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Too many bills for California?

Senate and Assembly leaders must set priorities rather than taking a scattershot approach.

January 19, 2012
(Rich Pedroncelli/EPA )

"Not every human problem deserves a law," Gov. Jerry Brown said when vetoing a bill last year, and while we may take issue with his choices of what to sign and what to reject, we believe he was definitely on to something. California is better off today because of only a handful of smart laws adopted each year; as for the rest — perhaps 2,000 in each two-year session of the Legislature — we could probably do just fine without them.

The truckload of bills from lawmakers is in part a result of the state's development over time of an odd political structure. The Legislature has been a full-time body since 1966, and for a quarter-century or so after that California reaped certain advantages of a fully professional team of lawmakers to guide the state's growth, ensure opportunity and protect and preserve the natural environment. In 1990, Californians adopted term limits, and one of the results was that professional politicians began to spend much of their time plotting their next move, currying favor with interest groups to help them make that next move — and writing bills. Bills that responded to newspaper headlines. Bills timed to coincide with interest groups' newsletters. Bills that popped up just as lobbyists were dispensing campaign cash.

The result is too often a scattershot approach to lawmaking, with no clear set of priorities, no consistent agenda, no strategic or philosophical approach on how to change, enlarge or shrink the state's many volumes of statutes.

But California does have priorities. It does need a consistent approach to lawmaking. It does need lawmakers, and especially its legislative leaders, Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez (D-Los Angeles) and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), to slow down and steer the runaway bill express.

In this second year of a two-year session, the Capitol should focus on bills that address real concerns and spike the rest. Redevelopment? Yes, let's see the bill — the state must decide now how to wind down its redevelopment agencies. Generally, though, the burden should be on the author of a bill to show that a new law is the best way to address a problem — and to show that it really is a problem in the first place.

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