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Court Of Appeal Sends Spot Trailer Bills To The Dog House

For some time, I’ve been critical of that bit of legislative legerdemain known as the “spot bill”.  See See Spot Run.  A spot bill is a bill that is essentially empty of any content, usually because the bill makes some minor, non-substantive change such as changing “a” to “the” in the text of a statute. 

I’ve been frustrated by the fact that the California Constitution establishes quite specific rules for how a bill may become law.  I don’t emphasize these rules out of a slavish devotion to procedure but because the rules provide the public with at least some opportunity to know what the legislature may do.  For example, in 2011 Senator Jared Huffman introduced a bill, AB 361, that made two nonsubstantive changes to Corporations Code Section 25600.  Later and much to the surprise of some, he amended the bill to add an entirely new part to the Corporations Code – the Benefit Corporation Law.  See A Leopard Loses His Spots – AB 361 Is Amended.

In an opinion issued this week, the Third District Court of Appeal took on the problem of spot bills in the context of the enactment of the annual state budget.  In Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn. v. Bowen, 2013 Cal. App. LEXIS 38 (Jan. 18, 2013), the court held 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.”  Although this case involves a challenge to a specific use of spot bills in the budget process and not spot bills generally, the court did put its finger on the central problem with spot bills:  “A spot bill, however, does not contain an idea or concept. Rather, it reserves a spot for a later conceived idea or concept . . .”.

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