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The California Legislature's end game

There are worthy bills on the table as the session winds down. A proposed oil deal isn't one of them.

September 05, 2009

So you wanted to keep up with the Legislature this year but got distracted? Don't worry. Anything important gets replayed or rescinded during the session's final week, which begins Tuesday. In the works are some good resolutions (domestic violence funding) and some bad ones (another bid at offshore oil drilling).

In our last episode, the state Senate approved drilling off the Santa Barbara coast to help balance the shrinking budget, then adjourned. The Assembly rejected the drilling plan, expunged the record to shield members' votes from public scrutiny, passed a budget that didn't match the Senate version, sent it to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and left town. The governor signed the budget but purported to veto funding that he had approved back in February. Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) sued to block the arguably illegal vetoes. The case hasn't yet been heard.

This week, Assembly Speaker Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) led a successful effort to restore funding for the vetoed Healthy Families program and with it $100 million in federal matching funds and health insurance for about 660,000 children. The fix was savvy and effective -- a fee on Medi-Cal plans that was about to expire was instead extended at a lower rate. The California Taxpayers Assn. was OK with it, and most Assembly Republicans saw the merit and joined Democrats in passing the measure.

Now Bass should help with another program restoration: domestic violence shelter funding. SB 662 by Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) would allocate $16.3 million from the state victim compensation fund to help shelters, including many in Los Angeles County, that otherwise must soon close their doors. The Senate has approved this eminently sensible use of money to aid violence victims, but the bill is stuck in the Assembly. Bass must get it moving.

But what if California could recapture vetoed funding for shelters, AIDS programs, state parks and open space besides? That's the lure dangled by Assembly GOP leader Sam Blakeslee of San Luis Obispo -- if only the Legislature again reverses itself on offshore oil drilling. AB 1536 is nothing like Bass' and Yee's measured bills to preserve programs; it is simply a replay of this year's effort to skirt the long-standing public process for approving oil leases. Drilling is unrelated to AIDS funding or any of the governor's other vetoes. Lawmakers might as well retry the failed attempt to impose an oil extraction tax.

This is the wrong time to fight those partisan battles again. The Legislature should quickly move forward with responsible bills to restore programs that serve people in need, and leave the slick but unenforceable oil deal off the table.

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