Dan Walters

Dan Walters: Prisons pivotal in crunch time at the Capitol

Published: Wednesday, Sep. 4, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 3A
Last Modified: Wednesday, Sep. 4, 2013 - 7:44 am

Things are getting a little crunchy in the state Capitol.

Having taken off Labor Day and planning to observe two of the Jewish high holidays, state legislators have just six business days remaining before the scheduled end of their 2013 session, with hundreds of bills still awaiting action.

The volume is not particularly high, compared with that in past years, but there is an unusually high number of very difficult issues remaining to be resolved – if, indeed, they can be resolved. Thus, the usual end-of-session gamesmanship may be more intense than usual.

The issue with the highest profile is what response California will make to the federal courts' insistence that the state's prison population be trimmed by nearly 10,000 more inmates.

Gov. Jerry Brown, who has battled the judges on every point, now wants to lock up more inmates in private and out-of-state prisons and local penal facilities to meet the court order. He has support from local government and law enforcement officials, as well as Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, but many liberal Democrats – including virtually all of the party's senators – are going another way.

The senators' support for an alternative strategy of more intensive programs to reduce recidivism, which has the backing of inmates' lawyers, has made the long-simmering rivalry between Pérez and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg very public.

The rivalry and the prison issue's overarching importance may affect other issues that remain on the Legislature's agenda, such as Steinberg's late-blooming effort to gain fast-track handling of California Environmental Quality Act impacts on Sacramento's proposed downtown basketball arena.

Steinberg promised to clear regulatory underbrush for the project as part of the agreement to keep the Kings basketball team in Sacramento. But it may become entangled with two other issues – long-stalled efforts to overhaul CEQA that Brown has pushed and another bill that would give state approval to another basketball arena on the San Francisco waterfront to accommodate the Warriors.

The latter has passed the Assembly and is pending on the Senate floor, but faces opposition in Oakland, which doesn't want to lose its basketball team, and from critics in San Francisco, including former Mayor Art Agnos.

These and other major issues – such as whether to raise California's minimum wage and regulation of oil "fracking" – create the atmosphere for Capitol politicians to perform their usual end-of-session tricks, such as writing whole new bills in the dead of night, holding bills hostage and political horse-trading.

There could be, as often occurs at the end of a session, one big deal in which a few politicians and lobbyists privately decide what will fly and what will die.

Call The Bee's Dan Walters, (916) 321-1195. Back columns, www.sacbee.com/walters. Follow him on Twitter @WaltersBee.

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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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