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It's "Gut-And-Amend" Time At The Capitol

Aug 28, 2014

Credit Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

It happens every year in the waning days of the California Legislature: A bill is amended to address a completely different subject, then brought up for a vote without going through the full legislative process. It's known as “gut-and-amend.” And although the practice draws scorn from many, lawmakers insist there are good reasons to use it. Ben Adler has more from Sacramento.

You might wonder what the Silver Lake Reservoir in Los Angeles County has to do with gun buyback programs? Absolutely nothing, of course. But a couple weeks back, Democratic Assemblyman Mike Gatto took his reservoir bill and turned it into something else entirely. It would now require that guns brought to buyback programs be tested before they’re melted to assure they haven’t been used in crimes.

What Gatto did to the bill has a name at the Capitol: “gut-and-amend.” Sacramento State political analyst Steve Boilard says the practice is controversial because it short-circuits the normal legislative process – often at the last minute.

Boilard: “A piece of legislation that’s been moving through the process – subject to committee hearings, exposed to the public – is suddenly stripped of all its provisions, and entirely new provisions go in.”

It may be legal, Boilard says…

Boilard: “But it doesn’t mean that therefore it’s right or proper, or even democratic.”

Gatto: “I think the Legislature needs to be flexible, and we need to be responsive when an issue comes on our desk.”

Assemblyman Gatto makes no apologies for using the gut-and-amend process. He points out that the Legislature’s bill introduction deadline each year is at the end of February.

Gatto: “So if we hear of a good idea after February, we have to do what is called a gut-and-amend. And that’s a real shame, because there’s lots of good ideas that come to us besides just in December, January and February. It’s crazy.”

It doesn’t appear that Gatto’s gun buyback bill will get a vote after all before lawmakers adjourn for the year later this week. But other measures could pop up in the final days – or hours – of the session.