Restoring public trust in California’s Legislature is critical.

We’ve watched as three State Senators have been indicted (one convicted). The case that grabbed the most headlines was the one involving Senator Leland Yee of San Francisco who is under federal indictment for gun running.

While all three were eventually suspended with pay, the feeling was the legislature had to do something more.

And to the legislature’s credit, it is taking some positive steps.

“Good things happening,” said Phillip Ung, California Forward’s Director of Public Affairs. “We’re seeing progress on Whistleblower protection and the creation of an ethics ombudsman in the Senate.

California Forward issued a trust platform in April–citing a number of issues that it felt should be adopted and pointedly challenged the lawmakers to act.

Legislation that would give legislative staffers protection to report any illegal or unethical behavior has unanimously passed the Assembly and is in the Senate.

The Senate already passed an internal rule for whistleblower protection for its staffers, but the Assembly bill is a stronger, because it carries the force of law. The California Forward Action Fund will be advocating for the Senate to take a stronger direction while complementing the process recently adopted.

The Senate also passed a rule creating an independent ethics ombudsman and has begun the search to find a person to fill that role.

“These represent a good start and the year is only half over,” said Ung. “More can and should be done.”

Voters have also done their part to improve trust in government by overwhelmingly approving Proposition 42, which was on the June 3rd primary ballot. This measure enshrines in the California Constitution the right for public access to local records and meetings. By this writing, Proposition 42 had earned 62 percent support from voters statewide.

Additionally, California Forward, Common Cause, the Institute of Governmental Advocates, California Newspaper Publishers Association, Sunlight Foundation and the League of Women Voters sent a letter to Governor Brown and the legislators to encourage action on a pressing disclosure issue. The letter, sent in late May, urged them to approve a $10-million loan to begin to modernize California’s outdated campaign and lobbying disclosure system, known as Cal-Access. The letter also recommended providing the Fair Political Practices Commission resources to create online filing of Form 700, the economic interest statement that public officials must sign.

Many of these actions intersect with CA Fwd’s Path Toward Trust, which highlights a number of proposals CA Fwd believes state leadership can adopt.

  1. Modernize Cal-Access
  2. Create online filing of Form 700
  3. Extend whistle-blower protection for legislative staff
  4. Create an independent legislative ethics officer
  5. Enact a 72-hour Read-the-Bill provision
  6. Enshrine the public’s Right-to-Know in the state Constitution

Cross-posted at California Forward Reporting.