State Sen. John Moorlach Laments Union Power in Killing of Police Misconduct Bill

Thank a state senator for more of this.
Thank a state senator for more of this.
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California Senator John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa) has two area Democrats on the Senate Appropriations Committee to thank for blocking legislation he co-authored that would have opened a number of records regarding police misconduct to public and press access.

Democratic Committee Chairman Ricardo Lara, whose 33rd State Senate District includes most of Long Beach, announced at a hearing last Friday, May 28, that SB 1286 would be among the bills withheld. A Republican and five Democrats who include Tony Mendoza, whose 32nd State Senate District includes Buena Park, voted to withhold 1286.

Moorlach could not even get an assist from the seventh and final committee member, fellow Orange County Republican Pat Bates (R-Laguna Niguel), whose vote was not recorded. Bates used to sit with Moorlach on the Orange County Board of Supervisors.

"A bill that I co-authored, SB 1286, did not make it out," wrote the state senator in his latest "Moorlach Update" to his constituents.

Moorlach then pointed readers to the Yolo County Davis Vanguard, which included a SB 1286 obituary, as well as an earlier Orange County Register editorial that had called the legislation the editorial board’s “favorite open-government bill in Sacramento this year.”

Authored by state Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) and also co-authored by state Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) and Assemblywoman Shirley Weber (D-San Diego), SB 1286 would have required that when cities and other public agencies conduct hearings on complaints against police officers, they do so in proceedings open to the public, with some or all of the documents available for public inspection.

Because it would significantly expand the public's ability to access records of complaints against police officers, the bill was supported by the American Civil Liberties Union and the California Newspaper Publishers Association.

Let this sink in a moment: Rock-solid conservative Moorlach put his name on a bill authored by one of the most liberal legislators in the state, Leno, who was among the first openly gay members to serve in the state Assembly. Moorlach's co-authors were two other Democrats, and their bill had the backing of the ACLU, which usually draws hisses at Lincoln Club of Orange County parties that Moorlach attends.

And even more of a GOP pariah: newspapermen!

Little wonder Moorlach was quick to note in his update that the bill "also demonstrates that I can work on a bi-partisan basis with those across the aisle." A committee has been formed for Moorlach's possible run for governor in 2018.

But SB 1286, which Leno has proposed several times in different forms and had hoped to get passed before he leaves the Senate at the end of his term, was opposed by multiple police officer unions.

That's who Moorlach ultimately credits with seeing to the demise of the bill in committee. "The big take away ... is, once again, the power of public safety employee unions," he wrote.

By the way, the role of the Appropriations Committee is to decide whether a bill should proceed to a full Senate vote based on whether it could have state budget fiscal impacts. Of course, this is California, where whichever party is in power instead uses Appropriations to kill controversial bills before they can be openly debated and votes on them can be put on the record.

And so, the Golden State remains one of just three in the nation that specifically protects all internal police records from public view. 

“Today is a sad day for transparency, accountability, and justice in California,” said Peter Bibring, police practices director for the ACLU of California, after the action (or lack thereof) by Appropriations. “Last year, 211 people were killed by police in California–more than in any other state–yet state law will continue to shield from public view the full findings of investigations into each and every one of these and all future killings.”


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