The Senate moved forward today with plans to direct mortgage reform proposals sponsored by Attorney General Kamala Harris to a joint legislative conference committee, passing placeholder legislation over objections from Republican lawmakers who said the upper house was manipulating the legislative process.
The move would allow a six-member committee to hammer out the details of the proposals to apply terms of the major foreclosure settlement reached between 49 states and five major banks to apply to all California lenders outside the normal committee process.
The package of bills on the topic sponsored by Harris, which includes proposals addressing problems stemming from "dual tracking" and "robo signings," was pulled from committee agendas in the Senate and the Assembly this week.
It was not that legislative package up for a floor vote today but Assembly Bill 278, currently addressing citations for unlicensed real estate agents. That bill, which was approved with only Democratic support, is being used to trigger procedures to create the conference committee. Democrats in support of the conference committee route said it would allow lawmakers to give due diligence to the complicated and high-stakes policy changes.
But Republicans argued that creating a conference committee -- a step typically used to work out differences in Assembly and Senate versions of legislation -- was a violation and abuse of house rules because the bills had not yet be heard by policy committee. Sen. Sam Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo, said it "raises serious questions about to what lengths this body will go to jam through legislation without the types of processes we have historically used."
"We should not pervert our process to produce a desired outcome," he said, characterizing the conference committee as a move that would lessen the power of members of the minority party and moderate Democrats alike.
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg countered that the subjects set to be addressed were being heard this session, pointing to legislation introduced last year and a budget subcommittee on fiscal issues related to mortgage reform scheduled for today.
"Read your rules," he said. "Read your Senate rules. Because we pride ourselves on following the rules, and in this instance we have done so."
The Sacramento Democrat told attendees of a Sacramento Press Club luncheon later today that the conference committee is the "best way to provide focus" on the issues. He said the committee will hold public hearings. Appointees are expected to be named early next week.