A weekly update on the goings-on in Sacramento
For the week ending September 15, 2007
Key bills and issues we’ve been following during the
past week and beyond
The final days of this year’s regular session ended in the wee-hours of the morning, September 13 around 3:30am. At that moment, the Speaker banged the gavel, announced that the session had ended and likely declared victory of some kind for the work that had been done. The drama was somewhat undercut, however, by the fact that the Governor had already called a “Special Session” to consider the healthcare and water issues that were not resolved during the regular legislative year, thus extending the legislative year for some additional period of time.
A variety of bills were sent to the Governor’s desk for signature and veto, a few of which have already been acted upon. With the Term Limits/Extension initiative taking front-and-center in the decisions being made on the floor and behind the scenes, the session produced lots of buzz and intrigue during its final days. Purely political decisions always do play in the equation (various interest groups try to jam bills through at the final hour when few are watching or awake enough to notice). This year the dance was made even more delicate by this all-consuming focus on pleasing the public, enough to justify their vote to extend the terms of current term-out members (particularly the leadership of both houses and both parties) in the February primary.
Ballot initiatives continue to grab headlines as the California Democratic Party has announced an aggressive and pro-active effort to keep the electoral vote-splitting initiative off the June, 2008 ballot. But a redistricting initiative will not be showing up in time for the February ballot, putting the Term Limits/Extension measure at risk. Nor will the Iraq War initiative, since the Governor made short shrift of it by veto earlier in the week. While perhaps restoring some of his lost credibility with his own party, the Gov. dropped the hammer on one of his appointees at the behest of 34 NRA-beholden legislators, further dampening the ability of those given certain responsibilities from carrying them out appropriately—in the Alberto Gonzales/ George Bush mold. But there is so much more, so we’ll get to the details, but first:
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And now for the week’s goings-on :
SB840/Universal Health Care and AB8 and the Governor’s Special Session
The watered down compromise healthcare bill, AB 8, continued front-and-center until the very end of the session and beyond. With too many loose ends, last minute amendments and objections thereto, the Governor promised a veto and AB 8 won’t become law. Nor will Senator Kuehl’s true reform healthcare measure, calling for a Medicare type system to cover all Californians and still have us choose our own doctors. Kuehl has held the bill for the year and didn’t choose to move it to the Governor where he indicated he would veto it for a second time. The best explanation of the real crux of the debate between a universal health care system and the “compromise” in AB 8, is Senator Kuehl’s speech on the Senate floor explaining her “no” vote on that measure. For her remarks click here .
Now the Governor has moved the healthcare reform issue into a special session, which theoretically allows the debate to continue. This way the time period in which the legislature and Governor can try to reach a satisfactory agreement and get a bill signed into law this year continues, even though the final bell has been rung for the 2007 legislative year. In practice, though, it is considered unlikely that anything substantive will come from this extension of time, at least in this special session. While Speaker Nunez is anxious to get something out, so the public will think much has been accomplished by this group of legislators, the Senate doesn’t seem quite so interested in ramming through a bill that isn’t fully cooked, or frankly, viable.
Although we’ve discussed this issue with numerous articles and links to them over the past several months, click here for an excellent update by Adam Thompson.
Of course there are many commentaries on this hot and very important subject, so if you’re so inclined, click here for another by Steve Wiegand at the Sac Bee that might be of interest as well.
The Governor also wants the special session to include a discussion on the state’s perennial water problems. Of particular concern is what we can and must do to protect against a Katrina-like disaster with the precarious condition of the state’s levees-particularly in the important Sacramento Delta region. The Governor’s plans for spending $5.9 billion on water projects have stalled almost completely, in part because he is proposing antiquated approaches (damming rivers and building reservoirs) as solutions and because these issues have little connection to dealing with the immediate concerns the state is facing. For more information on this complex and often mind-numbing discussion, click here for the SacBee’s editorial.
Other Bills and Legislative offerings
With more than 2,800 bills offered and about 960 reaching the governor’s desk, the conclusion of whether the session was a success or failure is the question of the day. The answer, though, really depends on who you ask. Did the year end with a bang? Yes, if you’re a legislator hoping to extend your political life by getting the public behind the term-limits/extension initiative in February, 2008. No if you’re a political “expert” or “analyst”. It’s really the old half-full/half-empty debate. Those who see the glass half-empty have referred to the year as one of “missed opportunities.”
Of course, if you are among those who benefited from a piece of legislation, it was a fine year. And among them would be those wanting to see young people drive without the distraction of cell phones, text messaging and other electronic devices. While this may sound comforting, unfortunately, this behavior alone will not engender a ticket. Rather, a ticket can be written for violating this new law only if there is some other violation that occurs which attracts an officer’s attention.
The Gov signed Senator Joe Simitian’s SB 33, no driving with cell-phone if you’re under 18 law, this past week. While many of us would like to see this no cell phone edict on ALL drivers, the cell phone industry is one tough special interest, and getting this sanity into law has proven a long-term and arduous task for Simitian. I’m sure the Senator’s response would be that this is a good start.
The Governor also took out his veto pencil and cut Senate Leader Don Perata’s bill that would send the question of the Iraqi War to the voters in February. We predicted this veto (not really rocket science, I confess), but the Governor doesn’t disappoint when it comes to hypocrisy. Here’s the Governor “of the people”, who believes the people should decide important issues, which is the reason he spent $40million of public money on a series of misguided ballot measures designed to stifle his opponents back in November, 2005. In this case, though, he vetoed this measure explaining (with a straight face, I’m sure) that to allow this measure on the ballot would be “divisive and shift attention away from other critical issues that must be addressed”. So much for consistency. Check out the article here.
There are several hundred bills that he’ll be looking to sign or veto over the next 30 days or so. Among the more contentious are bills to require manufacturers of semi-automatic pistols to etch the make, model and serial number on each cartridge fired of each new gun produced after 2010 (AB 1471, by Mike Feuer); Gay-marriage (Mark Leno’s second go round on this—Schwarzenegger having vetoed it last year); and just about any environmental bill that made its way off the floors of both houses—and very few did. The big exception here is that several key flood control measures did pass, although not the entire package that is required (hence the Gov’s call for a special session to address some of those unresolved issues). But on the whole, opportunities to advance important consumer and environmental protections were defeated by the influx of money and corporate influences. These bills either outright lost or were deferred until next year’s session, even though they should have been passed this year. To see what did get through the legislative process, check out one article from the LA Times and another from the Mercury News .
Shenanigans and other goings-on
Two particularly unsettling events occurred this week that are worthy of note here. The first was the hiring and firing of Erwin Chemerinsky who was to head the newly created UC Irvine Law School, the second was the firing of Fish and Game commissioner, R. Judd Hanna. What marks these two events is the lack of respect or appreciation for differences of opinion and the intimidation effect when experts express opinions that are considered too controversial or don’t follow a party line.
With Erwin Chemerinsky, it seems that this highly respected expert and constitutional scholar was hired by the Chancellor of UC Irvine to be the first dean of its newly created law school. Although well-acknowledged as a liberal, Chemerinsky is nonetheless highly respected by all points of view within the legal community and beyond. This was quite a coup for UC Irvine at the time. However, within a week of the announcement of his hiring, Irvine Chancellor Michael V. Drake withdrew the offer. Although refusing to provide any explanation for the sudden turn-around, it is believed that right-wing pressure was exerted so heavily on the University that it reneged. So much for academic freedom and excellence, it seems. For more on this story, check out our weblog.
This highly publicized and criticized fiasco has created an enormous backlash and there are now sounds that the rescission will be rescinded and if Chemerinsky is so inclined, the offer will be extended again. Who’s on first here?
The other mischief involves the Governor’s own February, 2007 appointment of R. Judd Hanna to the California Fish and Game Commission. What was Hanna’s offense warranting his firing? He performed the duties he was obligated to perform as a member of this commission in sharing information with other commissioners that showed conclusively, in his opinion, that lead ammunition did, indeed put condors and other wildlife at risk of death and illness. This, of course, infuriated the NRA, which was actively opposing a measure that would outlaw lead shots. Doing their bidding, 34 Republican legislators sent a letter to the governor early this week demanding Hanna’s removal from the Commission.
Interestingly, Hanna is a Republican, a retired Navy pilot and Vietnam War veteran. He is also a hunter, fisherman, farmer, former real estate developer and campaign contributor to the Gov. Not exactly your wild-eyed, tree-hugging type. But the truth is apparently short-lived when the NRA and 34 Republican legislators go after you.
In this era when dissent is rewarded by firings and humiliation, we can only hope that our Founding Fathers are far too busy in the after-life to pay any attention to what has happened to the brilliant system of government they envisioned and created back in the days when we valued, indeed encouraged respectful debate and disagreement. What has happened to us that we can no longer tolerate healthy and respectful opposition?
Initiatives on the move and not moving at all
As mentioned earlier, the Legislature adjourned without giving the Gov. the initiative he most badly wanted—redistricting. This outcome is just political reality in today’s world. To expect those in power to give it up willingly just defies history and probably human nature as well. Few, if any groups in history, have willingly or voluntarily given up power once they acquire it. The last time redistricting was taken out of the hands of the legislature in California, it was put in that of a court that ordered redistricting to be done by a body of retired jurists back in the late 80’s. Short of litigation and another court order, it will take an extraordinary act, if not miracle, to accomplish this goal. Of course, if it were to be done uniformly across the country, then we might be talking. But the chances of that happening in the foreseeable future is extremely slim.
Although the current legislature is desperate to get the term limits/extension initiative passed, it is clear that the price for the Governor’s support would be an accompanying measure to take redistricting out of the hands of the legislature and into the hands of some kind of impartial commission. Other than human nature, the problem with crafting this measure really focuses on the details: Who appoints them? Who are they? How many of them will there be? Will Congressional districts be included (an absolute no-no for Speaker Pelosi and the Congressional Dems ) and lastly but by no means least, “Why California and not other states like Texas and Ohio—where the Republican controlled legislatures have padded the lines to protect themselves in as much an embarrassing, gerrymandering way (if not worse) as here in California?” Too many questions and too little shared political will tanked this one again, even with the enticement of support from the Gov. for the term-limits/extension initiative.
The real explosive measure that we’ve been talking about continues to gain reverse momentum. The California Democratic Party has come out swinging to beat back a Republican party ploy to recast how California electoral votes will be counted in the upcoming presidential election. The CDP is going all-out to confront the paid signature gatherers at the shopping centers and grocery stores where they go to often deceive or mislead registered voters into signing the petitions to qualify initiatives for the ballot. The CD Party’s announced goal is to defeat the measure at the signature gathering stage and ward off what will otherwise be an enormously expensive battle. For the Reps, it would be a win-win. If they qualify the Electoral College vote splitting initiative, and lose, they will still have forced the Dems to siphon off millions of dollars they would otherwise spend on candidates and issues. If the Reps win, they take the whole enchilada—and we’ll have another Republican disaster to contend with in the White House. Of course, the way the Reps are going these days, who knows? But the national Dems don’t want to risk that, no matter how well things may be looking at the moment for a Democratic sweep in ’08. Here is the Mercury News article covering this.
The Rest of the Story
Our blogging offerings for the week:
How I got through 700 Bills in 7 days —a look into the hectic end-of-session process
Cowardice and fear of honest debate at UC Irvine–the Chemerinsky debacle
To read and comment on these entries, just go to: www.speakoutca.org/weblog/
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Until next week,
Hannah-Beth Jackson and the Speak Out California Team