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Good News Is, They're Gone

September 17, 2003

In the last days of the state legislative session, Democrats pulled off a miracle: They made the Republicans look good. Democrats' frenzy in the last few weeks to pass every pet bill and get it to Gov. Gray Davis while he's under recall pressure made Republicans' lockjawed obstructionism on fixing the budget shortfall fade from memory.

Senate President Pro Tem John Burton (D-San Francisco) pushed such ill-timed and dubious legislation as SB 18, a fuzzily written bill to protect Native American sacred sites by preventing development for miles around, and SB 2, which would require employers, even small employers, to provide health insurance for their workers. The sacred sites bill failed. The health measure passed, and struggling businesses can only hope Davis musters the will to veto it.

Although Democrats needed GOP votes to pass a budget and any tax bill, both requiring two-thirds approval, they could muscle other bills through on bare majority votes. Assembly Republican Leader Dave Cox of Fair Oaks complained of "one-party rule" and "an arrogance of power," not mentioning that Republicans enjoy a similar advantage in Washington.

Democrats were abetted by Davis' attempt to cement support from the Democratic voter base by offering to sign almost anything they sent to him. That included SB 60, a measure to allow illegal immigrants to obtain California driver's licenses. Davis had vetoed similar bills in past years because they did not have adequate security provisions. SB 60 was even more lenient, in terms of checking identity and criminal record, than what Davis had opposed before.

The Legislature still did pass some significant and necessary legislation, including a partial reform of the workers' compensation system and the nation's most far-reaching financial privacy legislation. Lawmakers also approved helpful environmental bills, including one that applies clean-air standards to farm operations for the first time. Two others strengthen protections for the Ballona Wetlands.

Otherwise, the good news is that the Legislature has left Sacramento. Unfortunately, the same group, with its ideological baggage and bitterness, will be back within four months.

With the turmoil of the recall and the 2004 regular election campaign, legislative leaders will be challenged to control partisan frenzy and encourage a more cooperative atmosphere in Sacramento.

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