The Assembly and Senate’s Star-Crossed Calendars
For the first time in nearly 50 years, the Assembly and the Senate have different calendars.
Separate calendars don’t seem remotely like either calamity or catastrophe but in the insular world of the state Capitol, seemingly small stuff – like summer vacation or lack thereof — often becomes A VERY BIG DEAL.
Most of the grousing centers on the Senate maintaining the traditional mid-July adjournment date for summer recess and the Assembly leaving one week earlier.
Two different schedules for each house complicates – critics contend needlessly – the lives of lobbyists, legislative staffers and lawmakers who must attend to business in each house separately rather than concurrently.
“The workflow in both houses would be more efficient if we were on the same schedule,” said Assembly GOP Leader Connie Conway of Tulare. “The legislative process is confusing enough as it is – there’s no need to complicate it further.”
“The calendar we adopted offers everyone a chance to give more attention to their legislation. That benefits the policy process by allowing more time to consider all the issues before we head into the end-of-session crush,” said John Vigna, a spokesman for Pérez.
For both houses, the “end-of-session crush” occurs during the week ending September 13.
“It all works out in the end. We get to the same place at the same time,” says Rhys Williams, press secretary for Senate President Pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg, a Sacramento Democrat, of the scheduling differences.
The “end-of-session crush” week begins September 9. That’s 40 weeks after the members of both houses were sworn in on December 3, 2012. It’s 35 weeks after both houses reconvened on January 7.
September 9 is 28 weeks after the February 22 deadline for the members of both houses to introduce legislation.
The 12 weeks from December 3 through February 22 proved ample time for lawmakers of both houses to introduce 2,189 pieces of legislation. Special dispensation was given to introduce an additional 63 measures after the deadline.
All of those bills were eligible to be heard by policy committees in both houses beginning March 25, except that date fell during the Legislature’s spring break, which both houses began on March 21.
Both the Senate and the Assembly returned to the Capitol on April 1, the practical date policy committees could begin evaluating and refining those 2,189 bills.
Even if the “policy process” didn’t officially begin until April 1, which it didn’t because Assembly members had the power to rework and amend their bills prior to policy committee hearings, that’s still 23 weeks from the “end-of-session crush.”
Less four weeks in July normally taken off by both houses starting on the same date.
Not this year.
As it has for more than 45 years, the Senate is using the traditional schedule for odd-numbered years of the two-year legislative session, adjourning on July 12, reconvening August 12 and knocking off for the year September 13.
The Assembly, however, adjourns July 3 – assuming the budget is passed — and returns August 5.
A disastrous breakdown of the legislative process?
Not so much. But as Jim Sanders of the Sacramento Bee suggests in a January blog post on the differing calendars, it bespeaks a fairly high level of dysfunction if two houses of the same Legislature can’t agree on a mutual work schedule. There are no plans for reconciliation.
That means senators must return a week early from their summer recess to shepherd their bills through Assembly policy committees.
Conversely, many Assembly members will need to stick around an additional week past the lower house’s July 3 summer adjournment to move their bills out of Senate policy committees.
Some lobbyists will be forced to limit their window of summer vacation to the final two weeks of July rather than the four weeks from July 12 to August 12.
The divergent schedules are particularly onerous for the staff and members of the Senate and Assembly Appropriations committees whose already challenging job of analyzing measures with a fiscal impact will be compressed into a shorter period of time.
It’s unclear how allowing an additional week of policy committee hearings in the Assembly will reduce the flurry of last minute amendments and fevered passage of hundreds of bills that regularly occurs during the “end-of-session crush.”
Oddly, though, the Assembly’s different schedule could lead to some greater efficiency.
Assembly Republican lawmakers have been urged by their caucus leaders to seek hearings on their bills as soon as possible to avoid having to cramp any summer vacation plans after July 3.
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