At this time of year, when California lawmakers are rushing to pass bills before the end of the legislative session, they often resort to a gruesome-sounding tactic: the “gut and amend.”
The process of emptying an existing Assembly or Senate bill of its language -- the gutting -- and then shoving it full of brand new language -- the amending -- has been around for more than a century in Sacramento, says legislative historian Alex Vassar. It's noted as being a favorite tactic of the powerful railroads in the early days.
Many lawmakers say “gut and amend” gives them the flexibility to adapt to the politics of the moment. But critics say that flexibility comes at the expense of transparency, denying the public a chance to see what its elected representatives are really doing.
"Gut-and-amend bills are tantamount to 'bait-and-switch schemes," said Kathay Feng, executive director of California Common Cause, a nonprofit government watchdog group.
The continued use of the gut-and-amend process is, in part, due to the relatively strict deadlines by which legislation must be introduced and then vetted through committees in both houses at the state Capitol.