Do California Lawmakers Actually Write Our Laws?

Who writes the law? Many of us assume that legislators or their staffers perform this task. But that answer may be only partially complete.

In California, a bill's "sponsor" is listed in legislative analyses. This purportedly gives the public important information about the identity of those supporting measures which may become law.

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Who are these sponsors? Often they are special interest groups, and specifically lobbyists, who supported or authored proposed legislation. A recent report found that more than one quarter of the approximately 4,800 bills introduced in California last legislative session were sponsored bills.

But the listed sponsor may not tell the entire story. The rule requiring that sponsors be listed on bills appears to be inconsistently applied. Members of the public still lack information that would give them a complete picture of the lawmaking process. For instance, legislators may rewrite bills which were sponsored by a special interest before the legislative session, legislators may be squeamish about identifying bills as sponsored if the sponsoring group is unpopular, or staffers may fail to list as sponsored when writing an analysis.

It would be interesting to determine whether outside groups have more influence over legislators after the advent of term limits. Thanks to term limits legislators have less seniority, experience, and expertise. It seems logically that they have to rely more heavily on outside groups.

With respect to the electoral process, campaign disclosure, meaning disclosure of political contributions and expenditures, gives the public information about who is trying to influence their vote on candidates or measures. The same is true with respect to the legislative process. Full and complete disclosure regarding who is sponsoring bills allows the public to obtain a fuller picture about which groups are seeking to work with our legislators to enact laws. Legislators are, after all, representatives of the people, sent to city halls, state capitols, and the nation's capitol to serve the public.

Practically speaking, increasing this type of disclosure may not be easy, but that does not mean that we should not endeavor to try.

About the Author

Jessica Levinson is an Associate Clinical Professor at Loyola Law School. She focuses on the intersection of law and government.
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