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Legislation to designate lawmakers' member-by-member budgets as public records, thus putting into state law a judge's ruling last year, was shelved quietly Thursday by an Assembly committee.

Assemblywoman Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield, said she proposed the measure to ensure that future lawmakers would continue to abide by the judge's ruling in a public-records lawsuit filed by The Bee and Los Angeles Times.

"I expected it to die," Grove said after the bill, Assembly Bill 1946, received no Democratic support and lacked the six committee votes necessary to move to the Assembly floor. Five members voted no, four yes, and two members abstained.

The committee killed Grove's bill without comment or discussion.

AB 1946 would have stated that public-records law be interpreted with a "strong presumption in favor of public access to legislative records." It also stipulated that member budgets are not exempt from mandatory disclosure.

Rules Committee Chairwoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, said after Thursday's meeting that AB 1946 was not necessary because the Assembly has not contested the order last year by Sacramento Superior Court Judge Timothy M. Frawley to release member-by-member budgets to the public.

"The Assembly has accepted the court ruling, we did not appeal it, we're practicing it now - and I felt that's sufficient," Skinner said.

Grove's AB 1946 was one of three legislative reform measures killed by the Rules Committee Thursday. The two other bills, also receiving no Democratic support on the committee, were:

• Assembly Bill 1437, by Republican Assemblyman Mike Morrell of Rancho Cucamonga, to require the state budget bill and any related trailer bills to be available for public inspection for 72 hours before a vote by either legislative house.

• Assembly Bill 1887, by Democratic Assemblyman Anthony Portantino of La Canada Flintridge, to require the state controller to audit legislative spending for each of the next two years, after which an independent firm would handle the task.

AB 1887 also would have required the Legislature to return any of its unspent money to the state's General Fund each year, and to approve by legislative vote any proposed transfers of its funds to other state agencies.

Skinner said the Assembly already contracts for an independent financial audit each year. Because the Legislature votes each year on the controller's budget, it would be inappropriate for the latter to conduct such an audit, she said.

Portantino contends the current Assembly audit is insufficient because it is a fiscal audit that looks at legislative accounting practices, but not a performance audit to analyze whether money is spent effectively and efficiently.

"If we have nothing to hide, we would open the books," Portantino said of his bill's demise Thursday.


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