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Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association et al v. Debra Bowen

January 18, 2013

HOWARD JARVIS TAXPAYERS ASSOCIATION ET AL., PETITIONERS,
v.
DEBRA BOWEN, AS SECRETARY OF STATE, ETC., RESPONDENT; LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA ET AL., REAL PARTIES IN INTEREST.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Raye , P. J.

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

ORIGINAL PROCEEDING in mandate. Petition denied.

The narrow, but potentially recurring and important, question we address in these writ proceedings is whether the California Constitution, as amended by the voters in 2010, allows the Legislature to identify blank bills with an assigned number but no substance (so-called "spot bills"*fn1 ) in the budget bill, pass the budget, and thereafter add content to the placeholder and approve it by a majority vote as urgency legislation. (Cal. Const., art. IV, § 12, subds. (d) & (e).) We conclude that spot bills which remain empty of content at the time the budget is passed are not bills that can be identified within the meaning of article IV, section 12, subdivision (e)(2) of the California Constitution and enacted as urgency legislation by a mere majority vote.

Factual and Legal Context*fn2

Prior to the 2010 amendments to the California Constitution, a two-thirds supermajority of the Legislature was required to pass an annual budget. (Cal. Const., art. IV, former § 12.) Through an initiative measure on the November 2, 2010, ballot, however, the voters passed the "On-Time Budget Act of 2010," thereby amending article IV, section 12 of the California Constitution (hereafter art. IV, § 12). At issue in these proceedings is the language set forth in article IV, section 12, subdivisions (d) and (e)(2).

Subdivision (d) of article IV, section 12 states: "No bill except the budget bill may contain more than one item of appropriation, and that for one certain, expressed purpose. Appropriations from the General Fund of the State, except appropriations for the public schools and appropriations in the budget bill and in other bills providing for appropriations related to the budget bill, are void unless passed in each house by rollcall vote entered in the journal, two-thirds of the membership concurring." (Language added by 2010 amend. in italics.)

Subdivision (e)(2) of article IV, section 12 further explains: "For purposes of this section, 'other bills providing for appropriations related to the budget bill' shall consist only of bills identified as related to the budget in the budget bill passed by the Legislature."

In February 2012 there were 80 spot bills on the legislative docket: Assembly Bill Nos. 1464, 1465, 1466, 1467, 1468, 1469, 1470, 1471, 1472, 1473, 1474, 1475, 1476, 1477, 1478, 1479, 1480, 1481, 1482, 1483, 1484, 1485, 1486, 1487, 1488, 1489, 1490, 1491, 1492, 1493, 1494, 1495, 1496, 1497, 1498, 1499, 1500, 1501, 1502, and 1503; and Senate Bill Nos. 1004, 1005, 1006, 1007, 1008, 1009, 1010, 1011, 1012, 1013, 1014, 1015, 1016, 1017, 1018, 1019, 1020, 1021, 1022, 1023, 1024, 1025, 1026, 1027, 1028, 1029, 1030, 1031, 1032, 1033, 1034, 1035, 1036, 1037, 1038, 1039, 1040, 1041, 1042, and 1043. Each of these bills was assigned a number but was otherwise empty of content. Indeed, their purpose is to reserve a spot on the legislative calendar. Each blank bill contains the same place-saving 18 words: "It is the intent of the Legislature to enact statutory changes relating to the Budget Act of 2012." One of these blank bills is at the center of the current controversy -- Assembly Bill No. 1499.

The Committee on Budget introduced Assembly Bill No. 1499 on January 10, 2012. (Assem. Bill No. 1499 (2011-2012 Reg. Sess.) as introduced Jan. 10, 2012.) It reiterates the language that appears in each of the other spot bills: "The people of the State of California do enact as follows: [¶] SECTION 1. It is the intent of the Legislature to enact statutory changes relating to the Budget Act of 2012." The Legislative Counsel's Digest states, in part: "Vote: majority. Appropriation: no. Fiscal committee: no. State-mandated local program: no." (Legis. Counsel's Dig., Assem. Bill No. 1499, supra, as introduced Jan. 10, 2012.) It was read on January 10, March 19, and March 22, 2012, passed by the Assembly, and ordered to the Senate. (Complete Bill Hist., Assem. Bill No. 1499, supra, at [as of Jan. 10, 2013].)
The budget bill, Assembly Bill No. 1464, was enacted on June 15, 2012, by a majority vote of the Legislature. (Stats. 2012, ch. 21, § 39.00; see complete Bill Hist., Assem. Bill No. 1499, supra, at [as of Jan. 10, 2013].) The budget bill states: "The Legislature hereby finds and declares that the following bills are other bills providing for appropriations related to the Budget Bill within the meaning of subdivision (e) of Section 12 of Article IV of the California Constitution: . . . AB 1499 . . . ." (Stats. 2012, ch. 21, § 39.00.)

Ten days later the Legislature, again by majority vote, added substance to the otherwise empty Assembly Bill No. 1499. (Assem. Bill No. 1499, supra, as amended June 25, 2012.) The Legislative Counsel's Digest was amended to read, in part: "Appropriation: yes. Fiscal committee: yes." (Legis. Counsel's Dig., Assem. Bill No. 1499, supra, as amended June 25, 2012.) As of June 25, 2012, Assembly Bill No. 1499 read: "The people of the State of California do enact as follows:

"SECTION 1. (a) The Legislature finds and declares that bond measures and constitutional amendments should have priority on the ballot because of the profound and lasting impact these measures can have on our state. Bond measures create debts against the state treasury that obligate the resources of future Californians. Constitutional amendments make changes to our state's fundamental principles and protections. In recognition of their significance, bond measures and constitutional amendments should be placed at the top of the ballot to ensure that the voters can carefully weigh the consequences of these important measures.

"(b) The Legislature further finds and declares that the Secretary of State has received funding in the Budget Act of 2012, and an appropriation contained herein, to provide direction to counties regarding the preparation of ballots, and to prepare the ballot pamphlet, in a manner that ...


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