Doug Heller wasn’t surprised to find himself alone in the Capitol rotunda at 9:30 a.m. Friday morning while legislators got ready to vote on a mammoth bill to reform California’s workers’ compensation system.
That was the time Heller, executive director of the rabble-rousing Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, had picked for his “I Read It and I Get It” contest, which challenged lawmakers to prove they had read the workers’ comp bill before voting.
In his challenge, Heller said he would give $1,000 to a legislator’s favorite charity if they signed a statement saying they had read all of the bill and could answer 10 questions about it.
Needless to say, no one showed up.
“Either politicians should demonstrate that they know what’s in the bill or they should not be voting on it,” Heller said.
Otherwise, Californians end up with something like the 1996 energy deregulation, another hastily concocted legislative deal that has been bad for consumers, Heller said.
Heller issued his challenge after lawmakers announced they had reached a compromise with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. By the time they voted Friday, Heller said, the final version of the bill had been in print for less than 48 hours.
That, according to Heller, is bad democracy. The measure, negotiated mostly in secret and under threat of a voter initiative, was not subject to the public scrutiny bills are supposed to get, Heller said. Besides that, Heller doubted any legislator had slogged through the 70-plus page bill.
“There’s the potential for so many loopholes and so many problems,” Heller said. “Even if we believed that the bill contained the real elements of reform – which we don’t – it’s totally inappropriate to jam a bill through like this.”