Looming Deadline Unlikely to Affect California Online Poker Bills

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Unbeknownst to most people outside of the state legislature, California’s online poker bills are up against a deadline coming at the end of this month.

The time limit is legitimate, and requires that all bills must pass their “house of origin” by May 30, according to the California legislative calendar and the California legislature’s joint rules (page 39 has the pertinent information).

The deadline was first brought to attention by Washington Internet Poker Initiative founder and OnlinePokerReport.com contributor Curtis Woodard, who pointed out several upcoming deadlines. The legislative calendar reads, “May 30 Last day to pass bills out of house of origin (J.R. 61(b)(11)).”

This caught quite a few well-informed people off guard considering there hasn’t been any rush to get these bills heard in committee from the proponents of the bill or from PokerStars.

So what gives?

Both the Assembly bill and the Senate bill fall under this legislative rule and would seemingly need to pass their “house of origin” prior to this deadline…or do they?

Workarounds are available

Before you start getting nervous and wondering why California lawmakers haven’t shown the slightest sense of urgency in getting these bills out of committee and onto the floor for a vote, remember one thing: this is a legislative body and anything is possible if they really want to get it done.

So while the deadline is certainly real, it is more of a “soft” deadline, and passing the date does not in any way kill the bill. Sources have explained to OPR that there are multiple legislative options that can be invoked to get around it should the legislature decide to take up the bill after June 1.

Are these workarounds routine or extraordinary?

In an ideal world the deadline would be met and there wouldn’t be any need for legislative tricks, but we don’t live in an ideal world and sometimes the legislative tactics we grumble and complain about can have an upside, such as the ability to bypass a deadline.

These workarounds (which I’ll detail in a moment) should offer a sense of relief for the poker community, and while they are not needed on a regular basis, the invocation of these legislative bypasses is not an uncommon occurrence.

If the online poker bills are not passed by the June 1 deadline, it’s not something that should cause much concern, as the legislature can do one of the two things below.

Option #1: Gut and amend

Gut and amend is politics at its finest, as a lawmaker can simply take an existing bill they have written that has met the legislative deadlines and erase it and replace it with an entirely new bill that has nothing to do with the original bill.

For instance, a member of the assembly who has a bill that seeks to rename a bridge in their district can “gut” the bill (read as: erase) and “amend” it (read as: put a completely different bill in its place) such as by adding the language of online poker bill AB2291 word for word.

The bill would still need to pass both houses as it has been amended, but all in all that is quite a workaround.

Gut and amend is generally used for contentious bills that couldn’t make it out of committee or when a deal is reached between dueling factions after the legislative deadlines have passed.

Option #2: Rule waivers

Legislation that was not passed prior to the house of origin deadline can also be brought up for a vote via a rule waiver, which requires a 2/3 majority vote for the bill to pass.

Rule waivers are generally used for noncontroversial issues brought up after the house of origin deadline, and would be the less likely scenario for an online poker bill.

The real deadline

The real deadline poker advocates should be keeping an eye on is August 31, which is basically the last chance to get a bill passed through both houses before the election season halts all legislation.

Aug. 31 Last day for each house to pass bills (Art. IV. Sec. 10(c), J.R. 61(b)(17)). Final Recess begins upon adjournment (J.R. 51(b)(3)).

California’s 30 day rule

If you’re wondering why there haven’t been more hearings or committee meetings regarding the online poker bills, California has a 30 day holding period once bills are introduced during which they are assigned to the relevant committee(s).

Once this 30 day period is over hearings can be held and the committee can move forward with the legislation.

Essentially, the California legislature is handcuffed for the first 30 days and cannot act on a bill to allow for possible author amendments and to make sure a bill is not rammed through without the public having a chance to scrutinize it, according to California’s legislative procedure:

Pursuant to the rules and the Constitution, bills must be in print for 30 days before any action or votes can be taken (this provision can be waived by 60 votes pursuant to Art. IV, Sec. 8(a) and J.R. 55).

During the 30-day waiting period, “pre-committee” authors amendments may be adopted in order to give the public more time to scrutinize bill language. The Budget Bill is exempt from the waiting period.

- Steve covers nearly every angle of online poker in his job as a full-time freelance poker writer. His primary focus for OPR is the developing legal and legislative picture for regulated US online poker and gambling.
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