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Assemblyman Learns From Bill's Defeat

September 12, 1985|MARK GLADSTONE | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Freshman Assemblyman Wayne Grisham, who touted his experience as a congressman when he campaigned for his 63rd District seat a year ago, has been handed an expensive civics lesson by the state Senate.

The Norwalk Republican failed to win passage for what he assumed would be a routine bill to reimburse Santa Fe Springs $65,000 for testing at a hazardous waste site.

The measure sailed through the Assembly 78 to 0 in June and Grisham was confident that it would whip through the Senate last week. Instead, it was rejected 23 to 9, falling four votes short of the two-thirds required for passage.

It was a rebuff Grisham had not anticipated as he wound up his first season in the Assembly, which is scheduled to go home for the year on Friday.

Press Release Corrected

On Aug. 30, Grisham issued a rare press release, boasting about the expected "legislative success" of several bills. And he described as his "most important piece of legislation" the measure to reimburse $65,000 to Santa Fe Springs.

By last week Grisham had issued another statement, expressing his disappointment and frustration with the Senate action.

Grisham said the Senate action reminded him that not every bill he introduces will automatically be approved. "It takes a while to know the process" in Sacramento, he conceded.

Sen. William Campbell (R-Hacienda Heights), who handled the measure on the Senate floor, said the defeat also illustrated the differences between the Assembly and Senate, which take time even for an experienced lawmaker such as Grisham to grasp.

Have to Learn Ropes

"One of the things you have to learn when you come into the Legislature is how to work the other house," Campbell explained.

Grisham, who had served two terms in Congress before being defeated for reelection in 1982, was reminded of that lesson firsthand as he went to the Senate floor for the first time to persuade lawmakers to support his bill.

Under his measure, the Santa Fe Springs Redevelopment Agency would have been reimbursed for a study of the former Waste Disposal Inc. site near Greenleaf and Los Nietos avenues, which operated as a solid waste dump between 1928 and 1964.

The city launched the study after the state told local officials that it would not be able to make a report on the severity of the situation for several years.

State Position Explained

However, if Santa Fe Springs officials had waited for the state to study the site, the state would have paid the cost, said Lach McClenahen, chief of site mitigation for the state Health Services Department.

The city-sponsored report recently concluded that the contaminants at the site and adjacent to it were not in the ground water, or, with the exception of lead, in the topsoil. That cleared the way for industrial development near the site, which the state plans to eventually clean up.

Still, Santa Fe Springs city officials hoped that the state would cover the cost of the city's study, said Mayor Albert Sharp. Sharp said he was disappointed by the Senate action "because we are not an extremely wealthy community."

Three Hurdles Cleared

The Grisham bill had easily passed the Assembly and cleared two Senate committees before running into a roadblock on the Senate floor.

During a brief debate last week, Sen. Gary K. Hart (D-Santa Barbara) assailed the Grisham bill for setting "a dangerous precedent."

Hart said that the measure sought to have a project in Grisham's district "taken out of order in the priority ranking established by the (state) Department of Health Services and it just seemed to me to be a bad precedent to begin the process of basically taking (hazardous sites) out of order."

In response, Grisham later said, "I made every effort to convince the Senate that no city would suffer under this bill." But enough senators were concerned about the precedent the bill would establish to prevent its passage, Campbell said.

At Department's Mercy

If the measure had been approved and signed by Gov. George Deukmejian, Grisham asserted, "cities would have been able to move ahead and protect their citizens from potential hazardous waste sites. Now cities are once again at the mercy of the Department of Health Services."

Grisham held out the possibility that he may revive the proposal next year.

For the freshman assemblyman, the dispute over the bill resulted in the most serious challenge to any of his legislative proposals this year.

Grisham said another key measure he introduced would provide $1.5 million for English language instruction to adult immigrants. It passed the Assembly 75 to 0 and is awaiting final passage in the Senate.

Expensive Assembly Race

Grisham, 62, was elected to the Assembly in a hotly contested race last November in which Grisham and his Democratic opponent, Dianne Xitco, spent a total of more than $600,000, one of the costliest Assembly contests last year.

When Grisham was sworn into office late last year, Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) jokingly introduced him as "the most expensive Republican ever elected to this body."

During his first year in the Assembly, Grisham has maintained a low-key presence and has become regarded as a loyal supporter of Republican Assembly leader Pat Nolan (R-Glendale). However, some Democrats view him as more approachable and easier to work with than other conservative GOP lawmakers.

For instance, Assemblyman Gray Davis (D-Los Angeles), chairman of the Housing Committee on which Grisham sits, said he was mildly surprised when Grisham supported his bill to provide money for homeless veterans.

"He's not a knee-jerk (GOP) caucus vote," Davis said. "He looks at the issues on a case-by-case basis."

Grisham said he remains a conservative Republican, but tends to be more pragmatic than some of his GOP colleagues. "I'm a little bit more reasonable than they (the Democrats) thought I'd be."

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