Friday, February 1, 2013 The CSAC Bulletin
Budget Spot Bills Banned by Courts
Spot bills are a fact of life at the Capitol. At the beginning of the legislative session, in January and February, legislators introduce dozens or hundreds of bills that simply “state the intent of the Legislature” to make some kind of change to the law. Usually, the authors have a concept and are introducing the bills before the deadline while they work with stakeholders on the best way to make the changes they have in mind.

However, Proposition 25, the majority-vote budget measure voters approved in 2010, gave rise to another type of spot bill, ones that the Legislature claims are bills related to the budget and can therefore be passed with a majority vote but still go into effect immediately.

A California Court of Appeal recently found that practice unconstitutional. The case in question had to do with a bill, AB 1499, which had the effect of placing the Governor’s initiative first on the November ballot. While it is too late to change the order of measures on last year’s ballots, the court decided this issue was likely to recur.

AB 1499 was an empty spot bill at the time the Legislature passed the budget bill itself, but it was named in the budget bill as being related to the budget, along with dozens of others. Some of those dozens were in fact passed as normal budget trailer bills, bills that make statutory changes necessary to implement the budget, and those were not in question.

The court found that the language of the California Constitution, as amended by Proposition 25, “does not allow the Legislature to name empty spot bills in the budget bill and only after the budget bill is passed to fill those placeholders with content as urgency legislation” because it “defeats the very purpose” of limiting budget trailer bills to those identified in the budget bill.