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Partisan Anger Roils Sacramento

With the recall election as a backdrop, a hostile atmosphere prevails as Republicans and Democrats face a Friday legislative adjournment.

September 09, 2003|Nancy Vogel | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Hostility between Republicans and Democrats flared all over the Capitol on Monday, as Republicans vowed to repeal a new law that grants driver's licenses to illegal immigrants and Democrats killed a popular bill by a Republican challenger to the governor.

Partisan rancor also slowed the Assembly, which passed bills that would ban the sale of the dietary supplement ephedra, allow Los Angeles County residents to raise their sales tax to pay for transportation projects and exempt the mentally retarded from the death penalty.

Also in the Assembly, Republicans huddled and voted unanimously to replace their leader when a new session opens in January.

On the steps of the Capitol, California Republican Assembly President Mike Spence, representing the oldest volunteer group within the California Republican Party, announced that his group would seek to put a referendum before voters to overturn a new law granting driver's licenses to undocumented California residents. The group would need to gather nearly 400,000 voter signatures over the next 90 days.

Democratic Gov. Gray Davis, who is facing a recall election Oct. 7, signed the bill Friday. He had vetoed similar legislation twice before.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday September 11, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 41 words Type of Material: Correction
Legislative leader -- An article in Tuesday's California section about an impending change in Republican Party leadership in the state Assembly incorrectly said the term of current Minority Leader Dave Cox (R-Fair Oaks) expires in January. It expires in December 2004.

Spence predicted that it would not be too difficult to gather the signatures needed to ask voters to overturn the law. He and Assembly Republicans argued that the law compromises national security because it does not require a background check of applicants.

"People understand this issue," Spence said. "We know lots of people will be supporting this from a grass-roots perspective."

Several hours later in the Assembly, Democrats effectively killed a bill by Sen. Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks). The bill, which had sailed out of the Senate last month on a 37-0 vote, would have spent $750,000 of taxpayer money to create a Bureaucracy Realignment and Closure Commission to study and shut down inefficient branches of government.

McClintock, a strong anti-tax advocate, is one of three major Republican contenders to replace Davis on the Oct. 7 ballot.

"Hot water is a good thing," said Assemblyman Rick Keene (R-Chico) in arguing for the bill, SB 9. "It makes people clean. We could use a little more scrutiny in the activities of government."

The bill needed 41 votes to pass the Assembly and stalled at 34, with support from all Republicans and just two Democrats. In a second round, the bill gained two more votes before dying.

Democrats explained their lack of support as a combination of recall politics and frustration with uncooperative Republicans.

"We need to have a little leverage over them," said Assemblyman Lloyd Levine (D-Van Nuys).

As the Legislature rushes to a Friday adjournment, very few Republican-sponsored bills are left to be considered, he said, and so Republicans have been trying to gum up the process with parliamentary maneuvering, lengthy debate and frequent caucuses.

"All of our bills," said Levine, "they have no desire to see them pass."

Assemblyman Greg Aghazarian (R-Stockton) called the death of the McClintock bill "troubling."

"We face a tremendous budget crisis in this state and Sen. McClintock advanced a very reasonable, common-sense approach," he said. "Clearly the work of the people was not done today."

Other bills approved by the Assembly on Monday:

* SB 582 by Sen. Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough) would ban the sale of weight-loss supplements containing ephedra except by prescription. According to Speier, since 1993 the federal Food and Drug Administration has received reports of 81 deaths and dozens of medical problems linked to the stimulant. In February, a 23-year-old Baltimore Orioles pitcher died of heatstroke after taking an ephedra supplement. The bill passed 44 to 23 and goes next to the governor.

* SB 314 by Sen. Kevin Murray (D-Culver City) would allow the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority to ask voters to approve a 0.5% sales tax increase for 6 1/2 years to pay for specific projects, including light rail extensions, sound wall construction and major street resurfacing.

Murray described the tax as being "for a limited amount of time for incredibly specific projects." It would have to be approved by two-thirds of county voters.

The bill passed 44 to 24 and goes next to the Senate for concurrence on amendments.

* SB 3 by Sen. John Burton (D-San Francisco) would prohibit the execution of mentally retarded criminals. The bill passed 63 to 6 and goes next to the Senate. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that mentally retarded criminals must be spared the death penalty but left it to states to define retardation. Burton's bill would allow a judge to determine whether a defendant was mentally retarded.

In a closed-door caucus, Assembly Republicans voted unanimously to name Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield their minority leader when the Legislature returns in January. McCarthy, a former congressional staffer, will replace Dave Cox of Fair Oaks, a former Sacramento County supervisor whose Assembly term expires in January.

Times staff writers Carl Ingram and Evan Halper contributed to this report.

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