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Lawmakers' dispute jeopardizes Bell-inspired disclosure bill

A measure that would require many state officials to disclose their compensation and perks is hung up by a dispute between Sen. Lou Correa and Assembly Speaker John Pérez over a bill to dissolve another scandal-plagued city: Vernon.

August 23, 2011|By Patrick McGreevy, Los Angeles Times
  • State Sen. Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana), center, here with Sens. Joel Anderson (R-San Diego), left, and Tom Berryhill (R-Modesto), is involved in a dispute with Assembly Speaker John Prez over a bill that would dissolve the scandal-plagued L.A. County city of Vernon.
State Sen. Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana), center, here with Sens. Joel Anderson… (Rich Pedroncelli, AP )

Reporting from Sacramento — A proposal to prevent repeats of the Bell scandal — in which city officials secretly granted themselves salaries of up to $800,000 — hung in limbo Monday, jeopardized by an unrelated dispute between two Southern California lawmakers.

The measure, which would require many government officials in California to publicly disclose their compensation and perks, unanimously passed the state Senate in the morning. But it's unclear whether the measure will be taken up this year in the lower house.

That is because its author, state Sen. Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana), is butting heads with Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez (D-Los Angeles) over a bill to dissolve another scandal-plagued Los Angeles County city: Vernon.

Good-government advocates fear a reprise of an old Sacramento theme: Personal and political rivalries can scuttle even the most basic reforms.

"It seems like petty politics that are going to harm a worthy cause," said Derek Cressman, regional director of Common Cause, which supports both proposals. "It's a shame."

Unsure the Bell-inspired bill will pass the Assembly, Correa said he may simply ask that it sit in a committee until next year. By then, the Vernon battle is expected to be resolved.

Despite the dispute, Correa denied that Pérez has been an obstacle. "I just want to make sure people understand the bill before I move it ahead," he said.

He did, however, acknowledge a conflict over the Vernon bill, which he objects to and which is pending in the Senate.

"They are separate issues," Correa said, "and I hope they will be viewed by the Assembly as separate issues."

Pérez is noncommittal on Correa's proposal.

"Mr. Correa's bill will receive the same consideration that every other Senate bill receives in the Assembly," said John Vigna, a spokesman for the speaker.

Bickering has claimed ambitious proposals in the past.

In 2009, Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger fought acrimoniously with then-Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, a Democrat, over the annual budget. He later vetoed $80 million in child welfare programs, including foster care measures dear to Bass, a former foster mother.

Chamber-to-chamber rivalry has also unraveled bills. In 2007 the Assembly rejected the Senate leader's proposal to provide universal healthcare for California children; the Assembly had a broader measure in mind. The subsequent Assembly measure, by then-Speaker Fabian Nuñez, never even had a full vote in the Senate.

Correa's measure, SB 46, would require city, county, school and state administrators to disclose how much they are paid in salary, benefits, expenses and perks, including government cars. It sailed through the Senate with little drama and no objections Monday morning, and the lawmakers quickly moved on to the next noncontroversial item: declaring October as Italian American Heritage Month.

Pérez, meanwhile, had been struggling against strong opposition from several unions to win Senate votes to convert Vernon into an unincorporated area of Los Angeles County. He proposed the bill in response to allegations that Vernon officials were mishandling public funds.

Correa once supported the Vernon bill, AB 46. But he said he later became convinced that it could hurt the economy in the face of continuing high unemployment.

"My concern is jobs," Correa said. "Will this action scare jobs away?"

The Legislature has until Sept. 9 to finish its work this year, and other bills besides Correa's advanced Monday.

The Senate gave final passage to SB 888 by Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance), which would restrict protests at military funerals. His proposal was in response to demonstrations by a religious group that claims war deaths are punishment for the country's tolerance of homosexuality. The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that the group has a 1st Amendment right to demonstrate.

The Assembly sent the governor a measure intended to make it easier for low-level criminals to get jobs. It would give courts more discretion to expunge misdemeanors from the criminal records of those who have shown they are rehabilitated. Assemblyman Steve Bradford (D-Gardena) is the author of AB 1384.

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