When it comes to providing Californians with transparency in government, the Legislature always manages to exempt itself from the rules it creates. The State has rightfully enacted laws to make it easier for citizens to scrutinize their local governments. Yet the majority party has made clear that in the Capitol, it prefers secrecy to openness.

During my five years in the State Assembly, I have fought to improve transparency and accountability in our legislative process by authoring numerous bills promising a smarter, more efficient and open government. But year after year, the Legislature has failed to act, and this year was no different.

For the fourth time since I was first elected, an Assembly Constitutional Amendment that I authored to require all bills to be in print and available online for at least 72 hours before any legislative action could be taken was buried in committee. This commonsense reform would have ended the practice of backroom deals that only serve to protect special interests. At this point, the Legislature’s failure to act has left Californians little choice but to take matters into their own hands.

Fortunately, our state constitution allows Californians to participate in the lawmaking process when representatives do not heed constituent concerns. The California Legislative Transparency Act, a proposed constitutional amendment, is one such citizen-driven initiative reform. If it passes next year, it will enact many of the reforms that I have long championed.

The initiative will require all legislation to be available in writing at least 72 hours before a final vote is taken in either House. It will also require all legislative hearings to be videotaped and available to view within 24 hours after the hearing.

These reforms will improve the public’s perception of the Legislature and may help to increase an ever-decreasing voter turnout. The Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) recently conducted a poll finding that low voter participation is caused in part by the negative perceptions Californians have about the effectiveness, responsiveness, and efficiency of government.

In April of this year, the Institute for Advanced Technology and Public Policy (IATPP) released a poll indicating that an astonishing 90 percent of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents support reforms intended to make our legislature more transparent and accountable. Californians are sending the clear message that they are tired of empty promises and want reforms now.

Proponents of the status quo will be quick to dismiss the initiative, arguing that the current system allows for sufficient vetting of bills before they are voted upon, rendering moot any attempt at reform. But they fail to acknowledge that other states have enacted similar measures to make their governments more open and transparent. Michigan, for example, has a five-day print rule that was enacted over 100 years ago. Hawaii has a two-day print rule, and Florida a 72-hour print rule for appropriations. Why not California?

Ultimately, the Legislature has a responsibility to ensure that it is providing Californians with sufficient time and information to weigh in on the legislation that will impact their lives. But if it refuses to enact transparency safeguards on itself, I am confident that communities across California will overwhelmingly support an initiative to do so. 

Assemblymember Kristin Olsen, R-Modesto, is recognized as a solution-focused reformer. She represents the 12th Assembly District in the California Legislature, which includes portions of Stanislaus and San Joaquin Counties in the Central Valley.  Follow her on Twitter: @KristinOlsenCA