Lobbying-Reform Bill Moves to Calif. Senate

     SACRAMENTO (CN) – Lawmakers moved closer Thursday to closing a loophole that allows consultants to petition the California Coastal Commission without registering as lobbyists after approving a commission-reform bill, despite strong Republican opposition.
     Assembly Bill 2002 is one of several Coastal Commission bills proposed by lawmakers after the commission decided in secret to fire its director Charles Lester in February. Lester’s firing incited scorn from lawmakers and environmentalists who accused commissioners of ousting the popular director due to influence from powerful developers.
     The bill cleared the California State Assembly with the minimum amount of votes required and moves to the Democratic-controlled Senate.
     Supporters call the bill a “simple fix” that will force paid consultants lobbying the commission to register with the state and reveal who their clients are. It also prevents commissioners from having private discussions with lobbyists within 24 hours of a commission hearing.
     “Whether it’s somebody advocating for the environment, advocating for the coast or advocating for a particular development or not, if they meet the state’s definition as a lobbyist they would have to register as a lobbyist. It’s really that simple,” said Assemblyman Mark Stone, D-Monterrey Bay, who authored AB 2002.
     The lobbying-reform bill was largely opposed by the Assembly minority party, as it totaled just three Republican votes while three other Republicans abstained.
     Critics claim the bill will prevent public discourse with the commission by forcing homeowners and non-lobbyists to register with the state if they wish to fight or support commission matters.
     California law requires anyone making more than $2,000 per month lobbying state agencies or elected officials to register with the Secretary of State.
     Stone reiterated that AB 2002 does not prevent interested parties from attending commission hearings and that it aligns the commission’s communication guidelines with other state agencies.
     “It’s about transparency, it’s about a straight-forward process,” Stone said.
     Following Lester’s firing in February, former Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, blasted the commission for operating in secrecy. She called the firing “murky” and apologized to Californians in a tweet, writing she “thought my appointees would be better stewards of the coast.”
     Atkins pointed out that the commission itself supports the lobbying-reform measure and voted to approve the bill prior to Thursday’s vote.
     “If they support it, to regulate themselves, I don’t understand why we wouldn’t agree with that,” Atkins said before the vote.
     Atkins appointed two current commissioners and one alternate to the 12-member regulation board. Commissioners are appointed equally by the California Assembly, Senate and governor.
     The commission has not found a replacement executive director and doesn’t expect to hire one until early 2017.
     A similar bill regulating commissioner ex parte communication cleared the Senate last month, also on a party-line vote, and is waiting its first Assembly committee vote. Senate Bill 1190 seeks to force lobbyists to disclose private conversations with commissioners ahead of hearings and is also supported by the commission.

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