Bills die in Senate as Steinberg fails to cajole newest Senator

Curren Price, D-Inglewood, was elected to the Senate on May 19. But despite pleas from Senate leader Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, Price held on to his Assembly seat during this week's key legislative deadline rather than take his new seat in the Senate.

Price's election was certified on June 1, and Steinberg was eager to have Price join the Senate Democrats as soon as possible. But he did not assume his Senate seat until June 8 – after a deadline for bills to get out of the house in which they were introduced.

Price explained his reasons for delaying his swearing-in to Capitol Weekly.

"I wanted to make sure some legislation I was working on got shepherded through the Assembly, especially since I won't be able to introduce any legislation in the Senate," he said. Price added that the later induction date would also allow him to include some relatives in the swearing-in celebration who would not otherwise be able to attend.

Steinberg wanted Price to move over to the Senate in advance of this week's deadline for bills to pass out of the house in which they were introduced. Price's vote would have helped ease passage of a number of Democratic bills that faced tough floor fights, or even died during this week's Senate floor sessions.

Although Democrats hold a comfortable 24-15 advantage in the house without Price's presence, moderates hold considerable sway in the house. A bloc of moderate Democrats, including Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, Gloria Negrete-McLeod, D-Chino, Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana, Rod Wright, D-Los Angeles, and Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, are able to influence many pieces of legislation, since most bills opposed by Republicans need support from at least two of those five members to get out of the house.

Price says he was sensitive to those concerns, and "had a chance to apologize to a couple of members" of the Senate Democratic Caucus this week. He joined Senate Democrats for a caucus meeting last week, and said he received "a good round of applause" from his new colleagues.

But Price's absence, and a number of close floor votes this week, underscored the delicate political balance in the Senate Democratic caucus.

Many Democrat bills struggled to get off the Senate floor this week, and a few key bills went down to defeat. Among the bills that were lost was SB 31 by Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, a major environmental bill that was seen as a follow-up to her landmark AB 32, which set new targets for California's greenhouse gas reduction.

Pavley was also forced to significantly weaken her motorcycle smog check bill, SB 435, because of objections from Wright and other moderate Democrats.

Also going down to defeat was a piece of Steinberg's package of water legislation, SB 681, a bill that would have given the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) additional authority over water rights.

SB 518 by Sen Alan Lowenthanl, D-Long Beach, would have prohibited the use of state money to build parking structures on community college campuses. The bill, which was defeated, was pushed by environmentalists hoping to reduce traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions.

Another bill lost was SB 316, a measure by Sen. Elaine Alquist, D-San Jose, that would have required health plans to spend 85 percent of the money they receive for premiums on actual health care coverage for customers.

Price's vote may not have made a difference in every case, but the pro tem's office seemed to think it would have helped.

Steinberg appealed to Price to accelerate his Senate timeline, but to no avail. Steinberg spokesman Jim Evans refused to comment on the situation, saying only it was an internal caucus matter.

Price said Steinberg "has been an extraordinary leader," and patient with the Senate's newest member.

Price's bucking of Steinberg comes despite the fact that Steinberg endorsed the Assemblyman early on in his Senate campaign. Steinberg also encouraged Senate staff to make phone calls in their off-hours to help Price's campaign.

Numerous Capitol sources indicated part of the negotiation between Price and Steinberg may be about staff salaries. Price's current chief of staff earns more than $153,000 per year. That salary would make him the 12th highest-paid staffer in the Senate, and second only to Steinberg's chief of staff, Kathryn Dresslar among Senate chief of staff salaries, according to salary documents reviewed by Capitol Weekly.

Price said he's heard those same rumblings, but dismissed most of them as gossip among Capitol staff. No determination had been made about Price's staff salaries in the Senate, but he said he expected his staff's salaries would "reflect the realities of the Building. We're all going to have to give a little bit."

Price said that the delay in his swearing in "was not part of a grand scheme I had to extract concessions, or anything like that."

While Assemblymembers have latitude to determine staff budgets from a block office budget, the Senate is more regimented about staff compensation. In the Senate, there is an intricate list and ranking of staff positions and commensurate salaries.

Price bested Assemblyman Mike Davis, D-Los Angeles in a March special election to replace Sen. Mark Ridley-Thomas, D-Los Angeles, after Ridley-Thomas's election to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. Price was the top vote getter in that March race, but fell short of the 50 percent needed for an outright victory. That forced a May 19 run-off with the top vote-getter in each party — a race that Price won easily

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