Veto net catches mundane bills, legislators say

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a record percentage of bills this year, including 136 that received only a generic veto message. Afterwards, the Governor’s staff said these were bills the Governor would have vetoed anyway.

But some around the Capitol have wondered why the list included AB 2479 from Assemblywoman Loni Hancock, D-El Cerrito. This bill, which would have made a technical change in how bottled water is labeled accumulated only 10 total no votes in getting off the Assembly and Senate floors. Though it was a late-session gut-and-amend, it faced no significant institutional opposition.

Hancock’s was hardly the only innocuous-seeming bill to get the ax. Numerous clean-up or technical change bills went down, along with many more that passed with little or no opposition. The administration has said that because of the late budget, they only had 11 days to review the 875 bills passed by the Legislature.

Democrats are also circulating a list of vetoed bills they say would have saved the state money. The “partial” list, from the office of Assemblywoman Sally Lieber, D-Mountain View, details a dozen bills she claims would have saved the state at least $60 million a year.

According to Schwarzenegger press secretary Aaron McLear, the governor got a presentation from staff on every single bill. The governor’s legislative secretary, Chris Kahn, along with six deputies and three administrative assistants, worked “around the clock” during the bill signing period, McLear said.

Even in this compressed period, there were some high-profile bills on which the governor received multiple presentations, taking up several hours on their own. This included SB 375, the transportation portion of the AB 32 greenhouse gas plan, carried by Senator Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, which he signed. Another major bill taking up the governor’s time, McLear said, was SB 974, the ports cleanup bill from Senator Alan Lowenthal, which he vetoed. 

The 136 bills with the generic veto were considered a lower priority, he added.

“There were some that weren’t a priority to California,” McLear said. “If they weren’t a priority, he vetoed them.”

That didn’t satisfy Assemblyman Tony Mendoza, D-Artesia, recipient of seven of the generic vetoes, the most of any legislator. He took issue with the idea that his bills were low priority to the state.

“I was successful in passing into law a bill that protects consumers against calling card fraud, another bill that streamlines the small business certification process to contract for services with the state creating jobs, and a landmark bill that removes the harmful ingredient, trans fats, from our food supply,” Mendoza said in a statement shared by his staff.

Mendoza also rejected the notion that the governor had only 11 days to review the bills: “Had the governor been more proactive and remained in the capitol throughout the budget negotiations instead of barnstorming the state, he would have had the opportunity to review many of these bills.”

Other Democrats also got vetoes on fairly innocent-seeming bills. SB 1641 from Senator Jenny Oropeza would allow “the Franchise Tax Board and the Board of Equalization to submit reports required by law in an electronic format.” The same goes for SB 1767 from Senator Elaine Alquist, D-Santa Clara, a bill on electronic learning resources. Both passed without opposition.

But Democrats were hardly the only ones who saw non-controversial bills go down. Take AB 2299 by Assemblyman Jim Silva, R-Huntington Beach. This bill updated language in the legal code to remove archaic words like “tape,” “cassette,” “audiotape,” or “videotape.” It would have replaced these with more generic terms like “audio or video recording,” in an effort to prevent legal depositions from being challenged on technical grounds.

AB 2299 passed 75-0 in the Assembly and 40-0 in the Senate. It was supported by the California Law Revision Commission (CLRC), whose mission includes finding “defects and anachronisms” in California laws. The last time a CLRC-backed bill got vetoed was in 2006, when Schwarzenegger rejected AB 770 by Assemblyman Gene Mullin, D-South San Francisco. But that bill, involving the sharing of information about community organizations, faced unified Republican opposition.

Several other GOP bills that also went mostly-unopposed also got the ax. As many Republicans have noted, when they do get bills through the Democratic-controlled Legislature, they are often non-controversial and widely supported.

For instance, SB 1491, a bill relating to electric utilities by Senator Tom McClintock, R-Thousand Oaks, garnered a single floor no vote on its way to the governor’s desk. SB 1237—a bill by Senator Dave Cox, R-Fair Oaks, relating to subdivision maps—had no opposition at all, either in the form of no votes on the floor or organizations lobbying against them.

The same goes for SB 1359 from Senator George Runner, R-Antelope Valley, and SB 1686 by Senator Jeff Denham, R-Merced. All were vetoed, though Cox and McClintock did get individualized veto messages.

On Wednesday, Lieber’s office began circulating a list of 12 Democratic bills they said would have save the state money. Eleven of these came out of the Assembly, and only three got the generic veto.

Leading this list is AB 2844 by Assemblyman John Laird, D-Santa Cruz. This bill, which would have brought California’s reporting to the federal Food Stamp Program in line with 48 other states. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2 million Californians, two-thirds of them children, are eligible for food stamps but aren’t receiving them—essentially leaving $2 billion in federal food stamps on the table every year.

Another bill Lieber cited was SB 1738, which she co-authored with Steinberg. This bill dealing with Medi-Cal would have saved the state at least $12.5 million, and could save up to $30 million, she said.

“It’s up the Legislature to regroup and come back with a strong agenda about efficiency and cost savings,” said Lieber, who terms out [of the legislature] of the Assembly this year. She added: “There’s no reason why something that got out overwhelmingly couldn’t be an urgency bill in the new session.”

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