Thaw between Senate leaders leads to bills’ passage

For one day at least, there were no signs of partisan gridlock anywhere on the Senate floor.

More than one month after Senate Republicans held up dozens of non-controversial bills, those same measures sailed off the Senate floor unanimously Wednesday. The bills passed affect everything from funding for domestic violence shelters to local government funding.

Nearly three dozen bills stalled on the Senate floor last month amid a personal clash between the two Senate leaders. Hollingsworth has implied that Steinberg reneged on earlier promises to strip funding from the state’s free tax filing system, Ready Return, and make changes to state sales tax law.

Steinberg denies ever making any promises about those issues to Hollingsworth. And Democrats did not make any changes to Ready Return or the single-sales factor issue this week.

So what changed?

In the end, it was a matter of politics. A bill to give tax credits to homebuyers, sponsored by Assemblywoman Anna Caballero, D-Salinas, was killed. In its place Wednesay, the identical language was amended into a new bill, SB 3x 37, authored by Sen. Roy Ashburn, R-Bakersfield.

Senate sources say it wasn’t Ashburn pushing for the change. Senate Republican leadership simply did not want Caballero to get the credit for authoring the bill, in hopes that they can keep her from taking the Central Valley Senate seat currently held by Jeff Denham, R-Modesto, next year. Denham, who is barred by term limits from seeking reelection, is running for lieutenant governor.

When asked about the political play on the Senate side, Caballero chief of staff Willie Armstrong simply said, “This is an economic stimulus. It provides help to 4,200 applicants eligible to receive the credit. Obviously, she wants to see the policy move forward and would not want to hinder that.”

Republicans were not the only ones who were tinkering with authorship rights. One of the measures to pass off the Senate floor Wednesday was SB 13, which restores more than $16 million to domestic violence shelters that was cut by Gov. Schwarzenegger earlier this year.

The bill was originally authored by Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco. But Yee had run afoul of Steinberg during some of this summer’s budget votes, and Stienberg stripped Yee’s name off the bill as a form of punishment.

That didn’t stop Yee from sending out a press release Wednesday when the measure was voted out of the Senate. The release noted that the bill was “backed” by Yee, and urged Schwarzenegger to sign the measure.

Alquist also sent out a press release touting the passage of the bill that now bears her name.

“As a member of the state’s Domestic Violence Program Advisory Council, I want to protect women and children from the dangerous, life-threatening situations they would be forced into if they don’t have a safe place to spend the night,” Alquist said in a statement.

“Already, six shelters have been forced to close their doors because of the Governor’s unilateral funding cuts. On a humanitarian basis, we simply can’t allow more to close.”

With the authorship of the tax credit out of the way, legislation sailed off the Senate floor Wednesday.

Among the bills that moved on to the governor’s desk Wednesday that would impact funding to local governments. SB 65 would allow cities to essentially avoid any out-of-pocket costs when the state borrows $2 billion in local revenues next year.

The language in the bill allows locals to sell revenue bonds to replace the money the state will be borrowing from cities, counties and special districts. The borrowing costs on the bonds will be paid for by the state.

The securitization language has been the top priority for the League of California Cities since the end of session said the League’s Dan Carrigg.

“Our leadership has sent numerous letters to leaders of the Senate encouraging them to come back and deal with this issue,” he said. “We’ve tried to stress the importance of this issue, and the problems that will result if this bill is not passed.”

Like most of the bills that were stuck in legislative purgatory, there was never any policy disagreement on the local government funding bill. They were simply victims in a political game that had nothing to do with policy.

“It continues to be a volatile environment in the Legislature,” Carrigg said. “Until they put up the votes, you never know where you are.”

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