marina Safety Act being one such offering.

The self-aggrandizing practice began to be overused, however, and state lawmakers muzzled themselves in 2007, prohibiting bills from including “a short title that names a current or former Member of the Legislature.” But like so many things in life, curtailing one thing just leads to proliferation of another.

Stripped of the ability to tombstone, lawmakers now turn to grandiose titles and pithy acronyms.

It’s doubtful the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act of 2010 actually achieves anything near that. Sounds bitchin’ though, don’t it?

The California Online Privacy Protection Act of 2003 merely requires websites to have a privacy policy and post it where consumers will see it. The California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 is Assembly Bill 32. Kudos to the author for, in a rare moment of self-effacement, appending an “s” to “Solution.”

Tweets and texts may well contribute to the seemingly torrential flood of acronyms. Sure, acronyms aren’t new, and many have been used so often for so long, they’ve morphed into the actual name rather than an abbreviation: FBI. CIA. SOS. SOP. NRA. SNAFU.

It’s not often a patient is told of their rights under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. The State of California website says that the California Department of Social Services, CDSS, lies within the California Health and Human Services Agency, CHHA. CDSS, in turn, administers CalWORKs—the California Work Opportunities and Responsibility to Kids program. CalWORKs is the Golden State’s version of TANF, the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.

CalWORKs is an early example of what appears to be the growing conviction among state and national politicians that an acronym is superior if it spells an actual word or phrase that promotes the bill.

Who hasn’t heard of the USA PATRIOT Act? Actually, its name is the “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism” Act. Seriously. Tax money was spent to come up with that name.

Most recently, here in California, Senate Democrats assembled a package of eight bills aimed at reducing gun violence. Among the measures are one requiring gun owners to take safety training annually instead of every five years. Another bill bans ownership of magazines that hold 10 rounds or more.

To better move product, the group of bills is now the “LIFE Act”—Lifesaving Intelligent Firearms Enforcement.

Bottom-line: TMA.

Too many acronyms—as any XLNT texter would point out.