SACRAMENTO — Although he failed to win bipartisan accord on a sweeping, multibillion-dollar plan to address the state's water problems, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Sunday night backed down on his threat to veto hundreds of bills as punishment for legislative leaders' inability to reach a deal.
As the midnight deadline for signing or rejecting 704 bills approached, Schwarzenegger said sufficient progress had been made in the water talks, and he planned to act on all of the bills. As negotiations concluded late Sunday, the governor had signed into law 230 bills and vetoed 221.
Those he signed included a measure intended to combat human trafficking and an anti-drunk-driving bill requiring DUI offenders in some counties to install devices in their vehicles that test blood-alcohol content before the vehicles can be started. Those he rejected included bids to force any extension of the 710 Freeway to be done underground, ban pay hikes for top administrators at public universities in bad budget years and tighten oversight on fertility clinics.
Schwarzenegger also called a special legislative session on water to start this week.
"Over the past few days we have made enough progress in our negotiations that I am calling a special session on water," he said in a written statement. "While we still have a few remaining issues to work out, I commend the legislative leaders for their focus and commitment to solving this crisis, and I will weigh all the bills on their merits."
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday, October 15, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 1 inches; 45 words Type of Material: Correction
Vetoed legislation: An article in Tuesday's Section A on bills acted on by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger included the wrong number for a measure he vetoed that would have created new oversight for clinics providing in vitro fertilization. The bill was SB 674, not SB 647.
Water negotiations, however, have been slow going, repeatedly becoming stuck in decades-old political and policy feuds. State leaders have been expressing confidence for years that a water deal was close at hand, only to see negotiations collapse.
The governor wants lawmakers to agree to ask voters to borrow billions of dollars to pay for infrastructure upgrades and other improvements. Legislative aides said the prime obstacles remained the monitoring of groundwater and how to finance big structural improvements that include two possible new dams.
All weekend, the governor and legislative leaders scurried in and out of meetings in their effort to hammer out a deal. As it became clear that an agreement was not at hand, negotiations appeared to shift toward finding a way for Schwarzenegger to retreat from his veto threat -- an option he ultimately did not want to exercise.
"We made great progress," said Assembly Speaker Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles). "But with such a complex issue as water, as much as we wanted to finish by midnight, we're just not quite there."
She said she expects details of a bipartisan plan to be hammered out in time to present to the legislative caucuses within about 48 hours.
One of the bills Schwarzenegger signed Sunday was a hard-fought measure to reduce the prison population by 20,000 to 25,000 inmates, although it stops far short of solving the overcrowding crisis and does not include more extensive reductions that the governor wanted.
The measure, SBX3 18 by Sen. Denise Ducheny (D-San Diego), would also leave California's budget with $200 million more in red ink. Top finance officials reported Friday that state revenue is already $1 billion short of their projections.
The drunk-driving bill, AB 91 by Assemblyman Mike Feuer (D-Los Angeles), creates a pilot program in Los Angeles, Alameda, Sacramento and Tulare counties. The program will permit first-time DUI offenders to drive only if they install a breath-testing device on every vehicle they own and pass a test on it before the ignition can be unlocked and the car started.
The human-trafficking bill, AB 17 by Assemblyman Sandre Swanson (D-Alameda), quadruples fines, to $20,000, on those convicted of such a crime. It also allows law enforcement officers to seize the assets of traffickers. The assets and money collected in increased fines would be spent on local programs serving the victims of trafficking.
Charter schools will be given a boost by two bills the governor signed. SB 592 by Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles) tweaks state law to allow the schools access to about $900 million in voter-approved bond money for construction. SB 191 by Sen. Roderick D. Wright (D-Inglewood) creates a uniform funding model for charters, giving districts more incentive to approve them.
Schwarzenegger also continued his push to expand the use of digital textbooks by approving a package of bills related to them. Part of that package is SB 48 by Sen. Elaine Alquist (D-San Jose), which requires that any companies selling textbooks in California colleges or universities make them available electronically by 2020.