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Legislature Roars Into the Week From Hades

Four issues stand out in the session-closing scramble

September 07, 1997

This is traditionally the week from Hades in the California Legislature, the final days of the annual session in which interest groups attempt to push through their pet bills--or kill the opposition's--before the final gavel falls around midnight Friday.

These last five days should be no exception, although there are few critical issues that must be resolved by Friday night. Bills that do not win passage will still be on the docket when the lawmakers reconvene in January.

The Legislature already has dealt with the one overriding issue before it this year, other than the state budget. That was a comprehensive overhaul of the state welfare system. While many were critical of the time it took to develop the program, this is the sort of issue that used to deadlock the Legislature down to the final hours, when members are weary and mistakes often happen.

Early this year there also was considerable criticism of the chaotic operation of the Assembly under the new speaker, Cruz Bustamante (D-Fresno). In recent months, however, the Assembly has operated far more smoothly and with far less partisan sniping than in the past. Much of the credit goes to the deft hand of Assembly Speaker Pro Tem Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica) as the presiding officer.

With hundreds of bills still vying for passage, however, patience and discipline will be at a premium this week. A handful merit special attention and passage. They include:

* School Construction. The state needs a big infusion of cash to build new classrooms to keep up with growing enrollment and to accommodate the state's ambitious class-size reduction program. One proposed compromise would float $8 billion in state bond funds over the next decade. The statewide ballot proposal also would lower the margin needed in a local school bond election from two-thirds to a simple majority.

* Tax Conformity. Legislation by Senate President Pro Tem Bill Lockyer (D-Hayward) would conform California state income tax law to one major change in the federal income tax adopted by Congress this year: the elimination of capital gains taxes on up to $500,000 on a couple's sale of their home. Also important is a companion measure by Sen. Dede Alpert (D-Coronado) to conform state tax law to pre-1997 federal tax law changes.

* Court Funding. A long-term state goal has been to give counties additional funds to support the trial court system. A bill by Lockyer would boost the state's share from 40% of the total to 65%. Gov. Pete Wilson objected to the $450-million price tag, and the parties were working on a compromise late last week.

* Children. AB 278, by Assemblywoman Martha M. Escutia (D-Bell), would revise air and water health standards to protect infants and children. It seeks to reduce environmental hazards near schools and day-care centers.

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