The Most Significant Reform of California’s Political System of the New Millenium

Jerrol LeBaron of Tujunga may well have happened on the 21st Century’s most far-reaching reform of California’s political system – he wants lawmakers to swear they’ve read and understand the legislation they vote on.

Such a requirement would have cataclysmic effects, infinitely more profound than preventing lawmakers from drawing their own district lines or allowing open primaries.

Received May 19 by the state Attorney General’s office for title and summary, along with a filing fee of $200, is Mr. LeBaron’s Honor in Politics Act, which for a number of critics are words that go together about as well as defenseless female, partial ceasefire and Assembly Democratic leadership.

The act makes some initial findings and declarations. Among them that what lawmakers do is terrifically significant and can affect thousands or millions of people, for generations to come, for good or ill.

Finding Number 2 notes that “many legislators vote in favor of bills without eve having read the text of the bills or having understood what they are voting on. Instead they excessively rely on their political party, unelected staff, consultants and lobbyists to inform them regarding the content of the bills upon which they are voting.”

Failure to know what’s in the bills lawmakers vote on is likely a contributor to the state’s current financial crisis, the act says.

The act also notes that while the Penal Code prevents vote trading, the practice routinely occurs, particularly when a bill is “not good enough to be passed on merit alone.” That leads to “reciprocal voting arrangements” which, in turn, leads to the passage of bad bills.

So to improve accountability – something state lawmakers claim they want to do in myriad policy arenas – increase compliance with the prohibition on vote swapping and create a legislative environment in which good bills thrive and bad bills perish, Section 8 of Article IV of the California Constitution would be amended to read:

“No member of the Legislature shall vote in favor of the passage of any bill by either house unless such member certifies that he or she has fully read and understood the contents of such bill.”

Before casting an “aye” vote, a lawmaker would have to submit, in writing, a two-part statement. The first part, which is non-binding, is, in the language of the act, a “heartfelt request from the People.”

Chief among the elements of the “heartfelt request” is that lawmakers reflect the People’s desire for “practical, down-to-earth, real world, common sense solutions.”

Further, because the decisions of lawmakers affect so many people, the act encourages them to remember the “People come first.”

 And that “personal integrity, honesty and honor as a legislator of the State of California are more important than any personal interest, vested interest, other political pressures or your political career.”

The non-binding section closes with the salutation: “Thank You – the People of the State of California.”

Then comes the hard part.

Lawmakers must certify, under penalty of perjury, that they have read the bill they are voting in favor of and understand its contents. If they don’t sign the oath, their vote doesn’t count.

Similarly, another oath must be sworn in writing that the lawmaker has not engaged in any vote swapping on the measure. No oath; no “aye” vote.

The remainder of the measure is the existing Section 8, Article IV.

The act, however, is silent on what – if any — requirements would be imposed on a lawmaker who wishes to vote “no.”  

That may well lead to litigation by opponents and perhaps only be resolved by the California Supreme Court.

Mr. LeBaron requires 694,354 valid signatures to place the Honor in Politics Act before voters. He lists as a contact info@honorinoffice.org.


Filed under: News, Politics


  1. How can someone swear, under penalty of perjury, that they understand something? If they thought they understood it but were mistaken, would that be perjurious?

    Comment by rlee — 5.20.2009 @ 4:11 pm

  2. rlee, you’re missing the point. Just attesting to having READ the measure, amendments and all, would go far in lowering the number of bills introduced and processed. Take a gander at the bills currently moving through and compare the thrust of those proposals with the world outside, the state’s budget in utter disarray, and state programs as we know them about to undergo the knife. There is a mind-boggling disconnect. If the Members are reading the bills they introduce let alone those of their colleagues and not trying to reconcile the contents and the potential costs against reality, then it definitely is time for a Constitutional do-over.

    Comment by Robyn Boyer — 5.21.2009 @ 3:37 pm

  3. Robyn, I think you may be missing my point: the measure doesn’t just require an attestation that you’ve read the bill, it also requires one where you state (under penalty of perjury) that you understand it. What exactly would be the test to see if you really did understand it? You aren’t required to state that you have a good faith belief that you understand it but rather that you actually do understand it.

    Comment by rlee — 5.21.2009 @ 4:32 pm

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