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New Assemblymen Plunge Into a Flurry of Legislative Activity

Sacramento Diary

July 05, 1987|MARK GLADSTONE and DAVID FERRELL | Times Staff Writers

On Nov. 4, Los Angeles County voters sent two new representatives to the state Assembly in Sacramento--Democrat Terry B. Friedman of Los Angeles and Republican Paul E. Zeltner of Lakewood. They agreed to help The Times keep a diary of their first months in office.

Zeltner, 61, a Lakewood city councilman and former sheriff's captain, waged an underdog campaign to capture the heavily Democratic 54th Assembly District. He campaigned on a law-and-order platform. Friedman, 37, a former legal aid attorney in West Los Angeles, breezed into office with a liberal social agenda for his upscale 43rd Assembly District.

In their first three months in office, they struggled to grasp the new routine, win committee assignments and set priorities in the Capitol and back home.

In this, the second of two articles, they turn their attention to legislative action.

Week of MARCH 2

Terry Friedman is smiling, standing on the rugged lip of Mission Canyon, high in the Santa Monica Mountains.

It is a cool, overcast morning as he unveils his first major bill, a measure to ban landfill operations in a 155,000-acre chunk of mountains. Kept under wraps until now, the bill is getting an impressive send-off; supporters at a press conference include Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley and several Westside elected officials.

As TV cameras focus on a small lectern, Friedman tells scribbling reporters that county officials want to resume trash dumping in Mission Canyon, a former landfill now designated as federal recreation land. He describes it as "sheer insanity . . . to place a garbage dump so close to homes, schools, churches and synagogues."

The measure soon vaults Friedman into the headlines, but it draws an icy reception from county officials, who are desperately searching for new dumps to handle the county's huge daily volume of trash. They accuse Friedman of trying to protect affluent Westside communities at the expense of other regions that handle garbage.

Says one staffer, Mark Volmert of Supervisor Pete Schabarum's office: "To throw it in somebody else's backyard is absolutely unacceptable and political hypocrisy."

Shortly before noon on Thursday, the Assembly reaches a crucial vote in a push to restore Medi-Cal funding. Democrats, needing 54 votes, get 43 of their own votes and 10 from Republicans, including Zeltner. Now one vote short, and with the roll call open, they put heavy lobbying pressure on remaining Republicans.

Momentarily, one Republican member agrees to be that vote, prompting GOP leaders to call a hasty caucus. Afterward, the key Republican withdraws her vote, and the funding cuts stand.

"The worst day so far," a frustrated Friedman says. "It was painfully obvious the governor's marching orders were drilled into the (Republican) leadership. They would allow 10 votes for it--for constituents or whatever--but when push came to shove they were never going to allow that (funding) bill to pass."

The deadline arrives for introducing legislation. Zeltner proposes 33 bills and resolutions, Friedman 28.

As a member of the Republican minority, Zeltner can expect to have difficulty getting major proposals adopted by the Democrat-controlled Assembly. However, as a member of the governor's party, he can anticipate being asked to carry bills for various state agencies.

For example, one of Zeltner's bills has been introduced for the Department of Mental Health. It is aimed at closing a loophole in state law dealing with criminal suspects who are found incompetent to stand trial or judged not guilty by reason of insanity. Each year in California, about 400 such suspects are treated as outpatients at state hospitals, and about 10 flee the state, which cannot extradite them because they have not been convicted of a crime.

The bill--expected to win easy passage, according to one mental-health spokesman--is typical for Zeltner. Nearly half of his measures are tied to crime issues; several would toughen prison sentences.

But he realizes that the road for such legislation is often difficult, particularly when it reaches the Public Safety Committee. That committee, whose Democratic majority traditionally has been stacked with liberals, is regarded as a graveyard of tough anti-crime bills.

"People say I'm wasting my time," Zeltner acknowledges.

Week of MARCH 9

The pace picks up as more bills are heard in committees. Zeltner says there's plenty of background reading on issues, but he has a hard time squeezing it in at night "because by the time you get finished with receptions and get home you're pretty well tired."

Friedman also is putting in long hours, often eating breakfast and lunch at his cluttered desk and occasionally working well into the night.

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