OPEN GOVERNMENT -- Patrick McGreevy reports in the Los Angeles Times, "Although
28 members of the California Assembly supported a measure to allow new
oil drilling off the Santa Barbara coast, their votes are nowhere to be
found in the official state database."

After the measure
failed, Assembly leaders expunged the vote altogether, sparing
lawmakers running for reelection an official record of their
controversial decision. The voting logs made available to the public on
the Legislature's website do not indicate who voted for and against the
bill on July 24.

It wasn't the first time the Assembly has done
this. The little-known practice of purging votes, which experts say
serves little purpose other than to allow lawmakers to hide actions
from the public, is quite common in the lower house, legislative
records show. In the last six years, 71 votes on bills in the Assembly
have been cleansed from the record.


"The message to the public
is 'this vote was an inconvenient vote and we would rather you not look
at the man behind the curtain,' " said Assemblyman Chuck DeVore
(R-Irvine), who wrote the oil drilling bill.


Other Assembly
officials defend the practice, saying that only a tiny fraction of
about 5,000 votes in a typical two-year session are wiped off the
record. They said there are also occasions when a vote on a bill is
expunged but the same bill is voted on again later for the record and
passes.


A bill cannot become a law without an official record of the vote.

"Though
it's rare, occasionally the procedural step of expunging a vote is
necessary," said Shannon Murphy, a spokeswoman for Assembly Speaker
Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles). She said the procedure can be used to allow
"further discussion and negotiation that may ultimately lead to
consensus on a contentious issue."

In addition to the oil
drilling bill, the final vote tally is missing from Assembly records on
a controversial bill last year that would have reduced the punishment
for crack cocaine crimes and increased the punishment for powder
cocaine offenses.

According to the bill, its intent was "to eliminate the racially disparate impact of existing law."

Assembly
records also were purged of the final vote on a bill that would have
created an independent commission to revise some criminal penalties, a
proposal fought by law enforcement groups that warned that it would
lead to weaker punishments. Votes on bills involving the healthcare
industry and the state lottery are also gone from the record.

"It's
a legislative coverup," said Tracy Westen, chief executive of the
Center for Governmental Studies, a Los Angeles nonprofit group that
advocates for open government. "We are entitled to know how our
legislators vote."