By Chris Micheli
The policy and fiscal committees of the Assembly and Senate have committee consultants and secretaries (Assembly) or assistants (Senate). The committees are where the major work of the California Legislature gets done each day and so the role of the committee staff is critical to the main legislative function of lawmaking.
The secretaries/assistants process all bills and amendments, log letters received, record votes, and file all reports about committee actions. The consultants prepare analyses for all bills and amendments, both for the committee hearing and consideration of bills on the floors. While the committee staff ostensibly work for the committee members, they take their direction from the chair and, ultimately, the Assembly Speaker or Senate President pro Tempore.
The committee consultants are considered experts in the subject matters under the jurisdiction of their committees. Their analyses are relied upon by legislators and staff in order to cast an educated vote on bills. These consultants also provide legislative history and intent for practitioners and courts in applying and interpreting those bills adopted into law.
In their role, the committee consultants must meet with executive branch staff, lobbyists and interested parties regarding legislation to be heard by their committee. They draft bills and amendments and are often responsible for their chair’s own legislation in that committee’s subject matter jurisdiction. Those analyses serve the critical purpose of educating legislators, staff and the public about existing law and what the bill proposes to change, add or repeal.
The consultants also conduct research and assist committee members with their legislation pending before the particular committee. There is at least one consultant assigned to each committee, but most have at least two and some have more than half a dozen staff positions. The staffing is naturally based upon the volume of work that the committee must handle each year.
These professional staff members are critical to the legislative process in that they prepare the committee and floor analyses that are used by legislators to determine how they will vote on legislation. These analyses are also given considerable weight in determining legislative intent by practitioners and the courts.
Although committee consultants generally write non-partisan bill analyses, everyone has a point of view and sometimes the analyses are written in a manner that may be viewed as weighted more on one side than the other. As such, the bill analysis can play a crucial role in the outcome of legislation. It must be timely and accurate and address the statements of both proponents and opponents of the bill.
In addition, in both the Assembly and Senate, the majority and minority caucuses employ partisan consultants who prepare analyses of all legislation, participate in policy development, legislative research, monitoring and staffing, and assisting with members’ public information programs. In addition, these consultants work closely with legislators’ district offices and keep abreast of political party issues.
Regardless of house, party or committee affiliation, all employees of the Legislature serve at the pleasure of their appointing body. Every employee has to complete an ethics course in the first six months of his or her employment. Thereafter, every employee takes the course in the first six months of every legislative session.
The committee consultants rarely depart their positions, as opposed to staff to individual legislators. It has long been recognized by legislative leaders that continuity and expertise should remain with the policy and fiscal committees. As such, most of them serve for many years in these important roles.
That ensures that their experience and insights can remain with the institution and future legislators and their staff can rely upon and benefit from the committee staff to ensure that the lawmaking process continues without interruption.
Chris Micheli is an attorney and registered lobbyist with the Sacramento governmental relations firm of Aprea & Micheli, Inc. He serves as an Adjunct Professor at McGeorge School of Law.