Transparency and Our Representatives: How much do politicians owe voters?

The failure of Senate Bill 187 still remains mysterious after The Log’s recent visit to Lorena Gonzalez-Fletcher’s office.

SAN DIEGO — Douglas Adams, in his “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” explained “42” as the answer – the problem, as anyone who read the book would know, is no one knew the question. The opposite continues to persist with Senate Bill 187 (SB 187), where we know the questions – heck, there might be at least 42 of them (and a few of them are listed below). What we don’t know are the answers – one reasonable answer would probably be enough to partially quell the disappointment of California’s anglers.

The Log paid visit to Assembly member Lorena Gonzales-Fletcher’s office in San Diego, Oct. 24 – armed with a few questions as to why SB 187, despite unanimous support in the State Senate and no recorded opposition, failed to advance for a full vote in California’s lower house.

Unfortunately no answers of substance were provided; it was unknown whether Gonzales-Fletcher was in the San Diego district office, and one of her press representatives was unable to provide much perspective.

The Assembly member, who also chairs the lower house’s Appropriations Committee, apparently has a policy of not providing a specific explanation as to why a bill fails to advance from the fiscally themed dais.

Juxtapose this “policy” with the governor’s office: Gov. Jerry Brown often provides the public with an official statement whenever he vetoes a bill. Why can’t legislators do the same? Are legislators obligated to communicate with us as to why they decide not to move forward with a proposal – especially when no one appears to be in opposition of the bill? They are our publicly elected officials, after all.

Also of note is The Log’s experience at Gonzales-Fletcher’s San Diego field office, which is located at 1350 Front Street in downtown (between A and Ash Streets). Her office is located in an official State of California building and home to other legislators.

Her office was initially locked, though a staff member appeared in the hallway moments later, unlocked the door from the outside and spoke with The Log.

The staff member, who spoke to The Log off the record, provided the writer with a few public documents on SB 187 and stated the Assembly member would not be able to provide a comment on why the bill failed out of the Appropriations Committee.

A legislative analysis of SB 187 reviewed by Assembly Appropriations Committee members in July was among the documents provided by Gonzales-Fletcher’s staff. The document stated the bill’s fiscal effect could result in up to $14.8 million in annual revenue losses for California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW).

The analysis did state DFW’s annual revenue losses under a 12-month licensing regime could be offset by potential increases in fishing license sales. SB 187 would have resulted in “unknown potential … revenue losses” had it been approved and signed into law, according to the Assembly’s legislative analysis in July.

Several questions are begged with this analysis. Is the brief fiscal analysis the reason why SB 187 failed? (We might never know.)

Did other state senators and assembly members not know the estimated financial windfall as they voted on the bill?

Has the legislature approved other bills where the potential revenue losses were unknown?

What could State Sen. Tom Berryhill, the bill’s proposer, have included in SB 187 to counteract hypothetical predictions of annual revenue loss?

And just how did the Assembly estimate DFW would suffer between $3.4 million and $14.8 million in annual revenue?

The July legislative analysis of SB 187 cited three states – Alabama, Georgia and Virginia – where license sales declined after a 12-month fishing license scheme, similar to the one proposed in Berryhill’s proposal, was enacted. Virginia had suffered a 31 percent drop in fishing license sales after the 12-month system took effect, according to the July analysis.

Alabama apparently suffered a 7 percent decline in fishing sales after its 12-month licensing system was implemented; Georgia’s license sales reportedly took an 11-percent hit when state officials there launched the 12-month fishing license scheme.

The Assembly’s legislative analysts relied upon these three states as examples of what could happen if California enacted and implemented as 12-month fishing license.

A 31 percent drop in fishing license sales in California, hypothetically speaking, would result in 332,000 fewer fishing licenses sold in the state – resulting in a $14.8 million loss in revenue – according the legislative analysis.

Fishing license revenues would decline by about $3.4 million annually if California – hypothetically – experienced a decline similar to Alabama.

These were the only figures presented in the July legislative analysis – which is what Appropriations Committee members reportedly reviewed while deliberating SB 187. The analysis did not study states where a 12-month fishing license scheme was implemented and revenues increased.

A similar analysis, with the same data, was presented to State Senators.

Did the Assembly’s Appropriations Committee reject SB 187 based on this data alone? It wouldn’t be unreasonable to deny the proposal if the only data committee members had in front of them stated California would lose at least $3.4 million – or as much as $14.8 million – had the bill become law.

Gonzales-Fletcher or her Appropriations Committee members could have offered this logic as the reason why they didn’t advance SB 187 – though there are still two flaws with this line of reasoning.

Where was data from other states where 12-month fishing license schemes are in place and revenues are in the green? Alabama, Georgia and Virginia aren’t the only states where anglers can buy a fishing license for 12 months, regardless of when purchased.

Texas’s 12-month license scheme, to be fair, was also cited, but the legislative analysis pointed out the Lone Star State experienced increased annual revenues from full-fee fishing license sales despite declining purchases. The revenue was made up by fee adjustments to other types of fishing licenses.

A California Sportfishing League (CSL) statement of 12-month fishing license schemes across the country indicated Texas actually experienced an 11.8 increase in sales after the state shifted to a non-calendar system.

Maryland was mentioned in The Log’s previous reporting of 12-month fishing schemes. The Old Line State reportedly earned an additional $20,000 annually after switching to a 12-month fishing license system in 2005.

Why wasn’t this data included in the legislative analysis presented to Appropriations Committee members? Would such information have altered the decision-making process?

The other logical flaw with the evidence presented to Appropriations Committee members: what bearing does the decline of fishing license sales in Alabama, Georgia and Virginia have in California? What similarities do these states share in terms of angling culture? Do we know why those states experienced declines? Under what circumstances would the machinations of 12-month fishing license sales in three Southern states accurately predict whether a similar system would succeed or fail in California?

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Standing Watch/Take Action

In this section you will find resources and supplemental information on what you can do to Take Action. Submit additional information or tips on this issue to editor@thelog.com

What questions do you still have about SB 187’s recent failure? The Log will continue to study and report upon what happened, but readers are encouraged to take action, as well. Here are a few people you can contact. Feel free to ask them the questions we posed in this article (in addition to any questions of your own).

Assembly member Lorena Gonzalez

assemblymember.gonzalez@assembly.ca.gov

916-319-2080

619-338-8090

Twitter: @LorenaAD80

State Sen. Tom Berryhill

senator.berryhill@senate.ca.gov

916-651-4008

Twitter: @TomBerryhill

State Sen. Mike McGuire

senator.mcguire@senate.ca.gov

916-651-4002

Twitter: @ILike_Mike

Assembly member Frank Bigelow

assemblymember.bigelow@assembly.ca.gov

916-319-2005

Twitter: @FrankBigelowCA

Assembly member Richard Bloom

assemblymember.bloom@assembly.ca.gov

916-319-2050

310-450-0041

Twitter: @RichardBloom

Assembly member Jim Patterson

assemblymember.patterson@assembly.ca.gov

916-319-2023

Twitter: @JimPatterson559

Assembly member James Gallagher

assemblymember.gallagher@assembly.ca.gov

916-319-2003

Twitter: @J_GallagherAD3

California Sportfishing League

Marko Mlikotin, Executive Director

info@savefishing.com

916-936-1777

Twitter: @SaveFishing

Fish and Game Commission

Valerie Termini, Executive Director

valerie.termini@fgc.ca.gov

916-653-4899

California State Parks, Division of Boating and Waterways

Lynn Sadler, Deputy Director

lynn.sadler@parks.ca.gov

916-651-7661