Dan Walters

Dan Walters

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Dan Walters: The legislative process does count

Published: Sunday, Sep. 2, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 3A
Last Modified: Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013 - 8:16 pm

A 170-page overhaul of California's multi- billion-dollar workers' compensation system – hammered out during months of secret negotiations between business and labor union lobbyists – was dumped on the desks of 80 Assembly members late Friday after being whisked through two perfunctory committee hearings.

It would, if enacted, affect the lives of countless thousands of workers who sustain job-related injuries and illnesses, but just how was a matter of great dispute.

The proponents said it would raise cash benefits by as much as 30 percent to those with permanent disabilities and speed medical treatment, but to pay for the expanded benefits, eligibility would be tightened. Lawyers who specialize in such cases and some medical care providers were opposing it.

Legislative leaders of both parties were exhorting their members to back the overhaul. But it was too much for one San Diego County Democrat.

"I can't vote for something I can't explain," Ben Hueso told his colleagues, who were looking forward to a midnight adjournment after a hectic last week of the 2012 session. "Let's conduct ourselves with more honor and more dignity. Let's involve our community in our decisions."

The plea fell pretty much on deaf ears. Hueso and two other Democrats voted against Senate Bill 863, along with two Republicans, and three other Democrats refused to vote. But the bill garnered 72 of the Assembly's 80 votes and zipped through the Senate by a similarly lopsided 34-4 vote to land on Gov. Jerry Brown's desk for a certain signature.

So is SB 863 good public policy or not?

One can't really answer that question, and the same ambiguity envelops almost everything else that was done, and left undone, in the final days of the session.

SB 863 was one of countless measures that popped up during those days, entirely new bills that were hustled through the process with little or no detailed knowledge of what they really do, or whose interests they serve.

Up until minutes before adjournment, Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Brown were trying to rewrite a Pérez bill changing taxation of multistate corporations.

They created a Christmas tree loaded with ornaments to attract the votes of particular senators. But it finally collapsed of its own ponderous weight.

Mention "process" to Capitol politicians and staffers and you often get a roll of the eyes. But process counts because it affects the legitimacy of the policy product and the credibility of those involved in it.

Dumping 170-page bills on legislators' desks and demanding immediate votes stigmatizes what they do and feeds Californians' growing sense of alienation from politics and their cynicism about politicians.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

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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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