Legislative roundup: Leno-Perata ‘hostage exchange’?

The end of every California legislative session generally features both a flood of interesting bills that had flown under the radar for most of the year, and also a political feud or two that ends up affecting legislation.

Often, these battles can be predicted months ahead of time. Last year’s main grudge match pitted a pair of Southern California Democrats who were seeking the same Senate seat, Tom Umberg and Lou Correa. Pundits already were pointing out the coming feud that February; Correa, who wasn’t in the Legislature at the time, ended up winning that seat.

This year, it’s a pair of San Francisco Democrats seeking–surprise–the same Senate seat. The twist here is that one of them already has occupied the seat for nearly three years, and expected to have a clear path to sticking around for a full eight–and the battle likely ended up affecting legislation.

This was before March 1, when Assemblyman Mark Leno announced he would take on Senator Carole Migden in the Democratic primary for her seat. At the time, Migden and Senate Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, lambasted Leno for opportunism and disloyalty. Leno countered that they “feared democracy.”

Most assumed late-session legislative shenanigans would follow, and they weren’t disappointed. Both Perata and Leno have charged the other with stalling their bills in retribution.

Perata’s press secretary, Alicia Trost, said that Leno used his power as chairman of the Assembly Appropriation Committee to stall numerous Senate bills important to Perata and Migden. This included several Migden bills sent over to the Assembly Rules Committee, such as SB 962, Migden’s bill to create a repository of cord blood, and SB 22, a bill to expand breast-feeding support services via Medi-Cal. Other bills were sent to the Appropriations suspense file, Trost said. This included SB 11, Migden’s bill to allow opposite-sex couples to register as domestic partners, which died on suspense.
“We were upset over the unprecedented number of bills that were pulled to Rules,” said Alicia Trost. “Since then, we’ve gotten together with Leno and come to an agreement.”

Leno confirms that he met with Perata on Friday, but said the meeting was not a “hostage exchange.” Nevertheless, as of Tuesday, both sides had released most of the other side’s bills.

As Appropriations chairman, Leno said, he has let through a higher-than-normal number of Senate bills. The only Migden bill he ended up holding, he said, was
SB 11, the domestic-partnership measure. The issue was cost, Leno said, and limiting cost is one of his main duties as chairman. An Assembly Appropriations analysis put the price tag of SB 11 at around $40 million a year, mainly in additional benefits paid by the state.

“It’s completely illogical to make the argument that I have any motivation to withhold Senate bills from the floor,” Leno said. “I have every reason to want to make friends.”

Leno said eight of his 13 active bills from last week were held up in Senate committees–and six died there. This includes AB 1378, the Complete Streets Act, which calls on transportation-planning agencies to consider pedestrians and bicyclists; AB 1472, the Healthy Places Act, a children’s health bill; and AB 1578, a bill to give education aid to foster youth. None of these had a high price tag, his staff said.

Big MUNI is watching you
Speaking of San Francisco, there’s probably no big city in California where it’s harder to park. Thanks to freshman Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, it could get a little harder to park illegally.

Ma’s AB 101 has passed the Senate this week. The bill legally allows the city to put cameras on buses to aid with parking enforcement. The cameras will only be used to enforce no parking rules in transit lanes during commute hours. Transit lanes are no parking zones on major thoroughfares that get a lot of rush hour traffic–and the city’s famously bad traffic gets even worse when these lanes are blocked.

“At the beginning of the session, we contacted the city and asked what their top priorities were,” Ma said.

She added that the bill was a top legislative priority for Gavin Newsom. The incumbent mayor’s November re-election appears pre-destined now that he’s already openly planning some of his priorities for next year. The city’s lawyers determined last year that they needed permission from the state to enter into this type of surveillance activity.

Some opposition came from another Bay Area Democrat, Senator Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, Ma said. Noted for her privacy-rights stance, Corbett dropped her objections to the bill after Ma put in language specifically stating the camera would be positioned to see car license plates, not to photograph people on the street. Such street-level surveillance has been in the news, incidentally, since it came out in late May that Google’s new Street View feature had captured various people picking their noses, possibly cheating on their spouses and otherwise engaged in activity they wouldn’t want people to see.

Other bills of interest

Here’s a quick look at some bills Capitol Weekly has followed throughout the year:

AB 221: Iran divestment by Assemblyman Joel Anderson, R-El Cajon. Directs the state pension funds to divest of several companies that do business with Iran by 2009. It passed 76-0 in the Assembly and 36-0 in the Senate.

AB 715: Low-flow toilets by Assemblyman John Laird, D-Santa Cruz. In our session preview back in January, we predicted water issues would be big this session. Well, little enough got done on water that it’s part of the upcoming special session. But one bill we wrote about got through. If signed by the governor, Laird’s bill would move California to a 1.6 gallon, low-flow toilet standard by 2014.

SB 381: Behested payments by Senator Ron Calderon. This bill increases from $5,000 to $7,000 the amount that can be contributed at the “behest of a candidate” without being publicly reported. Calderon’s chief of staff, Rocky Rushing, said the change was meant to take inflation into account. The bill didn’t get a single no vote, but it did get a Aug. 31 letter of opposition from Fair Political Practices Commission chairman Ross Johnson. Rushing said they’ve pulled the bill back, making it a two-year bill, because they want to address Johnson’s concerns.

SB 430: Earthquake insurance by Senator Mike Machado, D-Linden. This bill represents a deal between the California Earthquake Authority and insurers to maintain the state earthquake insurance fund. Insurers are putting in $1.2 billion in exchange for a $55 annual rate hike for coverage.
It passed to the governor Tuesday night when the Senate voted to accept amendments from the Assembly.

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