Day Four on the Floor

Assemblymember Goldberg has provided us with another day and another look at the pressures and compression of the last days of a legislative session. This is the real inside scoop that we hope will give you a better picture of how politics really operate.
Note that her references to the Koretz firearm bill is one of the six bills that Speak Out California has been following and identified as key measures for progressives to watch in the waning days of the legislative year. Not many firearms bills get through these days, as the NRA has nestled nicely in the OVal Office and kept this aspect of public safety in the freezer. We’ll follow this as well in the weeks ahead if and when it gets to the Governor’s desk.
Meanwhile, here’s Jackie’s Day Four from the Floor report:
It’s 6:40 p.m. on Wednesday night. We’ve been debating and passing on bills since 10:00 a.m. Most people are taking a dinner break. We all fight on the floor, but both parties eat together in the Members’ Lounge, with food being brought in. We all prepay for food and snacks and soft drinks when we arrive in January.
The break began when Assembly Member Koretz mentioned the name of Assembly Member La Suer in his opening speech in presenting his bill for action. Koretz is a liberal Democrat and La Suer is an ex-cop, extremely conservative Republican. Whatever was said, La Suer got into a parliamentary spat with the Speaker Pro Tem,( not to be mistaken for the Speaker….(the “Pro-Tem” usually presides over the Assembly on the dais) and so we left the floor and had dinner.
But that is not what really is going on. We are down to the last bills of the two-year session. The “head-bangers” are the bills mostly left for debate. At the end of session, relations between the Senate and the Assembly are often strained, even among members of the same party. “Head-bangers” are the bills which are controversial, or represent “big” leadership deals. And that’s where we are. The Assembly tends to be more conservative than the Senate. I think it is because smaller districts can be more homogenous than the larger Senate district.
In any case, as Senate bills by liberal Democrats come to the Assembly, they get 35-38 votes, and don’t pass. They can be reconsidered, but the Senators begin to get worried that their bills will fail, while those same Senate authors vote for the Assembly bills of Democrats who won’t support their more liberal Senate bills. So, it is almost 7 p.m., but the Senate has been working on prison issues, and has been voting only on Senate bills back in the Senate for concurrence on Assembly amendments. They are not hearing bills by Assembly Democrats.
So now as Senate bills go up for a vote, some Assembly Democrats are not voting on those bills until they hear that the Senate is working on Assembly bills. And soon, there is gridlock. This is not a Democrat vs. Republican thing. It is a more liberal Democrat vs. more “moderate” (or “business”) Democrat thing. The Senate bills that are not getting enough votes in the Assembly range from making possession of less than an ounce of marijuana an infraction instead of a misdemeanor, to a variety of pollution prevention bills, and consumer issues.
The sad part of all of this is that a lot of good bills in both houses may die. And most of them will likely be liberal Democrat bills. In the meantime, I have some bills in the Senate, so I hope that leadership of both houses will work this out.
At the moment we are debating Assemblymember Paul Koretz’ AB 352, a bill to require that certain semiautomatic pistol be equipped with microstamping technology, which imprints the make, model and serial number of the pistol into the interior of the firearm so that the information is transferred to each cartridge upon being fired. The Republicans have gone wild. They don’t want their guns to be tracked back to them I guess. But the debate is over, and now we’ve moved on. That bill is “on call.” Not enough votes, yet.
The bill that got the heat up again would require the 70 employers in California who employ more than 10,000 people each to pay 6-8 % either in benefits to their employees, or to a fund that would provide it for them. The Republicans said that they just don’t know why we (Democrats) hate success so much? (“Why do they hate democracy?”) Do these Republican speaking points sound familiar to anyone?
I tried to remind everyone that slavery was cheap and efficient. Finally, the bill passed with only Democrats voting for it. (I insisted that prices could go even lower if the Republicans were willing to reintroduce slavery into the workplace. They do not love me when I say things like that.)
Flash! The “war” between the Democrats in both houses is off, for now! It is 8:50 p.m. They are taking up Assembly bills in the Senate, and we are taking up Senate bills. Hurrah!
The scary thing going on now is the effort of Republicans and some moderate Democrats to bring all of the new tribal compacts back for a vote, again, and again. Now they are putting all of the tribal agreements into one bill and will try to bring it up again. The problem is that these new compacts will give the wealthiest tribes huge new numbers of slot machines, and they get exclusivity to be the only ones with the right to any gaming in large swaths of the state until 2030. Two of the smaller tribes have compacts that include labor agreements with unions. But the big “4” tribes specifically asked Governor Schwarzenegger to reduce labor pressure in their compacts, and because Schwarzenegger is so anti-union himself, he was oh so happy to agree. The Democrats in the Assembly have decided not to pass these compacts this year, but to wait until January 2007, and the new legislative session to take this up. There is no hurry, because the current compacts are not ready to expire for many, many years.
So why would the Governor renegotiate compacts at the end of the session (they were signed by the Governor this week!)? Well, there is an election in November. The Governor wants to paint a picture of being pro-sovereignty of Native Americans in California. But most importantly he wants their vast amounts of money to be in his campaign, and not in the Angelides campaign. So, he is trying to jam the legislature, at the last minute, to do this. In addition, the largest casino tribes want to remove, diminish, or eliminate most of the labor protections in the original compacts negotiated by Gray Davis. They weren’t much and have not really been enforced by tribal leaders. We all voted for them, because the Native American tribes were so poor and we felt a need to let them do the gaming any way they wanted.
Now, however, the largest tribes are large corporate-type casino owners. And some Democrats want to pursue labor legislation like we pursue it with other wealthy business interests. There is division among Assembly Democrats, but we all agree that it is too late in the session to fully understand these complicated compacts, and perhaps it is best to do this in the light of day, in January, since the compacts are not expiring and there really is not near deadline to get this done.
The tribal leaders are furious at Assembly Democrats. Senate Democrats voted to ratify these compacts. There are rumors that the Senate campaign funds for November have already been enriched by $ I million. I am sure there was no commitment made to get money for voting for their compacts, but by the Senate Democrats voting first, it means that they will reap rewards while Assembly Democrats have to decide whether or not to vastly expand gambling in California. (Some “conspiracy theorists”, and there are always conspiracy theories about everything in the last two or three days of the session, believe that the Senate Democrats want the Assembly Democrats to delay ratification until January, 2007 so that Senate Democrats get the money, but the state does not get a huge increase in gambling, and compacts until 2030 which require almost no labor peace at these multi-millions of dollars casinos.)
It’s 12:35 a.m. We’ve been at this well-over 14 hours. That is another reason so much mischief goes on at the end of two year sessions. We are all exhausted. Thank goodness we will close down until 10:30 a.m. tomorrow. Almost all the bills “on call” have been passed, including some really good “head bangers.” A few failed, and perhaps we will reconsider them tomorrow.
Good morning.
Thank you, Jackie……….We look forward to your report on the final day of session and all its contortions, successes and disappointments.

Day Three on the Floor

With session rapidly coming to a head—and a close no later than Thursday, August 31st, Assemblymember
Jackie Goldberg is focusing on the way the process of voting works when the “leadership” starts turning the screws on its members. Here she talks about how “Speakerizing” works in action, focusing on AB 1381— the bill sought by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to provide him with control over the LA Unified School District.
It is no secret that the Speaker, Fabian Nunez, is a close friend of the Mayor and wanted this bill to pass. Here’s Jackie’s view of how the dance was done:
Now, at 3:30 in the afternoon, I am going to try to help you understand the role of Leadership in the Assembly. The Assembly has 80 members, 48 of whom are Democrats. The majority party essentially selects the Speaker of the Assembly, who becomes extremely powerful by virtue of that election.
The Speaker is charged first and foremost with keeping her/his party in the majority. The majority party has all but total control of who will chair each of the committees. Each committee has a majority of members who are from the majority party. The Speaker decides a member’s office size and location. The Speaker sets each member’s budget for staff, on which committees they will serve, and if they will chair a committee. Through the Majority Leader, always a trusted member of the Speaker’s team, the Speaker controls the movement of bills once they are on the floor. The Speaker can remove members of committees for one day if they are not voting on a bill important to the Speaker, and replace them with members who will vote as the Speaker wants. The other close members of the Speaker’s team are the chairs of the Appropriations Committee, the Budget Committee, and the Rules Committee.
The Rules Committee decides which and how many committees each bill must pass before coming to the floor for a vote. The Appropriations Committee Chair literally sits down with the Speaker to decide which bills would get out of Appropriations, which should be amended there, and which should be killed. And the Budget Chair works closely with the Speaker on fashioning the deals that allow the various bills to be funded if and when they pass the policy committee. These are powers that make the Speaker almost king-like!
So let’s look at how these awesome powers permit the Speaker to get what he wants done. Take for example AB 1381. AB 1381 started out life as a bill by Speaker Nunez that would help set up vegetable gardens at some of the state’s elementary schools. Then when Los Angeles Mayor Villaraigosa decided he wanted to “take over” control of the LAUSD public schools he waited until the original language passed the Assembly. Then in the Senate, he did a “gut and amend” and put into the bill the proposal sponsored by the L.A. Mayor.
That bill has now been amended many, many times in the Senate. But it cannot be amended in the Assembly and was never heard in any Assembly committee until today, Thursday. The bill was heard in the Education committee, but no amendments could be taken. By deciding to put the bill’s contents in an Assembly bill after it left the Assembly, the Speaker guarantees that he only has to take amendments in the Senate and can better control the bill. It got out of the Assembly Education committee and moved directly to the Assembly floor.
At about 5 p.m. the bill was brought up for a vote on the Assembly floor. Our rules require a waiting period before we vote on items that come out of committee. But the Speaker asked for a vote to take it up today. Procedural votes are almost always along party lines. If our floor leader asks for an “aye” vote on a procedure, we all vote for the procedural motion, even if we are not in favor of the bill.
The vote was taken, and it is “on call.” That means it did not get the necessary 41 votes, but the proponents have until the meeting closes to talk to members and try to get them to vote for their bill. Right now the bill has 30 votes and needs 11 more. There were 21 “no” votes, and 28 people decided not to vote either way.
Here is where the Speaker”s power is critical. This bill has been “Speaker-ized.” That is a term that means that the Speaker will negotiate with those who have not yet voted for the bill. The negotiation can be promises or it can be penalties. There were 13 Democrats who have not voted on the bill. Now the problem for the Speaker is that 8 of the 13 are not returning to the Assembly next year. So penalties regarding budgets, offices, and committee assignments are not helpful in giving the Speaker any leverage. But five of the “not voting” Democrats are returning next year. That probably means that the Speaker will get some of them to vote for the bill. The Speaker will also speak to Democrats that voted “no”, but only one of them is a returning member. And there were no Republican “aye” votes on the bill, so we can expect at least a few of them will be called into the Speaker’s office one at a time, and the carrot and the stick will be there too.
And, if the bill fails to pass tonight, it can be brought up again on Reconsideration. In fact it can also be brought up on Thursday as well. So, when a bill is “Speaker-ized” , it almost always gets passed, sooner or later.
This is not good or evil per se. It is in fact how some of the best legislation gets passed. The legislature would never be able to do landmark environmental legislation, or critical consumer protection laws without bills being Speaker-ized. The question is always one of point of view. When reactionaries are in power, as they are in Washington D.C., we can see what this same power can do to harm the nation. The danger is always the same. One must always worry about the immense power of corporate America on our leadership and how its money influences such decisions.
Some say this is a terrible way to run things. It does sometimes result in people voting a different way than they actually believe. But there is a check on the Speaker’s power. If the Speaker uses his power to Speaker-ize a bill too often, a vote of the majority of the Democrats could remove him as Speaker. So, it is a way for the Speaker to all but guarantee success of a certain bill. But it must be made clear that Assembly members can say “no”, and they do. At lease three returning members are committed to opposing this bill one way or another, or so they say. We shall see.
So, now at 7:30 p.m. the “call” was lifted. From 30 votes, in 10 seconds, the vote went to 42 votes, and the bill passed. Three Democrats who voted “no” went to “aye” and nine Democrats who abstained from voting previously, went to “aye.” In the final analysis, two returning members voted “no”, as did one new Senator-elect, and two members leaving the Assembly, abstained. Now, several Republicans will add on in private, and the vote will look very good. The Governor will sign it tonight, and there will be a celebration at a Charter school in Los Angeles tomorrow. The celebration invitations went out from the Mayor’s office at about 5 p.m. tonight, BEFORE the bill went up for its first vote. Now, that’s power.
Thanks again, Jackie, for describing how power and control can influence legislation so significantly.
It is clear that where there is a will, there is a way—-even in politics!
Jackie has promised us one more blog, at least, “From the Floor”.

On the Floor again -Part Two

Our blog entry from the Assembly Floor last week received a great deal of praise and interest. We asked our friend and big-time Speak Out California supporter, Assemblymember Jackie Goldberg to continue providing us with her observation from the Floor. Below are her comments from Monday’s long and fast-paced session, which included passage of SB840, Senatof Sheila Kuehl’s ground-breaking Health Care for All measure:
It’s 1:21 p.m. and we’ve been in session since 11 a.m. and we have passed 36 bills so far. Whew! That is an exciting pace to say the least. We are voting on “Concurrence” bills first. These are the bills that passed the Assembly long ago, went to the Senate, and are coming back because they were amended in the Senate. We are required to pass IDENTICAL measures, so that is why we have this second Assembly vote. It is also why we can pass so many bills in such a short time.
But these last four days are when all the mischief that is going to happen, happens. The hallways are filled with lobbyists; and our offices are filled with lobbyists as well. People want to stop some bills, and to gather support.
Why do I say “mischief”? Well, this is a time when any bill not passed by Thursday is dead, dead, dead.
The deals that are made by majority party leadership at the end of session are often on the most controversial bills. This year some of the controversies are: AB 32 by Pavley and Nunez which will reduce emissions that cause global warming in California by 25% by the year 2020: a Senate bill that would extend the compact with the Agua Caliente Tribe for 24 more years, without labor protection, and with an exclusivity provision that covers Los Angeles, Riverside, San Diego, Orange County and San Bernardino counties. That means that only federally recognized tribes could be approved to compete with this Palm Springs tribe for the next 24 years; an Assembly bill by Speaker Nunez that would have the effect of having the state negotiate with the pharmaceutical companies to reduce the cost of medication for those who are not insured for medications; and a bill that changes how the Los Angeles Unified School district will be governed.
There are many key bills that are being brought forth this year, because it is an election year for Governor Schwarzenegger. Since he is trying to “remake” himself into a “moderate Democrat” some Democrats are trying to push the envelope while the opportunity exists,with bills like SB 840 (Kuehl) that would provide universal healthcare to all California residents. Also, we will put on the Governor’s desk, a bill that will raise the state’s minimum wage to $8.00 per hour over the next 18 months.
When a bill receives fewer than 41 votes, it is put “on call ” so that the author can try to persuade members to bring the count to the 41 votes required for passage. In this session, we already have 10 bills “on call.” One such bill is SB 1283 (Chesbro). This bill would require retailers to conspicuously post the requirements for customers if they want to return or exchange items they have purchased. Now why would this bill not pass easily? Well, it takes 41 votes to pass most bills, and there are 48 Democrats in the Assembly. This means that if eight Democrats don’t vote for a bill, it usually cannot be passed. At this time, there are more than eight Democrats in the Assembly who say they are a part of the “moderate caucus”. Progressive Democrats call them the “business caucus.” Six to eight years ago, then Speaker Bob Hertzberg started fundraising for “business” Democrats in primary election races among Democrats. Now we have a bloc of Democratic Assemblymembers who literally kill consumer protection legislation, tenant rights legislation, and many environmental bills as well. Who are these “business” Democrats? Well, there are some full-time members, and others who move in- and- out of the category. Those who usually oppose progressive legislation are: Joe Canciamilla, Ed Chavez, Ron Calderon, Barbara Matthews, Nicole Parra, Joe Baca, Jerome Horton, and Juan Arambula. Those who join in, depending on the bill are: Rudy Bermudez, Rebecca Cohn, Ted Lieu, Gloria Negrete-McLeod, Jennie Oropeza, Alberto Torrico, Tom Umberg and Juan Vargas. That is a total of 16 members from which only eight need to vote “no”, to stop a progressive piece of legislation. And they do defeat them. In the time it has taken me to write this, four more bills have been put “on call.”
These 16 people receive more than their share of funds from the large corporate interests in California and the United States. Now, don’t misunderstand. These above-named members are good Democrats. They vote for the budget, most of them vote for civil rights for all Californians, and they surely vote for many progressive labor bills In fact, most of them having a 100% vote on labor legislation. Some of these “business” Democrats represent moderate or even conservative districts, and are reflecting the views of their constituents. Others are just more moderate in their views, regardless of their district. If we are to get progressive legislation passed to protect consumers, the environment, and tenants we must look to the primary election in districts where progressive Democrats can win if we organize and find progressive candidates and support them.
That’s all for now. Stay tuned as we look at bills that are “Speaker-ized.”
Thank you, Jackie, for more insightful information about the floor activities.
By-the-way, “Speakerized” is an expression that describes a bill that the Speaker strongly supports and means he (maybe someday it will be a she) wants to be passed. Such a directive tends to carry more weight with members. If the Speaker is going to bat for a bill, whether his/her own or not, generally, the majority will vote for it. (The speaker has the power of the Perks—and all members know it).
Jackie promises more to come………….

Floor action in the Legislature

Earlier this week, I asked Speak Out California’s big supporter, AssemblymemberJackie Goldberg, to share her thoughts and observations with us as the Legislative process unwinds in the frantic last days of session. The following is her direct-from-the-Assembly-floor analysis of the day’s activities. It’s no wonder we shouldn’t be watching how legislation or sausage are made! And as you can see further, the power and influence of lobbyists can be overwhelming, if not simply undemocratic. From the floor on Thursday, August 24, 2006:
It’s about noon, and we, in the Assembly, are all in Legislative Session on
the”floor.” We have been at it since about 9:30 a.m. There are 101
amendments on 96 bills before us today. Among the amendments there are 18
amendments that begin with the words,”Delete the language in the current
bill” We call such bills “gut and amend bills.” There are two ways to do
this process. Both require permission of the Speaker of the Assembly and/or
the permission of the Senate Pro Tem. The first is to revive a bill that
was held in some committee and thus was “killed” earlier in the process.
The other is to introduce a new issue, the need for which occurred in recent
days, long after all the deadlines for introducing new bills had passed.
We have both in the 18 “gut and amends” before us. For the bills that
“died” in other committees, it is just new life. They have mostly been
heard in two to four committees, and for some reason, lost out in the
process. We who vote on those bills, have indeed already heard them, and
are familiar with them. But the second group, the “new” bills, we must
scurry to read and understand. They will get a very brief visit in a
committee, but the kind of scrutiny bills normally get will be missing.
Often, the late amended bills and the “gut and amends” are the result of
deals made among the lobbyists for and against the bill. Sometimes, they
are items slipped in the middle of the night (literally!) and people vote on
them thinking they know what the bill says, but actually it has been
dramatically changed.
Let me give you an example from last year. On the very last day of session,
a bill by Senator Maldonado was on the floor of the Assembly for action.
The bill allocated about $18 million to provide “fresh fruit and vegetables”
to schools for their breakfast programs. We all thought this was great and
it passed the Assembly and Senate with full hearings from the Members. But,
late at night., amidst lots of chaos we got an amendment, amidst literally
70-80 other amendments. The change was to eliminate the work “fresh” and to
substitute the word “nutritious.” A deal had been made in the Governor’s
office to allow canned fruit, dried fruit, and otherwise processed fruit and
vegetables to be served with the new subsidy. The amendment almost went
unnoticed. But it was caught. Now mind you, this bill was in the
Governor’s package of bills designed to reduce obesity in children. But
because those who can goods were powerful supporters of Schwarzenegger, he
allowed his bill to be amended to allow a subsidy for canned fruit in HEAVY
syrup! After much misinformation about how the law would be carried out, it
was amended again. This time they added words that would say the “priority”
would be for “fresh fruits and vegetables.” The bill passed.
One of today’s proposed “gut and amends” is SB 1696 by Senator Joe Dunn (D).
The existing bill was designed to prohibit the state’s National Guard from
engaging in domestic surveillance. That bill, if the amendment passes will
die. Instead, SB 1696 will become a labor bill designed to upgrade the pay
of employees of the Los Angeles County Superior Court. Now, I support the
new bill, but I am disappointed that we are losing Senator Dunn’s original
bill to do it.
Now, stay tuned, because it is possible that Sen. Dunn’s National Guard bill
will reappear at a different “gut and amend.”
Jackie has indicated she might continue this “series” during the final week of session, so long as the hijinks continue to make this an interesting and insightful discussion.

Getting into crunch time

With the end of session only eight days away, and a major gubernatorial election coming this November, the legislature is frantically trying to push through key legislation that will allow it to claim some victories and progress going into the election season. Of course, so is the Governor as he tries to re-establish his damaged credentials as anything but a right-wing movie-star-turned-politician. Schwarzenegger and his Bush advisors are desperate to have some constructive accomplishments that appeal to California’s average voter. So he’s got to do more than demonstrate he’s Big Businesses lackey and sign into law some legislation that actually does something for the average Californian.
The Democratic leadership is, of course, well aware that this is the year for major reform efforts to force Schwarzenegger to move out of his Right-wing stupor and become the governor he promised he would be. To force his hand, Democrats and Progressives have targeted important legislation like increasing the minimum wage and making healthcare available for all Californians. If we can’t get this key legislation signed into law this year, and if Schwarzenegger gets re-elected, there is no way he is going to sign legislation creating these important reforms during his next four year term
All the political experts agree that Schwarzenegger needs to appeal to the center to get re-elected. Of course, should he be re-elected, we can expect another George Bush-like performance after he was handed his second term— he won’t and doesn’t have to give a damn about the will of the people or doing anything but handing out favors to his supporters and mugging for the camera—something we know our Governor does only too well. Bottom line: It’s now or never for important efforts to help working people and to make California a leader in providing health care to its people.

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Don’t let Big Tobacco supporters off the hook

Now that a federal court has stated what most Americans have known for years—that Big Tobacco companies are guilty of conspiracy and lying to the public about the risks of smoking so they can continue to generate high profits, it’s time to stop the obvious and unabashed flow of this dirty money into campaigns of those seeking public office or running initiative campaigns.
Thursday’s ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler puts the final nail in Dirty Tobacco’s coffin. It is an industry that is the pinnacle of corruption and promotes a product that is a known insidious killer. Although her ruling offered little in the way of sanctions that Big Tobacco deserved (she cited a recent Court Of Appeals case precluding her from imposing meaningful financial penalties), she didn’t mince any words in issuing her 1653 page opinion.
What she did say, in no uncertain terms, is that over the course of 50 years, Big Tobacco has “lied, misrepresented, and deceived the American public” about the health impacts of smoking and second-hand smoke. In addition, she found that the major tobacco companies “suppressed research, destroyed documents, manipulated the use of nicotine so as to increase and perpetuate addiction, and distorted the truth about low-tar and light cigarettes so as to discourage smokers from quitting.”

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We need clean money to clean up politics and our arteries

With the mad dash to end the legislative session in three weeks, the legislature is making no bones about the fact that the money players had better step up with campaign cash before then. No doubt about it—with a record number of political fundraising events scheduled this month, the message is clear: It’s time to pay up if you want any consideration for bills blasting through the legislative process and onto the Governor’s desk for signature or veto.
Of course, the number one culprit in all this is our Governor. He has taken political pay-to-play to a new and embarassing level. With hundreds of millions of dollars already spent by him or on his behalf by big corporate special interest and equal amounts yet to be sucked in by his well-honed and shameless vacuum-cleaner approach to policy-making, this Governor has given new meaning to the word “reform” which he has misapplied to virtually all of his self-dealing, ethics-devoid behavior while playing the role of Governor for the past three years.
But at this time of year, to see the legislature following so blatantly in Schwarzenegger’s footsteps is truly the rallying call for passage of Proposition 89- the Clean Money Initiative. As I write this entry, there are more than 20 fundraisers scheduled today—equal parts Republican and Democrat. The folks in Sacramento count about 75 of these “fundraisers” scheduled during August. These stand-up, finger-food and mediocre wine fests permeate the numerous eating establishments around the Capitol, (usually within walking distance of each other so lobbyists can run between several of them scheduled at the same time). In the second and final year of a legislative session, this type of open and unabashed pandering has become unconscionable, even by political standards. Is it any wonder the public doesn’t trust, like or care about Sacramento’s politicians? Whether campaign contributions do or do not actually influence the course of legislation, they create such a bleak perception about just what is and isn’t important ( special-interests yes, public interests, no) that the battle for public confidence is lost, regardless.

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Let’s Housebreak Big Corporations

Last week, Speak Out California launched its newsletter as our way to thank you for your interest and commitment to ensuring our state pursues its progressive agenda and that we succeed in bringing our vision to the people of California. If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s here, and you can go straight to the action alert as well. We hope you’ll sign up to receive each edition and urge your like-minded friends and colleagues to do so as well.
The battle lines in the political world have never been more clearly drawn than they are today. With the tragic success of the neoconservative, big corporate take-over in many parts of the country, we in California know that now is the time for progressives to take action and re-assert our vision of democracy, fairness and justice for the rest of the country to see and emulate. With the legislature in its last month of session, there are many key progressive bills that give us the opportunity to lead yet again, in bringing forth meaningful and powerful change for our state and nation.
In our newsletter we call it the Housebreaking of Big Corporations. We’ve identified half a dozen important measures that we believe will help clean up the messes big corporations have made in their pursuit of nothing other than profit—creating greenhouse gases (energy companies and manufacturers) to death and destruction (firearm manufacturers and dealers) to healthcare reform and protecting the integrity of elections themselves. (For the explanations of these six bills, check out the action alert for a brief summary of each).

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Crazy Dayz

As the Legislature enters the last frenetic 4 weeks of its two year legislative session, the intensity of the process becomes even more frantic and crazy. With approximately 1500 bills yet to be resolved, the tempo and tension in the Capitol grows to a fever pitch. This is the time when the overwhelming majority of difficult, complicated and controversial legislation is either passed or defeated. The method is of little moment to those trying to kill bills and the effort to protect the integrity of significant legislation puts authors and supporters at heightened stress.
So let’s add to that picture the Governor’s transparent call for a Special Session, called because he’s in duck soup with the court over his refusal to make any meaningful or effective changes to a corrections system out-of-control. Our big super-hero won’t touch the issue beyond a call for more bricks and mortar to house the estimated 40,000 inmates that have or will further overcrowd our prisons. Hang-em high–the actor’s way of dealing with a worsening, financially overwhelming situation. But of course we know you can’t dig your way out of a hole. And this Governor hasn’t the courage and insight to come up with a plan that will stem the tide of recidivism in California—which is the highest in the nation, nor set forth a plan for rehabilitation that takes into account the successes of other states where actual efforts are made to educate and socialize these people so that they can lead constructive and crime-free lives when they are released from prison—and almost all of them will be.
He hasn’t come forward with any specific ideas or legislation for his Special Session to address the fact that so many crowding our prisons today are there for strictly drug-related offenses; that they present little threat to the community at large, and that the point of incarcerating people to the tune of over $30,000 per year and climbing astronomically, is to keep the dangerous criminal off our streets and away from our communities. This is as it should be. But we’re putting more and more “low-level” criminals in the big house, rather than deal with them in either drug-treatment settings, local facilities or other alternatives that are both more effective and less expensive.
The Sacramento Bee did an outstanding series on this issues this past week and the L.A. Times has also weighed in extensively on the subject.
We know the system must be reformed, but is there time to do the serious and appropriate recrafting of our failing and financially burdensome corrections system in the last four frenetic weeks of a legislative session? Remember, this is the time of year when poorly crafted measures, negotiated and rushed through committees in the late hours of the evening can and have wreaked havoc on our state years later. One need only look back at the Energy Deregulation legislation in 1996 that led to the crisis of 2000 to realize how much is at stake in these critical few weeks ahead.
Of course, Governor Humpty-Dumpty, who fell so badly in the Special Election of 2005, is being re-made for his own relection in November of this year. It will be interesting to see how well his Bush-administration team will respond if the Legislature actually comes up with some meaningful prison reform legislation. At this late date, though, it seems highly unlikely. Maybe that’s just what this Governor and his handlers are hoping for.