Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Sacramento Bee's Dan Walters: Legislative End of Session Craziness

Dan Walters: Fun, games mark California Legislature's final week

Published: Wednesday, Sep. 7, 2011 - 12:00 am | Page 3A
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Dozens of special interest lobbyists, cellphones on full alert, mill in the back hallways of the Capitol as both legislative houses conduct marathon floor sessions to act on hundreds of bills.
Floor sessions are interrupted occasionally for caucuses; Democratic and Republican lawmakers dissolve into private meetings, sometimes for hours, to plot strategy.

Measures that had languished in limbo for months are suddenly revived, their contents are stripped out and entirely new pieces of legislation are inserted into their shells.

These are the last few days of the 2011 legislative session and, as usual, it's time for fun (nightly rounds of campaign fundraising events) and games (figuring out ways to pass or kill bills).

So what's happening, or not happening, in these last hectic hours? A sampling:

• With Democrat Jerry Brown back as governor, unions, personal injury lawyers, environmentalists and consumer activists are pushing hard for their long-stalled agendas and doing battle with business groups, but so far aren't doing very well. The state Chamber of Commerce's "job killer" list has been pared from several dozen bills to about a half-dozen.

• However, the dozens of bills that underwent "gut-and-amend" last week include several new measures for unions. One would make tens of thousands of state-paid child care providers eligible for union membership while another would financially punish local governments that refuse to enact so-called "project labor agreements" with unions on public works projects.

The child care bill, long rumored to be lurking in the Capitol's shadows and personally carried by Assembly Speaker John A. PĂ©rez and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, appears to benefit the Service Employees International Union, perhaps to offset cuts in unionized home care for the disabled and aged.

• Brown said Tuesday he hopes he can do a deal with Republicans on an overhaul of business taxes he says would encourage job-creating investment, but it's chancy. Democratic leaders, meanwhile, are pushing one contentious bill allowing local transportation agencies to impose new levies on auto fuel, and another to block Amazon's ballot drive to overturn an online sales tax measure passed earlier in the year.

• There's an 11th-hour flurry of efforts to alter election rules, including a still-unwritten bill sought by Democrats and unions to make all initiative measures go on the November ballot, and a newly written bill that would effectively end write-in votes for state offices, thus settling a legal issue over the impact of Proposition 14, the new "top-two" primary election system.

• There also may be a bill to enhance construction of a new football arena in Los Angeles – the sort of thing that always surfaces in the session's final week.

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