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By California Legislator Kevin Kiley

Yesterday the State Assembly announced it was getting rid of public testimony on bills, abandoning the most basic requirement of democracy: the right of the people to participate in their government.

Just when you thought the Capitol couldn’t get any more insular, the Speaker’s Office announced there will no longer be testimony by phone at hearings, which is the only practical option with COVID restricting access to the building.

The Speaker’s Office explained that letting members of the public state their position on legislation was “disruptive” and “messed with the flow of the hearing.”

I immediately announced a House Resolution to reverse the decision.

Fortunately, this prompted the Speaker to reverse himself by the end of the day. As Politico reported:

“The state Assembly will continue taking testimony via phone, reversing an earlier decision to end access. Lawmakers blasted the move earlier Thursday, with Assemblymember Kevin Kiley saying he would introduce a resolution opposing it.”

I’m now inviting the Speaker to co-author my Resolution to put this right of public access directly in the Assembly rules, so it can’t be so easily removed again.

More than that, I’m calling on the Legislature to start taking seriously the right of the people of California to participate in our state government. Public participation is the essence of democracy, but at our Capitol it’s treated as a nuisance (or “disruption,” as the Speaker’s Office put it).

Just a few weeks ago, 155 parents were denied the chance to testify against AB 2990 when the remote access failed. I thought the least we could do is take a few minutes to read their names when the bill came to the Assembly Floor. But the Majority Leader stopped it.

Every year it’s gotten worse, with the Governor and Legislature finding new ways to deny the public access to our government. Every year, we’ve become less democratic. Here are 10 examples from just my few years in office:

(1) HR 1 – 2018: Allows Committee Chairs to kill bills without a public hearing or vote.

(2) HR 1 – 2016: Lets the Assembly ignore Prop. 54, a voter initiative requiring bills be available to the public for 72 hours before a vote.

(3) SB 96: Makes it harder to recall your Legislator from office.

(4) SB 231: Does away with a requirement of voter approval for tax increases.

(5) Budget Process: Has become more secretive every year, with not a single item voted on at a hearing with public testimony this year.

(6) Budget Trailer Bills: Are increasingly used to make major policy changes without a legislative process or public input.

(7) Suspense File: Has been used to make hundreds of bills vanish without a vote or public testimony.

(8) Punishment – Has been meted out to legislators who listen to constituents rather than voting as leadership instructs, such as being removed from coveted committees.

(9) Spending Data – Has become less open here than anywhere, with California recently the only state that refused to release public spending records to a watchdog.

(10) Ballot Language: Has been manipulated by the Attorney General on several ballot initiatives in order to mislead voters, with the Legislature voting twice in the last three years to let this continue.

*Click here to help me keep fighting at the State Capitol

Kevin Kiley is a Republican California Legislator fighting back against the Supermajority and Special Interests at the State Capitol and Washington D.C. Sign up for updates to be part of our growing movement, and join other Californians of patriotism, decency, and common sense who want nothing more than to save our state and our country.