August 28 - pitch-a-bill, the game!


How does government work? Answer: It depends! Which country are we talking about? And which level are we talking about? And then which state/province/demarcation/county/city are we talking about? It’s all a huge spaghetti mess! Almost like nobody designed it and was the result of historical struggle and random drift.

Tonight we’re gonna discuss one piece of a very spaghetti government: The California State Legislature, part of the Government of the United Spaghetti States of America. Then we will play a novel game: pitch-a-bill (trademark pending), where you cook up a bill and pitch it to your fellow attendees in the hopes of getting ⅔ ayes and passing it. Additional rules may be arbitrarily created ad-hoc on the spot in response to unforeseen needs, just like in real life.

California has about 40 million people, and it’s Senate has 40 seats, so each senator represents about 40 million people - more than even the federal government’s senate! California Senate terms are 4 years, and it also has a State assembly with 80 members where terms are 2 years. A person can serve a maximum of 12 years total in any combination of four-year State Senate or two-year State Assembly terms.

What is the difference between State Senate and State Assembly, why have both? Because political history is bunch of spaghetti and things are often more complicated than you’d need to get the job done. Yeah, no reason, they just have different portions of land and people they represent and serve to make things more complicated. Some people argue about checks and balances, because a bill has to be approved by both houses, but, who knows.

Mostly what these the houses (Senate, Assembly) do is pass bills - a piece of legislation amending or repealing existing state law. Here’s how to do it in 5 n easy steps:

  1. Have an idea.
  2. Persuade a member of the legislature to author the bill
  3. Have it sent to the Legislative Counsel’s Office, where it’s drafted into legalese
  4. The bill is assigned to a committee (according to the bill’s area) and sits around for a month for comment
  5. First hearing: the author presents the bill to the committee and testimony can be heard in support of or opposition to the bill.
  6. The committee then votes by passing the bill, passing the bill as amended, or defeating the bill.
  7. Bills can be amended several times.
  8. Second hearing: Bills passed by committees are read a second time on the floor in the house of origin
  9. Third hearing: it is explained by the author, discussed by the Members and voted on by a roll call vote.
  10. Bills that require an appropriation or that take effect immediately require 27 votes in the Senate and 54 votes in the Assembly to be passed. Other bills generally require 21 votes in the Senate and 41 votes in the Assembly.
  11. Repeat Process in other House: if !(assembly && senate) { house = !house}; GOTO #4;
  12. Resolution of Differences: you try really hard to merge the senate_bill_dev and assembly_bill_dev. Merge requests often are not automatic and conflicts must be resolved by hand using vim lot’s of haggling in a two house conference committee to resolve differences.
  13. If a compromise is reached, the new master_bill branch is returned to both houses for a vote.
  14. If successful, the bill is then sent to the governor, who has 3 choises: sign into law, don’t do anything and let it become law anyway (what’s the point of the whole sign into law thing then?) or veto it
  15. If the bill is vetoed, the veto can be overridden by a two thirds vote in both houses. Note that in California this basically never happens because it’s not worth the political cost of undermining the governor.

The california legislature actually provides a pretty decent website that lets you search bills and see what’s up. For example, here’s the text and history of the CCPA, California’s version of GDPR, which was approved last year and goes into effect in 2020. And here’s the current status of SB-373, a bill which aims to allow for providing “vital records” on ~THE BLOCKCHAIN~! As you can see, it has passed the Senate (after being severely gutted), and is now undergoing comments after the first hearing in the Assembly. Godspeed.

Inspired by real life, tonight we will play a game called pitch-a-bill: you come up with an idea (ideally a government like thing generally conceived to be applicable to California in some way) and you fellow attendees get to vote for or against it. Your bill needs ⅔ approval to pass, and then it will be sent to Mr. Raffles to, just like in real like, either: i) sign it into law, ii) don’t do anything and let it become law anyway or iii) veto it.

Please dream up your wildest dreams, then prepare to see it gutted, amended, partially repealed, defeated, reintroduced, repealed again, and re-approved ina fashion that completely defeats the original purpose. Just like in real life!™



PS: Next week there will be no official Sovereignty Club meeting because NeuroTechers, the organization that kindly leases us Sovereignty Lounge under a compact of free association, requested for using the lounge at September 4, 6PM for an AMA with professor Ralph Adolphs who studies emotions and stuff. Even though it is called an “AMA” which usually means “Ask Me Anything”, I should note that this abbreviation must stand for something else, because I was told to “Absolutely not” ask him about politics or in any way shape or form derail the event. Even though he studies emotion and human cognition and social behavior. Go figure. Anyway, there will be nice food, but you shouldn’t come just for the food, you should also be able to feign sufficient interest in neuroscience, not ask him about politics, and ideally engage and ask questions directly relevant to the research of Ralph Adolphs or pertinent to academic experience. Cheers.