Early August signals the approach of a new school year, another football season and the stretch drive toward baseball's playoffs. It is an exciting time. But make no mistake, there also is danger in the air, especially in Sacramento.

You see, this is that special time of year when our representatives in Sacramento begin to display their true colors as well as utter contempt for the public process.

The Legislature is set to adjourn for the year on Sept. 13. Having done relatively little all year there will now be a flurry of activity requiring legislators to work late into the night. Some of the activity is caused by high volume or procrastination, but much of it is by design. The chaos creates cover to use a practice known as "gut and amend" for nefarious purpose.

The concept is fairly simple. It allows a bill to be called to the floor, have its contents gutted and entirely replaced with amendments likely having nothing to do with the original bill and then passed without true legislative process.

The practice was originally designed to make emergency fixes to unexpected matters that need immediate attention, but it is seldom used for that purpose. Instead, it is the tool of special interests who can't get what they want in any kind of fair and deliberative process in the light of day, so they have their minions in the Legislature employ the gut and amend.

The bill that emerges is nearly always a disaster. The list of last-night messes is a long one, but the poster child is probably the so-called energy deregulation bill in the late '90s that was the breeding ground for parts of the Enron scandal. There have been dozens of others.

We now hear persistent chatter that many such efforts may be on the horizon. Everything from special-interest pension legislation to more runs at thwarting public records access have been bandied about.

These rumors are disturbing, but we are particularly bothered by efforts that could severely damage Contra Costa County's landmark Industrial Safety Ordinance.

There are those who would cynically use last year's fire at Richmond's Chevron Refinery to damage an ordinance that for 10 years has been a model for industrial operations by amending it to essentially make it a jobs program for union workers. The Legislature should summarily reject any such attempt.

Yes, there was a fire at Chevron. No ordinance is perfect and some safety changes to it are necessary, but this ordinance has dramatically changed the culture of how industrial work is done in the county because its focus has always been on safety, safety, safety. That is where it should stay.