Today’s Lesson: Concurrent Resolutions and Moving the Previous Question
The California State Assembly spent the better part of 45 minutes on May 11 debating ACR 54. An ACR is shorthand for “Assembly Concurrent Resolution.”
Concurrent resolutions are simply letters, practically speaking. They identify a problem and then offer ways of resolving it. They are not binding. They merely state intent.
Bills, if approved by lawmakers and signed by the governor, become law. Concurrent resolutions are either placed in the circular file cabinet or mailed to some hapless individual or group.
From the length and heat of the debate, a casual observer would believe ACR 54 advocated something so heinous that it could only be trumped by the beheading of doleful doe-eyed kittens.
Actually, all ACR 54 says is that it would be good to give public schools more money. It doesn’t say how much or where to get this additional money. It just says that for a first-class, bang-up education for California students, more money would be good.
Quoting some of the points raised by ACR 54:
1.School districts cannot be expected to meet performance standards unless they have sufficient funds to support academic success for all pupils.
2.Callifornia’s current education funding system does not address cost differences across schools, school districts, or pupils.
3. California’s current system of education finance appreciably underfunds schools and school districts, especially those with the largest number of pupils with the highest needs.
And, somewhat incongruously:
4. Proposition 13, which unfairly restricts corporate property tax increases, has limited the ability to raise the additional revenues necessary to provide the high quality education that Californians expect and to support academic success for all of the state’s pupils.
No doubt the author of the resolution, Julia Brownley, a Santa Monica Democrat, believes that to be the case about Proposition 13. It’s a commonly stated Democratic harrumph that the voter-approved 1978 property tax measure impedes the ability to jack up commercial property tax rates.
Business owners might see the issue in a somewhat different light. But, either way, it doesn’t matter because its just a resolution whose solution to the problem of underfunded schools is the following:
“It is the intent of the Legislature that the State of California generate sufficient funds for, and allocate sufficient funds to, education, so as to bring per pupil spending up to or beyond the national average and to a level that accounts for the actual cost of educating California’s diverse pupil population so that all pupils are prepared at the end of their elementary and secondary education experiences for college, careers, and successful participation in our democratic institutions, no matter where they live or what their economic, racial, or ethnic background is.”
That’s all. It doesn’t say emasculate Proposition 13, tax corporate swine until their wallets bleed or kill every third millionaire and distribute their wealth to local school districts.
No, it just says the Legislature would like California to give more money to public schools. Lawmakers would also like to end torture, famine, pestilence and poverty as well, presumably.
In order for their intention to even be partly realized, the Legislature would have to pass a real bill to either 1) Increase taxes or 2) Cut spending in other programs to free more for schools.
No such measure was pending before the California Assembly. Under debate, for 45 minutes, was Brownley’s letter which, when it wins final approval, will be sent by the Chief Clerk of the Assembly – as if he doesn’t have enough busy work– to the governor, to the Superintendent of Public Instruction, to the chairs of the Assembly Budget and Education committees and their counterparts in the Senate, to the governor’s education cabinet secretary and the president of the state Board of Education. All of whom will surely be edified.
Brownley could save the chief clerk some time and postage by not having a copy sent to the chair of the Assembly Education since, as the chair and author of ACR 54, the presumption is she would be sufficiently familiar with its content not to require another copy. The resolution was destined to pass in the Democratic majority lower house. And indeed it did, on a 48 to 29 party line vote, with 47 Democrats eager to affix their names as co-authors of Brownley’s courageous letter saying it would be neat if public schools receive more money.
There is no excuse for devoting 45 minutes to a letter when dozens of bills, some moderately significant, languish on the daily file. Doing so contributes to the perception that lawmakers are clueless windbags who, a la Nero, fiddle while Montecito burns.
A recent poll found 14 percent of voters thought the Legislature was doing a bang-up job. As one lawmaker quipped during the debate, “I’d like to find out who that 14 percent is.”
Part of the blame for the fiasco must be borne by the presiding officer. Former Assembly Speaker Willie Brown believed a major part of his job was to save members of the Assembly, primarily fellow Democrats, from themselves. At the rostrum, Brown viewed a significant chunk of his responsibility to be prevention of lawmakers looking stupid.
As Mark Twain says, “It’s better to be thought a fool than open your mouth and remove all doubt”. A number of lawmakers blithely removed all doubt.
“I know everybody cares about their children,” said Kevin de Leon, a Los Angeles Democrat. “Democrats, Republicans.”
California’s public education system is “dying the death of 1,000 budget cuts,” said Warren Furutani, a Long Beach Democrat. “It’s not a system any more, it’s a survival methodology.”
Republican Chuck DeVore of Irvine said, “If you raise taxes any further, as suggested by this legislation, there will be very little to tax in the Golden State.”
Several members stated that they weren’t going to speak on the matter but now felt compelled, possibly due to over cheating themselves out of removing all doubt by keeping their mouth shut.
Veteran lawmakers, Democrat Chuck Calderon of Montebello and Republican Jim Nielsen of Biggs, who know resolutions from real legislation, set a bad example for the cubs by yammering on the measure.
Examples abound. These self-inflicted oratorical wounds should have been prevented by the presiding officer, Democrat Isadore Hall, III of Compton.
In the rules of the California State Assembly, Number 87 states:
“The previous question shall be put only when demanded by five members, and its effect, when sustained by a majority vote of the members present and voting, shall be to put an end to all debate and bring the Assembly to a vote only on the question then pending, except that the proponent of the matter pending shall be allowed not more than five minutes to close the debate.”
Traditionally, the presiding officer has a go-to guy or gal up front near the rostrum or at the back of the chamber to flip up their mike on cue and “Move the previous question.”
With only rare exception, at least five persons out of the 80-member body will raise their hand to halt debate, particularly during lunchtime.
Only eight motions can be made during a debate. The motions are taken in the following precedence. Number 8 is to amend the bill. Taking precedence over that is referring or re-referring the bill to committee. Moving to postpone indefinitely trumps that, setting the measure as a special order and then, Number 4 on the list, moving the previous question.
Third is to lay the measure or some amendments to it on the table, second is recessing to a time certain and, topping everything is the one motion in the Legislature that is always in order:
That would solve everything.
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