SACRAMENTO — The summoning of the Legislature into special session means that a simple majority is all that is needed to pass Gov. George Deukmejian's Los Angeles prison siting bill, but legislators said Tuesday that approval of the bill is still far from certain.
The Senate, led by President Pro Tem David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles), who vigorously opposes the governor's plan to place the new state prison near downtown Los Angeles, remains a substantial obstacle for the Republican governor to overcome.
"I think it's going to be tough," said Sen. Robert Presley (D-Riverside), who will carry the Administration bill. "I would like to think that we will make it, but there is no assurance that we will."
A charged-up Roberti said Tuesday that he is ready to do battle.
"We're going to fight (the governor) tooth and nail," he said at a news conference in his North Hollywood office, "because we think everybody in this state should be treated fairly and equitably. That, frankly, is more important than where the prison is sited."
Roberti added, without elaboration, "I think that (the governor's) position has eroded a bit" since the Aug. 30 vote in which the prison bill fell two votes short of the two-thirds majority needed for approval under regular session rules. Roberti would not say whether he was confident enough of his assessment to submit the matter to a vote of the full Senate.
Roberti and other prison opponents object to the governor's plan to purchase the downtown site before a full environmental study analyzing alternate sites is conducted.
Although the legislation cleared the Assembly Monday by a 47-15 vote, six more than the required simple majority vote, the odds are that it next will go to the Senate Judiciary Committee for more screening.
The committee's members include Roberti; Sen. Art Torres (D-Los Angeles), another leading opponent of the downtown site, and several other foes of the prison.
Presley said he hopes that Roberti will call the Senate into a "committee of the whole" to consider the prison bill, as the Assembly did, but he acknowledged that this did not look like a very good bet.
"Sen. Roberti is the key," Presley said, "but prison bills usually go to Senate Judiciary."
Rodney J. Blonien, undersecretary of the Youth and Adult Corrections Agency, said: "We want a committee of the whole. If the bill is sent to Judiciary, the intent is to kill it. I don't see the votes there."
Plans Not Clear
Roberti was coy when asked by reporters exactly where the prison bill will next be considered, but strongly implied that it will go to the judiciary panel on Thursday. At the same time, he ruled out the possibility that the Senate would meet as a committee of the whole.
"We never call committee of the whole in the Senate," Roberti said.
If the bill does reach the Senate floor, there still is no certainty that the necessary majority of 21 votes will be available when the roll is called by the clerk.
Two Votes Short
The Los Angeles prison measure received 25 yes votes (and 10 no votes) during the regular session, two votes short of a two-thirds majority in the 40-member Senate. But Presley noted that some of these votes could change and that absenteeism also could be a factor.
"I think there will be 21 votes," he said, "but we have to get them all here at one time. And there's always a possibility that some members might change their votes."
There also is the possibility that the Senate could pass amendments to the bill that would make it unpalatable to the Assembly. This would lead to the creation of a two-house conference committee to try to reach a compromise.
In a related development Tuesday, the California Correctional Peace Officers Assn. called for quick approval of the prison bill because it said prison overcrowding is placing officers' lives in danger.
"We are running out of time," CCPOA President Don Novey said. "We quelled 23 riots in 1985 without losing (control of) a prison. Frankly, we don't know how long we can hold this line."
As it stands now, the new Los Angeles site must be picked before other new prisons now nearing completion in San Diego and Stockton can be opened. This provision is contained in a 1982 law passed to force construction of a prison in Los Angeles County, which generates more than one-third of the state's prison inmates but does not now have a state prison.
Novey also claimed that the Los Angeles prison would enhance East Los Angeles instead of detracting from it.
"The public warmly receives any correctional facility after it gets on line," he said. "I think it's going to be good for East Los Angeles. It's going to enhance the community."
Contributing to this article were Times staff writers Ted Vollmer in Los Angeles and Stephanie O'Neill in Sacramento.