When I was growing up I learned about a place called Limbo. Theologians tell us that Limbo is a temporary place where souls, although purified from sin, are excluded from the beatific vision of Christ on account of original sin alone. That’s some pretty heavy theology for a kid in third grade. Now that I am older and wiser, I still have to admit that I don’t fully understand all the complex theological reasoning that justifies the existence of a place like Limbo. Anyway, I guess getting stuck in Limbo for an eon or two is better than one of the alternatives. My simple mind and faith tells me that everything will work out in the end.
On a more early plane, I do know one thing for sure. Over the last few years, the leadership in the State Capitol has created, despite the best intentions of the founders of our state, a kind of Limbo for certain bills. This new man-made Limbo for certain bills is officially known as Enrollment and is located in the tucked-away offices of the Secretary of the Senate and Chief Clerk of the Assembly. And the creation of this Limbo for certain bills is raising questions about the abuse of the legislative process.
When you come to the State Capitol for a tour, the guide will give you a colorful blue and red diagram called “How a bill becomes a law.” On this diagram, one can clearly see that the last stop for a bill before it goes to the Governor for signature or veto is a place called Enrollment. After a bill has passed both the Assembly and the Senate, the bill is returned to the house of origin for enrollment of the bill. The enrollment process is supposed to be a beauty parlor for bills and that’s all. The Secretary of the Senate or the Chief Clerk of the Assembly will print the bill in the enrolled form, which includes removing any italics and line-outs that indicated recent amendments and adding signature lines for legislative officials and the Governor. After the enrollment process is finished, according to the book California Legislature by E. Dotson Wilson, Chief Clerk of the Assembly, the bill is then to be “presented without delay to the Governor.”
But over the last several years, certain bills have intentionally been kept in the enrollment process. It has become more and more common for the Assembly Speaker and Senate Pro Tempore, in order to gain political leverage in their battles with the Governor, to simply call their staff, either the Chief Clerk of the Assembly or the Secretary of the Senate, and instruct them to “hold the bill in enrollment.” Then they can release the bill from enrollment to go to the Governor or back to the Legislature depending on either success or failure in negotiations with the Governor. A bill that has passed both houses of the Legislature can be put into this Limbo state for weeks or even months at a time. This delaying and power play tactic is contrary to the expectations of many legislators who expect that a bill passed both houses will be immediately sent to the Governor for either signature or veto.
But apparently the author of the bill, Assemblyman Cedillo did not accept this consensus opinion, at least initially. But several weeks later when the political reality eventually set in, legislative leaders scrambled and pulled the bill from the Governor’s desk. The bill would be placed in the Limbo land of Enrollment. But there was only one problem. Such a move cannot be done when the Legislature is no longer in session. And if the bill was never returned to the Legislature and the Governor did not either sign or veto the bill, then according to the California Constitution, the bill automatically becomes law. Several groups that supported the bill threatened to find a judge who would declare AB 60 the law of the land. For several months, it was not clear whether non-citizens had the right to obtain a California driver’s license. On January 14th, the Legislature voted to return AB 60 from Enrollment to the Assembly floor. Assemblyman Cedillo is negotiating with Governor Davis to get a version of AB 60 singed into law.
To me, the lesson is clear. There is no place for a man-made Limbo in the legislative process. The Legislature should follow clear-cut ethical and procedural rules to ensure certainty regarding our laws.
February 1, 2002