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Special Interests Receive Rushed Special Treatment : Legislature: In closing moments of session, one bill permits the use of pesticides that do not meet state standards. Another could lead to the ouster of AQMD chief. Measures go to the governor.

September 14, 1993|PAUL JACOBS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — Each year, as the Legislature races toward recess, controversial bills benefiting narrow interests slip through under the cloak of night, often with little debate.

This year, in the final hours of the legislative session, somewhere between sunset and Saturday morning, lawmakers were approving bills such as these:

* A measure opposed by the state attorney general that for the first time would allow corporations to go into the card club business and permit two card clubs to operate in the Northern California city of Pleasant Hill without a vote of the community.

* A bill to allow growers to use pesticides that do not meet all of the state's tough safety and health standards.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday September 15, 1993 Home Edition Part A Page 3 Column 5 Metro Desk 3 inches; 76 words Type of Material: Correction
Card club legislation--A story on end-of-the-year legislation that appeared in Tuesday's editions incorrectly described last-minute amendments to a bill by Assemblyman Bill Hoge (R-Pasadena) as allowing corporations to own card clubs in California for the first time. In fact, one amendment helps implement a measure passed 10 days earlier permitting Hollywood Park to operate a card club--the first corporation that would be allowed to do so. Both the Hoge bill and the earlier measure must be signed by the governor before becoming law.

* A proposal that could lead to the ouster of the chairman of the South Coast Air Quality Management District, the smog-fighting agency for four Southern California counties.

* A bill amended at the last minute by Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) on behalf of constituents to make it easier to bulldoze historic landmarks if they are owned by a church.

* A proposal that critics say would make it more difficult for state Fish and Game regulators to enforce environmental laws on private property.

All the bills must go to the governor before they become law.

In that final rush toward morning, lawmakers sometimes did stop long enough to argue these and other controversial bills. The pressure of deadline limited debate.

Sometimes lawmakers rose up in open rebellion. Another proposal by Speaker Brown, which would make it harder to convict public officials on conflict-of-interest charges, was stopped at the last minute and must be considered again when the Legislature returns in January.

The end-of-session tactics and maneuvers set several lawmakers howling last week. Some members prepared "bad bill" lists to help them wage floor flights against bills that might otherwise go unnoticed.

A few weeks before the recess, California Common Cause set up a "sleaze patrol"--collecting reports on questionable legislation from public interest lobbyists and sending out bill alerts to legislators and the press.

But results of such efforts were decidedly mixed as the final swell of legislation rushed over lawmakers like a giant wave.

Assemblywoman Delaine Eastin (D-Fremont) is particularly critical of the jam of bills coming up for vote on the final night of the year: "We ought not to take the fact that it's the last night of the session to force you, or trick you, to vote on something you don't want."

Eastin specifically took aim late Friday night at gambling legislation by Assemblyman Bill Hoge (R-Pasadena), describing the measure as "sleaze and schlock" and pointing out that the bill was opposed by Republican Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren. In a letter to legislators, Lungren criticized the bill as "narrow special legislation supported by the existing card room owners for their sole economic benefit."

One amendment would allow corporations, including the Hollywood Park racetrack, to operate card clubs--a move opposed by Lungren because it could hide the true ownership, providing an opening for organized crime.

Another amendment was tailored to allow Pleasant Hill to annex property that includes two card clubs--Diamond Syl's and Pacheco Saloon. Without the legislation, voters would have to approve an ordinance permitting card rooms or the clubs would have to shut down.

Environmentalists opposed several bills without success. A measure by Assemblyman Rusty Areias (D-San Jose) would allow growers to use pesticides that did not meet all of California's tough health and safety standards, at least for a trial period until tests can be completed. Proponents argued that jobs would be lost without the exemption.

A bill by Sen. Tim Leslie (R-Carnelian Bay) includes an amendment by legislative conservatives aimed to oust Yorba Linda Councilman Henry Wedaa, a moderate Republican, from his post as chairman of the South Coast Air Quality Management District. The amendment was buried in a broad measure that governed programs to encourage ride-sharing and use of public transportation.

Environmentalists and their supporters in the Legislature also were unsuccessful in defeating another Leslie bill that would make it more difficult for Fish and Game officials without warrants to enforce laws on private property.

When a measure by Brown that would allow churches to tear down property that might have landmark status failed in committee, the powerful Democratic leader slipped the language into a successful bill by Sen. Marian Bergeson (R-Newport Beach) to streamline environmental regulations.

The Brown proposal was sponsored by the San Francisco Interfaith Council, representing the Catholic Church and a Korean Methodist congregation, which were considering plans to sell church property.

Brown "knew that Bergeson wanted that bill and he knew the governor wanted that bill," said Lynn Sadler, a lobbyist for the Planning and Conservation League, which opposed the legislation.

The Speaker was unsuccessful with a bill to force prosecutors to prove criminal intent before a public official could be convicted of benefiting from a financial conflict of interest.

The day before the final vote on the bill, Sen. Rob Hurtt (R-Garden Grove) issued what he called a "dirty tricks alert," claiming that the measure was being forced through "under the cover of night."

Sen. Tom Hayden (D-Santa Monica) was among several lawmakers who spoke out against the bill, arguing that it was wrong to change the law covering politicians especially "on a day like this when we deal with hundreds of bills, one second at a time."

In the end, the Senate voted for the measure, but the bill was defeated in the Assembly, sending it to a conference committee when the Legislature returns in January.

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