Dan Walters

Dan Walters

Dan Walters: California Legislature saturated with deals

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 3A
Last Modified: Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013 - 8:16 pm

Alate-blooming, business-backed drive to significantly alter the 42-year-old California Environmental Quality Act died late last week when it crashed into a wall of opposition from influential environmental groups.

That wasn't the official reason, of course. Rather, legislative leaders insisted that putting off CEQA modification was a good government decision not to rush on something so significant.

"This law, for all of its strengths and its faults, is far too important to rewrite in the last days of the session," Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said.

Steinberg, who does public sincerity well, uttered those words with a straight face. But at the risk of sounding churlish, one must point out that the fact that there are just a few days remaining in the session has not dissuaded him or other legislative leaders from ginning up almost countless numbers of new bills with far-reaching economic and social effects.

Such as:

• Steinberg's own bill that would overturn, or at least significantly alter, a 2011 state Supreme Court decision on how medical costs are to be awarded in personal injury cases, the top priority of his friends in the Consumer Attorneys of California, the trade group for personal injury lawyers. If enacted, his bill could have multibillion-dollar effects.

• Another Steinberg bill that would semi-legalize about 3 million illegal immigrants in the state by allowing them to file income tax returns, plus a second measure that would grant at least some of those immigrants state driver's licenses.

• An overhaul of the state's system of compensating workers for job-related illnesses and injuries that was drafted in private by unions and major employers and placed in bill form just last week, but is drawing heavy opposition from workers' comp lawyers, medical care providers and small employers.

• Just Tuesday, a supposed reform of the immense structure of pensions for state and local government workers, once again hammered out in secrecy with Gov. Jerry Brown.

Virtually all of these and many other last-minute bills are being rushed through the process as "gut-and-amend" exercises, wherein a dormant bill's contents are stripped out and an entirely new bill is inserted, bypassing the multiple hearings and other legislative hurdles that more ordinary measures must endure.

Some of these transmogrified measures are hundreds of pages long, making it virtually impossible for anyone outside the inner circles of "stakeholders" to fully understand what they would do. And some are being treated as budget "trailer bills," thus qualifying them for fast action, even if they have little to do with the budget and just contain token $1,000 appropriations.

Good government? Taking the time to do it right? Scarcely.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Dan Walters



Dan Walters, political columnist

Dan Walters

Dan Walters has been a journalist for more than a half-century, spending all but a few of those years working for California newspapers. At one point in his career, at age 22, he was the nation's youngest daily newspaper editor.

He joined The Sacramento Union's Capitol bureau in 1975, just as Jerry Brown began his first governorship, and later became the Union's Capitol bureau chief. In 1981, Walters began writing the state's only daily newspaper column devoted to California political, economic and social events and, in 1984, he and the column moved to The Sacramento Bee. He has written more than 7,500 columns about California and its politics and his column now appears in dozens of California newspapers.

Email: dwalters@sacbee.com
Phone: 916-321-1195
Twitter: @WaltersBee

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