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Robbins at Center of Debate on Limiting Number of Bills

April 28, 1985|LYNN O'SHAUGHNESSY | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — During the last legislative session, Sen. Alan Robbins did something no other state senator equaled:

The Van Nuys Democrat introduced 134 bills.

Most legislators in both houses did not even come close. The average per lawmaker was 53 bills. Only Democratic Assemblyman Richard E. Floyd of Hawthorne, with 143 bills, topped Robbins.

Robbins is proud of his output. In fact, he boasts that during his nearly 13 years as senator he has regularly introduced more bills than anyone else.

'That's My Job'

"I probably do the work of two or three other senators," Robbins brags. "That's my job. I enjoy doing it for my constituents."

Not everyone is impressed. The activity levels of Robbins and other lawmakers who flood the system with legislation have become controversial in the Capitol. It costs an average of $4,000 to introduce and process a bill, critics say, so the record 6,394 measures introduced during the 1983-84 legislative session cost taxpayers more than $25 million.

Supporters of what has become an annual, and so far unsuccessful, effort to limit the number of bills a legislator can carry say many of the measures are trivial and prevent lawmakers from devoting time to really important issues. Many measures are introduced for special interest groups, frequent contributors to legislators' campaigns.

One of those who wants to limit legislators' bills is Sen. Gary K. Hart (D-Santa Barbara), whose district reaches into Woodland Hills and is therefore a neighbor, of sorts, to the prolific Robbins.

'Easy to Get Bogged Down'

"I think the public is very interested in seeing the Legislature focus on the most important issues," said Hart, whose bill-curbing measure has stalled in a Senate committee. "I think it's very easy to get bogged down in minutia."

But Robbins brands Hart's idea as "an absolute insult to the people of California." He promises that, if Hart's resolution, or a similar one introduced by Assemblyman Stan Statham (R-Oak Run) passes, he will find a way to introduce as many bills as he pleases.

"I know I would be embarrassed if I had introduced as little bills as some," Robbins said.

Interviews with other legislators who represent the Valley, however, indicated they are far from embarrassed. In fact, most say they are proud of limiting their introduction of bills. "Quality, not quantity" is a term some of them used.

Hart and Ed Davis

Robbins had 71 bills last session that did not make it through the Legislature--a greater number than any other Valley legislator introduced, according to the official Senate and Assembly histories.

By contrast, the Valley's other two senators, Hart and Ed Davis (R-Valencia) introduced 58 and 54 bills, respectively.

In the Assembly, the bill production also was more moderate: Marian W. LaFollette (R-Northridge) introduced 56; Tom Bane (D-Tarzana), 46; Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks), 45; Richard Katz (D-Sepulveda), 39; Cathie Wright (R-Simi Valley), 38, and Gray Davis (D-Los Angeles), 35.

All the Valley legislators except Bane, who generally sides with Robbins on this issue, see the need for the Legislature to limit bills. They contend that no politician can do justice to a large pile of bills and that the large number of trivial, so-called junk bills diverts attention from the important issues.

Last week, for example, Sen. Davis complained that the Judiciary Committee devoted as much time to an "asinine bill"--one which would have placed the local political contests above the presidential race on primary ballots--as it did on his death penalty bill.

The Senate Judiciary Committee killed the ballot bill after its sponsor, Assemblyman Louis J. Papan (D-Millbrae), explained that a constituent requested it because he did not vote for Papan during the last election, having gotten tired of reading through the list of presidential candidates.

Most Valley legislators say the primary reason why some of their peers carry heavy bill loads is because they cannot say "no" to constituents or special interests.

Sen. Davis says it's far easier to say "yes." During his first year as senator, Davis recalled, "I was like the girl who was frequently pregnant. I didn't know how to say 'no.' " Now he limits his bills to about 20 a year.

Calls It Admirable

Robbins does not deny that he does not say "no" much, but he sees that as admirable.

"Most members of the Legislature say 'no' more than 'yes' when they are asked to carry a bill," Robbins said. "I just don't believe in saying 'no' to the people of the San Fernando Valley."

Assemblyman Davis sees the situation differently. "The legislative process is not unlike a smorgasbord," he said. "If you eat everything in sight, you die. The challenge is to be selective."

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