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THE CONSTITUTIONAL RECESS.
After being in session thirty days, the Legislature, in accordance with the new provision of the State Constitution, took its mid-session, or, as it was called, constitutional recess. The amended Constitution requires that this recess be for not less than thirty days. The Legislature made it thirty-three.
The theory of the mid-session recess period was, that it would give The People opportunity to inform themselves of the measures which the Legislature contemplated enacting. Under the assumption that The People would read the pending measures, and pass upon them intelligently, it was held that public opinion would be aroused to prevent the passage of bad bills and to insist upon the passage of good.
The Legislature had acted in accordance with the spirit of the new provision. Although there was nothing in the recess-providing amendment to prevent action on bills during the first part of the session, no attempt was made to hasten the passage of bills: even committee work was restricted. A number of measures, notably the bill increasing the rates of taxation of public service corporations, were passed, because the situation required immediate action. But these necessary exceptions were few. The Legislature met, received bills,
93 See State Constitution, Art. IV, Sec. 2.
provided for their printing, and then took a recess for thirty-three days, to give The People of California opportunity to take stock of what the Legislature pro posed to do.
The Legislature did more. It provided for distribution of the bills throughout the State. Resolutions were adopted directing that sets of bills should be sent on request to public libraries, high schools, Chambers of Commerce and Boards of Trade.94 In addition each member was permitted to send full sets to not more than ten constituents.95 This ensured distribution in every county, and in practically every town in the State.
When the Legislature took its constitutional recess, the proposed work of the session was literally in the hands of The People. The Legislature had done its part. It remained for The People of California to do theirs.
The part which The People were to do was at best vague, and little understood. If they were to do any
94 In the Senate strong opposition developed to sending the bills to Chambers of Commerce and Boards of Trade. A motion to exclude these bodies from the benefits of the resolution was defeated by a close vote of 14 to 19, as follows:
To exclude Chambers of Commerce and Boards of TradeSenators Avey, Brown, Bryant, Butler, Caminetti, Carr, Cohn, Finn, Grant, Hans, Kehoe, Larkins, Mott, and Regan-14.
Against excluding Chambers of Commerce and Boards of Trade-Senators Anderson, Boynton, Campbell, Cassidy, Cogswell, Curtin, Gates, Hewitt, Jones, Juilliard, Lyon, Owens, Rush, Sanford, Shanahan, Strobridge, Thompson, Tyrrell, and Wright-19.
95 The magnitude of this work was not appreciated, even by the members of the Legislature. The clerks left in charge soon discovered what it meant, however. Some idea of it can be gathered from the fact that the one provision that each member should be permitted to send 10 sets of bills to as many constituents involved the handling of 4,654,400 pieces of printed matter. At the close of the first part of the session 3887 bills and constitutional amendments had been introduced. Each member sent out ten sets, 1200 sets for the 120 members. Each set contained 3887 pieces of printed matter, 4,664,400 in all.
thing they were to go through the 3738 bills and 149 constitutional amendments, a total of 3887 measures, which, when the recess was taken, were pending. They had thirty-three days for the work. Legislation had been brought home to the plain citizen. Incidentally, some of the difficulties of law enactment under the present system had been brought home to him also.
Unquestionably, however, there was general interest in the opportunity offered to participate in legislation. But there was no clear understanding of what that opportunity meant or involved. In various parts of the State more or less systematic study of the bills was undertaken. There was plenty of work done, but no general or connected investigation on the part of the entire people.96
In Los Angeles citizens met in convention, appointed committees to take up the various subjects of legislation, and spent practically the entire recess period in intelligent and systematic consideration of the various measures. The findings of this convention were sent to the several members of the Legislature. The work was probably the best that was done in any community or by any group of citizens. That it had the least weight in the passage or defeat of any measure, however, is very much to be doubted.
96 That the Legislature should take the divided session seriously resulted in much ridicule from that portion of the press unfriendly to the Progressive element. The San Francisco Chronicle was particularly persistent in its attacks.
“The Chronicle," said the Fresno Republican in commenting upon its attitude, “first jeered at the Legislature because it might obey the law. Now it jeers because it has determined to obey it.
The Chronicle's opinion of enthusiasms, ideals and patriotism is exactly analogous to a prostitute's opinion of virtue. It denies the existence of any such thing, and berates those who profess them
than frankly wrong, because they add hypocrisy to the other vices."
At San Francisco, the various San Francisco members of Senate and Assembly went before civic bodies to explain the pending measures. There was at least some good resulted from this—San Francisco citizens had an opportunity to observe the type of legislators the San Francisco politicians pick for them. But that the citizens of San Francisco gained any important information of the general work before the Legislature, or that any San Francisco legislator was influenced one way or the other by the meetings is improbable.
In many of the country districts, the Senator and Assemblyman made it his business to call meetings for discussion of the various measures. In most cases these meetings were well attended, but as a general thing The People wanted to hear about the bills. They had few suggestions to offer.
Various publications attempted to give their readers some idea of what the bills under consideration were. The San Francisco Call started out boldly with this work, but the difficulties in the way proved too much for the Call. The San Francisco Recorder divided the 3887 measures under 227 heads, and published a synopsis of each bill and a complete index. This work appeared in pamphlet form. It was valuable—to experts in legislation.
The Sacramento Bee grouped the more important bills under twenty-six heads, and devoted two columns a day to them. In this way the Bee was able to give its readers an idea of what perhaps 500 of the 3887 measures meant. The Bee, however, was the only newspaper in California to attempt any such systematic work, or to devote so much space to it, or to undertake
Generally speaking, The People did not avail themselves of the opportunity offered by the legislative recess to study bills, because:
(1) There was no practical way of informing the general public as to just what the measures meant.
(2) There was no time within the thirty-three day period for anything more than casual study of the
On the other land, where organized effort was made to inform the public on the merits of a good measure, the public responded promptly, and united in demanding its passage.
This was strikingly illustrated in the case of the Red Light Abatement act. This measure had been side-tracked at the 1911 session." The measure was unquestionably slated for side-tracking at the session of 1913. But during the constitutional recess proponents of the measure held meetings throughout the State to explain its purposes to the public. The result was a demand for its passage which even legislators opposed to it could not resist.98 The measure passed both Houses and was signed by the Governor.99
In marked contrast to the general inability of the public was the alert interest of individuals and corporations directly concerned in pending legislation. They
97 See “Story of the California Legislature of 1911," page 173.
98 Assemblyman Nelson of Humboldt, chairman of the Assembly Public Morals Committee, states that during the Legislature recess, he received on the average fifty letters a day urging the passage of this bill, approximately 1600 for the recess period.
99 See Chapter XXVII.