Legislature Plans To Close Entrance To Public, Provide Lobbyists Special Access

John Hrabe
Writer and Communications Strategist

Though it brands itself as “the people’s house,” the California State Capitol will soon become less accessible to the public, while continuing to provide lobbyists with “special access.”

Beginning February 1, the California state Legislature intends to convert its east entrance from public to “employee and lobbyist only,” according to an internal security memo from the Joint Rules Committee obtained by CalWatchdog.com.

“The East door to the Capitol will be designated an ’employee and lobbyist only (with ID)’entrance,” the January 14 memo from the Joint Rules Committee states. “Entry into the Capitol from the North and South doors will still be available, however, only the East door will provide an expedited entry.”

Citizens Wait in Line, Lobbyists Speed Through the Queue

That means average citizens lobbying the state Legislature will be forced to wait in longer lines, while lobbyists are sped through the queue.

Debra Gravert, chief administrative officer of the Joint Rules Committee, confirmed the memo and policy change, saying it’s part of enhanced security measures.

“That door poses a huge security risk to the building,” she said. “Our only alternative was to close that door altogether.”

If security was the primary concern, why allow lobbyists special access to the entrance?

“They’re given special access to jump the line now,” Gravert told CalWatchdog.com. “The only lobbyists that can go through, have ID.”

De Leon, Atkins Promise Public Access to People’s House

Neither Speaker of the Assembly Toni Atkins nor State Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon responded toCalWatchdog.com’s email requests for comment. However, both legislative leaders have vowed to make the Capitol building open and accessible to the public.

“Welcome to the California State Assembly — the people’s house,” Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, writes in a brochure on the state Assembly. “I hope your visit to the State Capitol is a reminder that your voice has an impact on crafting California’s laws.”

De Leon, meanwhile, claims citizens are integral to the legislative process.

“An engaged citizenry is the bedrock of a thriving democracy,” de Leon promises on the state Senate’s homepage. “We recognize not everyone can get to Sacramento to participate in the legislative process, so we’ll bring those hearings to you.”

Expedite Lobbyists, Press on Deadline

Gravert said that, for as long as she can remember, it has been a long-standing policy of the California state Legislature to provide special access to lobbyists.

Although the January 14 memo singled out lobbyists, Gravert says that credentialed members of approved media outlets will also be provided access to the east entrance. She said that special access is provided to lobbyists and credentialed members of approved media sources because they have already gone through a vetting process and are frequently on deadline.

That reason would contradict an unsigned letter from “Your State Senator.”

“While it is important that government be efficient,” promises “Your State Senator” in an unsigned letter in a State Senate promotional pamphlet, “it is paramount that the laws of the state be fair and effective.”

Previous legislative leaders have extolled the virtues of citizen lobbying and decried special treatment for lobbyists.

“In order to truly serve the people they were elected to represent, legislators need to hear from their constituents about important issues affecting their lives,” then-Speaker of the Assembly Fabian Nunez explained in a 2006 pamphlet, How to
Lobby the California State Legislature. “This activity, commonly known as ‘lobbying,’ is all too often associated with paid professionals or Capitol ‘insiders.’ The most common form of lobbying, however, is undertaken by average citizens.”

State Legislature’s War on Transparency

The state Constitution guarantees “the right of the people to hold their legislators accountable.” But, this isn’t the first time that the Joint Rules Committee has restricted access to the Capitol.

Amid last year’s debate over a controversial bill to require mandatory vaccinations, the Joint Rules Committee designated the north and south entrances as lobbyist and staff only.

“Due to the high volume of people expected to be entering the Capitol on Wednesday, April 22nd, the North and South entrances to the Capitol will have a designated staff/lobbyist line,” stated a memo, according theSacramento Bee. “You will need a legislative identification card to access these lines.”

In 2014, as first reported by CalNewsroom.com, the California state Senate scrubbed its website and deleted the online archives of three Democratic state Senators, who were facing criminal charges, ranging from weapons trafficking to public corruption.

In 2015, the state Assembly denied a Legislative Open Records Act request for attendance records for Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez, D-Los Angeles. Gomez called in sick to the Assembly’s floor session to attend the L.A. Dodgers’ opening day, an excuse that would have entitled Gomez to his taxpayer-funded per diem.

Ironically, the Joint Rules Committee concluded its memo by thanking staff for “making a more secure Capitol for everyone.”

Cross-posted at CalWatchDog.

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