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Gut-and-Amend Bills Legal But Maybe Not Ethical

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    SACRAMENTO, CA - FEBRUARY 18: California Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg speaks during a session of the California State Senate February 18, 2009 in Sacramento, California. The California legislature has stalled its vote on a State budget proposal after the GOP party ousted its leader, Dave Cogdill, R-Fresno. The stalled budget caused Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to issue 20,000 pink slips to state workers and threatens hundreds of state funded public works projects. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

    Among the legislature's many parliamentary devices is a process known as "gut-and-amend."

    With this parliamentary maneuver, a legislator at the last possible moment before adjournment strips a bill that has gone through multiple committee hearings of its original content and inserts new language usually completely unrelated to the original bill.

    Defenders of the process claim that "gut-and-amend" allows the legislature to address emergent issues that may not have been acted on before the deadline for proposed legislation in February.

    That sounds reasonable, but the legislature's actions don't always mesh with its words.

    A case in point is SB 791, ultimately authored by Democratic State Senator Joe Simitian. The bill seems reasonable enough in that it requires mammogram companies to advise women with dense breast tissue that they may need additional screening.

    That all makes sense, except for the way that the bill ultimately passed.

    Originally, SB 791 was a bill dealing with transportation issues; it had nothing to do with breast cancer concerns. Nevertheless, it is now on the governor's desk awaiting his action.

    As for Simitian's topic, he actually introduced a similar bill, SB 173 earlier in the year. That bill died after the California Medical Association protested that the bill caused more unnecessary anxiety for women than it did any good.

    That concern, too, was reasonable. So, as is the case in many legislative tussles, opposition by an interest group--in this case the CMA--worried enough legislators to kill the bill.

    Like it or not, that's how the legislative process is designed to work.

    But Simitian used the gut-and-amend process just hours before the legislature's adjournment to repackage his proposal in SB 791. And with no time for further debate, the bill passed along with many other last-minute gut-and-amend proposals by other legislators.

    The issue here is not the merit or quality of the legislation but the process. Under the rules of the legislature, bills are supposed to be vetted through numerous committee hearings where individuals, experts and organizations like the CMA and others speak up. Sometimes they win and sometimes they lose, but the process is transparent.

    That's what makes the gut-and-amend strategy so unfortunate. With a simple parliamentary ruling of the Senate Rules Committee, the committee process can be tossed aside. If that's the case, why have committees in the first place?

    There's nothing illegal about gut-and-amend. Whether it's ethical is another matter.

    More on Gut and Amend legislation:

    The Scariest Week in California Politics

    A New Path for Ballot Measures

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