California’s Legislature, Then and Now

Natives of the state who remember the 1960s—including yours truly—remember when our state legislature, especially after the downfall of lobbyist Artie Samish in the 1950s, was a serious body for sustained growth and social improvement, as this article by Victor Davis Hanson in the fine periodical, City Journal reports.

An excerpt.

In January, California governor Jerry Brown, responding to one of the worst droughts in the state’s history, declared a state of emergency. The state legislature, though, didn’t get around to passing an emergency drought-relief bill until the end of February. But California’s lower house, the state assembly, did find time to pass a bill in January sponsored by Assemblyman Rob Bonta, an Alameda Democrat, directing the Department of Corrections to provide condoms to prison inmates. A virtually identical bill passed the state senate last year, which Brown vetoed. The governor apparently thought it logically perverse to provide free condoms to inmates when sex between prisoners remains a felony under state law.

Bonta’s efforts are characteristic of today’s hyperactive California legislature, which has developed a bad habit of passing laws (and lots of them) that ignore the state’s crises and sometimes make them worse—or even cause problems in the first place. Other early 2014 legislation was just as ridiculous as Bonta’s bill. With no rain in sight, and a state economy struggling with high unemployment and entrenched poverty, lawmakers passed one measure that required chefs and bartenders to wear gloves and another that regulated the appearance of toy guns. State Senator Mark Leno and Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, Democrats both, are coauthoring a bill to demand mandatory “kill switches” on all smartphones sold in the state.

Last year, as public pension costs continued to grow, putting increased pressure on California localities, legislators seemed more interested in passing a bill—eventually signed by Brown—that allowed self-identified transgendered students in public schools to choose which bathroom they prefer to use. Brown also put his signature on laws allowing nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and midwives to terminate first-trimester pregnancies; making it illegal for homeowners confronting mountain lions in their backyards to shoot the ferocious animals; and saying that kids can legally have more than two parents. And that’s just a few of many questionable new measures.

California’s legislature wasn’t always so loopy—in fact, a few decades back, many considered it one of the most professional and forward-looking lawmaking bodies in the nation. Its decline has been a principal cause of the problems besetting the Golden State.

California lawmakers once worked hard to attract business and encourage development. Throughout the 1960s, the legislature—a politically diverse bicameral system of 40 upper-house senators and 80 lower-house assembly members—pursued a pro-growth agenda, building a vast new infrastructure for a rapidly growing state (it became America’s most populous in 1963) and ensuring inexpensive but high-quality primary and secondary education for millions. Partnering with flexible governors such as Democrat Edmund G. “Pat” Brown and Republican Ronald Reagan, state lawmakers managed to do this while also fostering a first-class public workforce, balancing budgets, and keeping taxes moderate. New industries—from the wineries of Napa Valley to the high-tech innovators of Silicon Valley—expanded ex nihilo into global prominence. The legislature was widely viewed as one of America’s most serious political bodies.

Retrieved June 17, 2014 from

About David H Lukenbill

I am a native of Sacramento, as are my wife and daughter. I am a consultant to nonprofit organizations, and have a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Behavior and a Master of Public Administration degree, both from the University of San Francisco. We live along the American River with two cats and all the wild critters we can feed. I am the founding president of the American River Parkway Preservation Society and currently serve as the CFO and Senior Policy Director. I also volunteer as the President of The Lampstand Foundation, a nonprofit organization I founded in 2003.
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