SACRAMENTO — Sen. Joseph B. Montoya (D-Whittier) and Assemblyman Curtis R. Tucker (D-Inglewood) seem to have called a truce in a two-year feud that has several times threatened to block legislation carried by the two Democrats.
As the Legislature prepared to adjourn on Sept. 11, Montoya, who was on the Assembly floor shepherding a bill, playfully tugged Tucker's chin and said, "I still love you."
"He was making a friendly gesture," Tucker said later. "I don't have a desire to carry on a feud with anyone."
But the two strong-willed committee chairmen have split frequently during the last two years, most recently over a Montoya bill to regulate sedation of dental patients.
At the height of this year's dispute, each lawmaker sidetracked a handful of bills sponsored by the other. By the end of the session, hostilities lifted long enough for the bills to be acted upon.
Assemblyman Phillip Isenberg (D-Sacramento), who sits on the Assembly Health Committee chaired by Tucker, noted that tempers often flare in the final days of the session as legislators rush to pass hundreds of bills. But he regards the Tucker-Montoya tiff as especially bitter, "like the dispute between Jews and Arabs. All deeply felt."
Other lawmakers suggest that the clash is inevitable because both have volatile styles and their committees have overlapping jurisdictions.
As chairman of the Assembly Health Committee, Tucker, 69, is regarded as an ally of physicians and dentists in their attempts to block other health-care professionals encroaching on their turf.
Montoya, 48, is chairman of the Senate Business and Professions Committee and a critic of the medical Establishment.
"I have convictions and so does he, and we clash sometimes," acknowledged Tucker, whose district includes Westchester, El Segundo and Inglewood.
Montoya, whose district covers much of the San Gabriel Valley, said: "To some extent it's a matter of what our perception is of our jobs. I have jurisdiction over business and professions, and now and then I'm going to make them bend their knees to what I think is good public policy."
Montoya said the rift began last year after Tucker blocked a Montoya bill to provide scholarships to medical students who agree to practice for two years in inner-city or rural areas. Tucker said he does not recall the legislation.
But he said that at the end of the 1986 session, Montoya derailed some of his bills by placing them on the shelf. Tucker retaliated in kind. By the end of the session, the dispute eased and the bills were considered.
The feud boiled into public view again a few weeks ago when an angry Tucker, dressed in a Hawaiian shirt, stormed into the Senate to confront Montoya over the handling of one of Tucker's bills. Denouncing Montoya as a liar, Tucker had to be escorted out of the upper chamber, where the rules require a coat and tie.
Afterward, the two legislators began to retaliate, using a routine parliamentary procedure to shelve each other's bills.
Montoya said the latest round in the fight stemmed from the way Tucker's Health Committee last month stripped a key feature from Montoya's bill to regulate the practice of conscious sedation.
Conscious sedation is aimed at blocking pain but keeping a dental patient awake. The deaths of six people in the last three years have been linked to the improper administration of drugs for conscious sedation, according to the state Board of Dental Examiners. The state does not now regulate the practice.
Montoya said he was angered when the Assembly Health Committee deleted a key section of his bill that would prohibit dentists from simultaneously administering anesthesia and conducting other procedures. At his urging, the Assembly Ways and Means Committee restored the section and sent the bill back to Tucker's Health Committee, where both sides hope to hammer out a compromise next year.
Under Montoya's bill, the state would license and regulate dentists who administer conscious sedation and require them to complete 60 hours of instruction and handle 20 cases using the procedure. Tucker has a similar bill that requires 120 hours of study. His bill also will be heard next year.
Sets Up Special Category
Montoya's bill also would establish a special category for dentists who now use conscious sedation and who choose to continue the practice themselves or to employ a qualified nurse to sedate the patients.
Tucker and the California Dental Assn. assail that feature of the Montoya bill, maintaining that it would allow nurses to sedate more than one patient at a time.
"If you're going to have conscious sedation, maybe you should have a professional there the whole time the patient is under," Tucker said. "I don't believe in assembly-line dentistry."
Montoya brushes aside the criticism. He contends that his detractors are really upset about the proposal to limit the dentist's ability to operate and sedate patients at the same time.
Even before Montoya made his conciliatory gesture on the last night of the session, both sides had expressed hope that they can fashion a compromise when the Legislature returns in January.
Tucker said last week: "It's all over now, for this year."