Dems’ bills survive thanks to Wiggins, Oropeza

Two ailing Senators made it to session on Thursday and helped four bills survive that would have died without their votes.

Sen. Jenny Oropeza, D-Long Beach, has been getting treatment for a blood clot discovered in her abdomen last month. Sen. Pat Wiggins, D-Santa Rosa, has been missing from the Capitol since March due to an undisclosed health condition that appears to have been affecting her mental awareness.

Wiggins didn’t vote from the floor. Instead, Senate staff escorted her to the press bay with staff, senate sergeants and her husband. She leaned out the window from the room to the Senate floor and cast voice votes. This was a more comfortable place for the Senator to sit, Alicia Trost, spokeswoman for Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento.

“It’s not like she was voting from the Maddy Lounge,” said Trost. Referring to the Senators’ Lounge that is closed off from the Chamber but is technically part of the Senate floor, Trost noted “you can vote from anywhere on the red carpet.”

The pair voted on at least 10 bills, but there were four pieces of legislation that only survived because of their support: SB 885 by Senator Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro; SB 974 by Steinberg; SB 1445 by Senator Mark Desaulnier, D-Antioch; and SB 1475 by Senator Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto. Each got 21 votes, the bare minimum to make it out of the Senate by the June 4 “house of origin” deadline.

The last of these bills is probably the most controversial. It is a follow up to three previous Simitian bills that made it a crime to text or talk on a cell phone without a hands-free device while driving. The new bills increases fines, makes it so violations can count against a driver’s license, and expands the restrictions to bicyclists. Sixteen senators voted against the bill, including five of Simitian’s Democratic colleagues: Ron Calderon, D-Montebello; Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana; Gloria Negrete-McLeod, D-Chino; Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles; and Rod Wright, D-Los Angeles.

These same five moderate Democrats also voted SB 1445, which slightly increases vehicle license fees. Calderon, Correa and Wright also voted against Steinberg’s SB 974, which places restrictions on the state’s enterprise zones program, while Negrete-McLeod and Romero voted for it.

Calderon and Wright voted against Corbett’s SB 885. Romero voted for the bill, which calls on stores to pay cash on gift cards with remaining values of less than $10, while Correa abstained.

The votes came near the end of Senate session that lasted most of the day. The two Senators were brought onto the floor around 2:30 p.m., after a break for party caucuses.

“There wasn’t a need for her to sit through an entire session,” Trost said of Wiggins. “There were just a few bills she voted on when the calls were lifted.”

Wiggins has been absent from the Capitol for weeks, after several incidents where she reportedly acted strangely or had outbursts in committee. In late March, she was removed from three of the four committees she was on, and went on “partial leave” from the Senate. 

There was reportedly an exchange between Steinberg and Negrete-McLeod in caucus. But Senator Negrete-McLeod downplayed any disagreement, noting that she and other senators knew the ailing pair would eventually be brought in on some key votes.

“It was nothing more than me voicing my opinion,” Negrete-McLeod said. “Nothing directed at the leader. He has a really hard job. I would want to be in his shoes. We can agree to disagree.”

She also said that Wiggins seemed to be in better health after some time away from the pressures of the Capitol.

“She looked fine,” Negrete-McLeod said.

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