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State senators' travel plans delay special session

In the next 19 days, seven legislators will be studying Spain's national water system and Scandanavian environmental programs. A session on water and schools is pushed back to mid-October.

September 25, 2009|Patrick McGreevy

SACRAMENTO — A flock of state legislators is winging it to Denmark and Spain during the next 19 days to see how Europeans govern, further delaying long-promised action back home on California's water-supply problems and help for cash-strapped schools.

Seven state senators are heading overseas this week, some having left Thursday, on a trip that includes stops in Copenhagen, Madrid, Bilbao and Barcelona. They plan to study Spain's national water system and Scandinavian environmental programs, and to promote trade between California and Catalonia, according to a statement from the Senate Office of International Relations, which is organizing the trip.

Six other legislators are hoping to visit China and Korea to discuss business issues, but they are likely to wait until after the special session wraps up, aides said.

With nearly a fifth of the upper house heading out of the country, Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) has put off a special session on water and schools until Oct. 13.

The timing of the trip, just weeks after the Senate seemed on the verge of a water deal for California, has some Capitol watchers baffled.

"They ought to stick around until they find a solution to California's water problem, at the very least," said Lew Uhler, head of the National Tax Limitation Committee. "Action is needed now."

He also challenged the position that traveling overseas is an important part of a legislator's job. "They don't need to go abroad to learn how a dam is made or a pipe is laid," Uhler said.

Several members of the Assembly just returned from a lobbying trip to Washington, but spokeswomen for the leaders in that house said they were not aware of any planned overseas trips by their members during the next month.

Steinberg downplayed the exodus of his colleagues, saying legislative leaders will use the time to try to work out details on the pending issues.

"I don't need them all here right now. In fact, frankly it can be a distraction," Steinberg told The Times' editorial board Thursday. "I need to be able to finish the work with the governor and leaders and stakeholders and a few members who are more intimately involved with water. The timing will work out just fine."

Lawmakers planning to head to Europe include Sens. Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach), Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles), Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills), Roy Ashburn (R-Bakersfield), Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord), Robert Huff (R-Diamond Bar) and Christine Kehoe (D-San Diego). DeSaulnier and Pavley are going only to Spain, according to the international relations office.

Those hoping to make a trip to Asia include Sens. Louis Correa (D-Santa Ana) and Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), aides said.

The European trip includes the spouses and guests of some of the lawmakers. Lawmakers pay for most of their travel expenses by tapping their political accounts.

The purpose of the trip, according to a statement by the Senate office, is "to strengthen legislative ties with these two countries and to pursue positive economic, governmental, cultural and educational bonds between our regions."

Legislators are defending their travel plans, saying they hope to learn some things that can help California.

Cedillo, for instance, wants to engage officials on shipping issues in Denmark, because that country's ports do a lot of business with the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, said chief of staff Dan Savage.

"He is also looking at the tunneling technology in Spain," Savage said, noting that the senator has proposed a tunnel for the extension of the 710 Freeway.

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patrick.mcgreevy@latimes.com

Times staff writer Evan Halper contributed to this report.

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