Monday, August 29, 2011

Sac Bee Columnist Dan Walters: End of Legislative Session Madness

Dan Walters: California Legislature sprinting to the finish line

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The Legislature begins its sprint to adjournment with hundreds of bills still pending, with lawmakers maneuvering for positions to campaign on in much-changed districts next year, with lobbyists for moneyed interests packing Capitol hallways, and with dozens of fundraising events on tap to extract campaign cash from those interests.
It's a yeasty mélange for the final two weeks, to say the least.

We know what the big conflicts – which all involve money – are likely to be. The biggest may be over a bill that would impose rate regulation on the multibillion-dollar health insurance industry, a full-employment act for lobbyists if there ever was one.

Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones and consumer activists want Assembly Bill 52 to, they say, protect Californians from being gouged.

But the industry has some heavyweight allies, including state and local government agencies that purchase health insurance for their employees and perhaps Gov. Jerry Brown's administration, which questions its potential costs.

AB 52 was one of the more than two dozen measures labeled "job killers" by the California Chamber of Commerce. But as the session winds down, three-quarters of them have died, leaving AB 52 and six others still alive.

One high-profile "job killer" that stalled was Senate Bill 432, which would have required hotels to use fitted bedsheets.

The union-backed bill was sidetracked last week in the Assembly Appropriations Committee for reasons that had nothing to do with its merits and everything to do with a nasty squabble over another high-profile bill that would disincorporate the city of Vernon, a tiny industrial enclave near downtown Los Angeles.

Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, whose district includes Vernon, claims that it's a cesspool of corruption and should be erased from the municipal ledger. Vernon's state senator, Kevin de León, was supportive, but last week did a 180-degree flip as Vernon embraced his reform plan. De León's opposition makes Senate approval very dicey, perhaps impossible.

That turnabout angered Pérez, it appears, and all of de León's bills pending in the Assembly Appropriations Committee were either held or made irrelevant through amendments.

It was clearly political punishment, and one of the casualties was de León's bedsheet bill.

The rupture among Los Angeles' Latino politicians could affect another local issue floating around the Capitol – whether a proposed professional football stadium in downtown Los Angeles should receive an expedited environmental review.

Developers of "Farmers Field" say it would allow them to compete for a team with a proposed stadium in Industry – another of those industrial enclaves – that has already obtained an environmental review exemption.

As the world turns.

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