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Legislator is booted from her office

Democratic leaders put Assemblywoman in a building across the street after she fails to vote for their budget.

August 19, 2008|Nancy Vogel | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, widely known as a nice person, flexed some muscle Monday: She punished the sole Assembly Democrat who refused to vote Sunday evening for a state spending plan drafted by fellow Democrats.

Bass (D-Los Angeles) ordered Assemblywoman Nicole Parra of Hanford out of her fifth-floor Capitol office and into an office building across the street where legislative staffers work.

"They wanted us to have everything packed up by 4 p.m.," said Parra's chief of staff, Derek Chernow, as he ripped packing tape to seal a box of office supplies.

Parra, who is in her last few months in the Assembly, said she didn't vote for the budget because it was not paired with a water bond to pay for dams to ease water supply troubles in her agricultural district. She said she warned Assembly leaders weeks ago that she wouldn't vote for a budget unless it also improved water delivery.

"I knew I would be punished," she said in the hallway outside the Assembly chamber. "I don't regret it. I would do it again. I'm still hopeful that we can get a vote on a water bond and therefore we can get a budget resolved. But it was a drill yesterday. We didn't even have the votes."

The vote on the Democratic spending plan was 45 to 30, but 54 votes -- a two-thirds majority -- were needed to advance it to the Senate. Budget talks continue today among legislative leaders and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Bass referred reporters to a couple of Parra's colleagues, who expressed outrage at her refusal to vote.

"Every Democrat in our caucus is expected to put a vote up on the budget, and to hold the budget hostage . . . to me is intolerable," said Assemblywoman Patty Berg (D-Eureka). She added that fellow Democrats have spent millions of dollars helping Parra win election in her conservative district.

It probably didn't help that Parra has offered more enthusiastic support of the Republican running to replace her now that she's termed out -- Danny Gilmore -- than the Democrat, Fran Florez, the mother of state Sen. Dean Florez (D-Shafter), with whom Parra has openly feuded for years.

"I'm probably not a favorite of the speaker," Parra said.

In other Assembly business Monday, two measures to restrict the use of chemicals in food containers and wrapping, among the most heavily lobbied of the year and previously passed by the Senate, were defeated.

The first, SB 1713 by Sen. Carole Migden (D-San Francisco), would ban a chemical called bisphenol A from use in bottles or cups designed for children 3 and younger. Starting in 2012, the measure would also ban bisphenol A from use in cans or jars that hold food for babies and toddlers.

The chemical is used mostly in the production of hard plastics and the epoxy resins that coat metal cans and bottle tops, and it can migrate into food, scientists have found.

Several Democratic legislators criticized as disingenuous the chemical-industry campaign against the bill, which included full-page newspaper ads showing an empty shopping cart on a parched lake bed.

"They don't have empty grocery carts in Japan, where they have banned bisphenol A in a manner even more broad than what this bill proposes," said Assemblyman Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael).

Republicans opposed the bill and many Democrats abstained. It was defeated 27 to 31. Migden could bring it up for another vote before the Legislature adjourns later this month.

Tim Shestek, director of state affairs for the American Chemistry Council, a trade group for chemical manufacturers, said the federal Food and Drug Administration recently concluded that the public's current contact with bisphenol A is safe.

"When the Legislature finally took a look at it," Shestek said, "they came down in agreement."

The second chemical measure, SB 1313 by Sen. Ellen Corbett (D-San Leandro), would restrict perfluorinated compounds from use in food packaging starting in 2010. The chemicals help keep water, oil and grease from leaking.

Perfluorinated compounds have been linked to a wide range of maladies including prostate cancer. The chemical industry argues that the science is not conclusive.

Corbett's bill was defeated 36 to 33 but may also be subject to another vote.

Also on Monday, the Senate passed measures that would:

* Allow Riverside County to build and operate four carpool lanes as toll lanes on Interstate 15. The measure, AB 1954 by Assemblyman Kevin Jeffries (R-Lake Elsinore), goes back to the Assembly for final approval.

* Make it easier for farm workers to unionize with a two-part ballot they can fill out privately. AB 2386 by Assembly Speaker Emeritus Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles) passed on a 23-15 vote and goes back to the Assembly for final action.

--

nancy.vogel@latimes.com

Times staff writer Patrick McGreevy contributed to this report.

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