Taking Advantage of a Calamity: CA Legislature Seeks to “Proxy” Vote

It’s been over 150 days since a State of Emergency was declared by Governor Newsom.  He’s been a busy guy ever since – he’s enacted over 40 Executive orders that have impacted 200 laws in the state, and he’s begun the process of releasing 18,000 Felons from prison (citing COVID-19 concerns) – 10,000 have already been rolled out of their cells and by the end of August, another 8,000 are scheduled to say adios to prison bars.  Plus, much to the alarm of lawmakers, he also negotiated a backroom $1 billion deal with a Chinese company to buy masks.

As GOC has reported since the COVID-19 struck the nation, the pandemic has had a strong impact on the 2nd Amendment and the many challenges that come with fighting the anti-gun movement. The Legislature took an extended recess, and while things are usually better when politicians aren’t sitting in their fancy chairs voting to take our rights away, we’ve run into a different set of problems: a shortened time period to hear hundreds of bills before they adjourn on August 31, adequate notice for hearings and amendments to bills, not to mention the disaster of remote testimony. Plus, in the Legislature’s absence, much of their power was deferred to Governor Newsom.

“…legislating remotely arguably violates the constitutional guarantee of open and public meetings.” California’s Legislative Counsel  ~ 5/2020

This is frightening stuff – things are bad enough without the Governor taking over.  But now it’s even worse – – the State Assembly passed a resolution this week to institute “proxy” voting, which will permit legislators to be absent from floor sessions.  This means – and wait for it – that they can pass their voting button to another legislator who may live in a completely different area of the state – to someone who does not represent you.  This is a patently dangerous proposition and it is taking advantage of a national crisis.

The Legislature’s own team of attorneys has objected to proxy voting, citing it’s unconstitutionality. In a recent opinion, they wrote:

“… to the extent that virtual legislative sessions necessarily permit Members to be located in different physical places to which members of the public lack access, legislating remotely arguably violates the constitutional guarantee of open and public meetings.”
“… the California Constitution does not contemplate that members of the Legislature may participate or vote in legislative proceedings, including floor sessions and committee hearings, by means of remote access.”
  (to read the full opinion, click here.)

Assemblyman Kevin Kiley (R-Roseville) blasted the vote, saying his biggest objection was that “proxy voting is simply incompatible with representative government. It removes all opportunity to debate, deliberate, and consider alternative points of view. As elected representatives of the public, our votes are not ours to give away. This action by the Assembly threatens the entire concept of representative democracy.”

In the Senate, Brian Jones (R-Santee) said “And if legislative leaders want to ask to vote by proxy, by calling-in and never showing up at the Capitol, then legislators ought to be prepared for voters adding one important stipulation – move the Legislature back to part-time status.  Casting votes from the beach, from a ballgame or while vacationing out of state may seem ‘trendy,’ but it is hardly serious representative government.

The Legislature routinely runs amuck without the raging ire of a pandemic, but by no means does this give permission to toss out the protections guaranteed in the Constitution, no matter how popular it is to do so these days.  California’s legislators would be wise to heed the words of Abraham Lincoln when he said “Don’t interfere with anything in the Constitution. That must be maintained, for it is the only safeguard of our liberties.”