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Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About California Legislative Committee Hearings

What happens in investigative, oversight, informational, and confirmation hearings?

By Chris Micheli, March 3, 2019 3:00 am

Committees of the California Legislature can conduct several types of hearings, including bill hearings, investigative or oversight hearings, and informational hearings. Bill hearings are obviously those that are conducted to hear specific bills. Most hearings have a similar purpose, which is to educate the legislators and their staff about the subject matter before them for consideration.

The informational hearings are used to gather information about the subject matter of the hearing, usually in preparation for consideration of legislation in the future. The chair, members or staff of the committee generally come up with the subject matter of the hearing. Sometimes, a hearing will be held prior to the introduction of a bill for the purpose of gathering information the committee can use in shaping legislation.

Another type of hearing is to conduct oversight or investigations, usually of the executive branch of state government. Is there concern about how a program is being administered? Or concern about how a law is being enforced? Some distinguish oversight from investigative hearings wherein there may be an allegation of wrongdoing by a public official in an investigative hearing. A subpoena could be issued, witnesses could be called, and it could be of an adversarial nature, rather than an informative nature.

Finally, there are confirmation hearings, which are generally only held by the State Senate, except for those rare instances when both houses of the Legislature consider a gubernatorial appointment of a constitutional officer. Confirmation hearings are conducted by the Senate Rules Committee to provide “advice and consent” on appointments made.

Informational Hearings

While the subject of informational hearings is not contained in the Assembly Rules or the Senate Rules, there are two applicable rules that are contained in the Joint Rules.

Joint Rule 60 deals with committee hearings. Subdivision (b) provides “A committee may hear the subject matter of a bill or convene for an informational hearing during a period of recess. Four days’ notice in the Daily File is required prior to the hearing.” Here, the rule specifically provides for Assembly and Senate committees to conduct informational hearings.

Joint Rule 62 deals with committee procedures. Subdivision (a) provides “Notice of a hearing on a bill by the committee of first reference in each house, or notice of an informational hearing, shall be published in the Daily File at least four days prior to the hearing. Otherwise, notice shall be published in the Daily File two days prior to the hearing.” Here, the notice of hearing rule is the same whether the committee is hearing a bill or it is conducting an informational hearing.

Oversight Hearings

Assembly Rule 11.5 provides: “(a) The standing committees of the Assembly created pursuant to Rule 11, with the exception of the Committee on Rules, are hereby constituted Assembly investigating committees and are authorized and directed to conduct oversight hearings and to ascertain, study, and analyze all facts relating to any subjects or matters which the Committee on Rules shall assign to them upon request of the Assembly or upon its own initiative.”

In addition, Subdivision (b) of Rule 11.5 specifies: “Each of the Assembly investigating committees consists of the members of the standing committee on the same subject as most recently constituted.” Thereafter, Subdivision (d) notes, “In order to prevent duplication and overlapping of studies between the various investigating committees herein created, a committee may not commence the study of any subject or matter not specifically authorized herein or assigned to it unless and until prior written approval thereof has been obtained from the Committee on Rules.”

Senate Rule 12.5 provides, “The General Research Committee is hereby created pursuant to Section 11 of Article IV of the California Constitution, which relates to legislative committees. The committee consists of the 40 Senators, and the President pro Tempore is its chair. The committee is allocated all subjects within the scope of legislative regulation and control, but may not undertake any investigation that another committee has been specifically requested or directed to undertake. The General Research Committee may act through subcommittees appointed by the Committee on Rules. Each member of the General Research Committee is authorized and directed to receive and investigate requests for legislative action made by individuals or groups and to report thereon to the full committee. The committee and its members shall have and exercise all of the rights, duties, and powers conferred upon investigating committees and their members by the Senate Rules and the Joint Rules of the Senate and Assembly.”

In addition, Senate Rule 16 provides for general powers of standing committees and states: “Each standing committee of the Senate to which a proposed law or bill is assigned has full power and authority during the session of the Legislature, or any recess thereof, to make an investigation and study concerning any proposed law or bill as the committee shall determine necessary to enable it to properly act thereon.”

Joint Rule 36 provides for investigating committees and specifies that, “In order to expedite the work of the Legislature, either house, or both houses jointly, may by resolution or statute provide for the appointment of committees to ascertain facts and to make recommendations as to any subject within the scope of legislative regulation or control. The resolution providing for the appointment of a committee pursuant to this rule shall state the purpose of the committee and the scope of the subject concerning which it is to act, and may authorize it to act either during sessions of the Legislature or, when authorization may lawfully be made, after final adjournment.”

In addition, Joint Rule 36 provides: “Every department, commission, board, agency, officer, and employee of the state government, including the Legislative Counsel and the Attorney General and their subordinates, and of every political subdivision, county, city, or public district of or in this state, shall give and furnish to these committees and to their subcommittees upon request information, records, and documents as the committees deem necessary or proper for the achievement of the purposes for which each committee was created.”

Joint Rule 37 also provides for the Joint Legislative Budget Committee and that the “committee, with the permission of the appointing authorities of the two houses, may also create subcommittees from its membership, assigning to its subcommittees any study, inquiry, investigation, or hearing that the committee itself has authority to undertake or hold.”

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