Legislature prepares to reconvene for mid-October special session

The fate of hundreds of bills passed in the final days of the legislative year remains uncertain, as Gov. Schwarzenegger continues to push lawmakers to reach a solution on the state’s water crisis.

“The governor is focused, and  believes the Legislature ought to be focused, on figuring out a solution to our water problem right now,” said Scwharzenegger spokesman Aaron McLear. “He  hasn’t committed either way on what he’ll do with the (other) bills.”
Senate leader Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, sent an e-mail to his members this week telling them to prepare to return to Sacramento for a special legislative session beginning Oct. 13. Not coincidentally, that is one day after the governor’s deadline for acting on the hundreds of bills before him.

The governor has already called two special sessions – one on education reform proposals from the federal government, and another to deal with the still non-existent report from the tax commission, which has been anticipated for weeks.

This week, the governor broke his no-bill-signing embargo to autograph a measure that would restore health insurance coverage for thousands of children living at or near poverty. The bill was a measure, passed with bipartisan support, aimed at restoring cuts to the Healthy Families program made by Schwarzenegger’s line-item vetoes this summer.

Later this week, the governor will sign a Vietnam Veterans bill by Assemblyman Paul Cook, R-Yucaipa. The bill is identical to a measure Schwarzenegger vetoed earlier this month, when he first made his veto threat.

Privately, individual lawmakers have received word from the Horseshoe about the fate of their legislation. Many members said they have been contacted by administration officials to let them know their bills will be signed. But it was unclear whether an overriding mass veto threat might trump those individual policy decisions.

The governor seems to be trying to maintain some kind of leverage over the Legislature to drive them toward a water solution. Negotiations over a fix to the state’s water problems broke down on the last night of the legislative session, and Steinberg immediately urged Schwarzenegger to call a special session to deal with the issue.

So far, Schwarzenegger has demurred. His aides say he wants to give lawmakers and major stakeholders in the issue more time to work through the issues before deciding whether or not to call a special session.

The governor faces an uphill climb on the other special session issues. Democrats have bristled at some of the accountability proposals that come attached to federal stimulus dollars, and many have said they are unlikely to garner much Democratic support in the Legislature. Similarly, reports trickling out about the details of the tax commission’s proposal have been met with groans of discouragement from members of both political parties.

Schwarzenegger had earlier vowed not to sign any bills until there was progress on water, renewable energy and prison reform. Despite meetings this week, a water deal remained elusive, while the governor has vowed to reject the Legislature’s renewable energy plan. On prisons, the governor got far less than he wanted when his plan was met with stiff resistance from Republicans and politically wary Democrats in the Assembly.

During the final days of the session, the Assembly passed 320 bills. A source in the speaker’s office says those bills are still being processed and have not yet been sent to the governor. The Senate still has 123 bills it is processing, in addition to the bills already sent downstairs.

McLear did not have exact numbers of how many bills were before the governor, but estimated the number at about 700.

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