Dan Walters

Dan Walters: California Legislature 'solving' problems it created

The 2013 session of the California Legislature is nearly four months old, having begun in early December, and lawmakers have done little to earn their salaries and living expense checks.

They've been occupying their - really, our - time with mostly pointless "hearings" on their pet causes and, in the Senate, with a series of lectures from the podium on various topics.

Production of legislation has been scant to the point of near invisibility. But the legislative leadership is fast-tracking a couple of bills, and therein lies a tale.

One measure, Senate Bill 140 by Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, would appropriate $24 million to accelerate the state Department of Justice's program of seizing weapons from felons and mentally ill people who, by law, cannot possess them.

The DOJ has a list of nearly 19,000 such people who possess close to 40,000 firearms, and it grows daily - faster than the department's agents can find and remove the weapons. The problem was being ignored until the Legislature staged a hearing on writing new gun control laws and DOJ representatives complained about a lack of money.

Obviously, it would be embarrassing for the Legislature to write new gun laws when it wasn't appropriating enough money to enforce those already on the books. So the Leno bill was quickly drafted and whisked through the Senate.

SB 140 awaits action in the Assembly, but pro-gun groups are complaining that the $24 million would come from fees on legitimate gun purchasers that are supposed to pay for their background checks.

Diverting those fees into rounding up illicit guns may - or may not - be legal, but it's certainly a questionable practice.

Meanwhile, Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez is fast-tracking a bill to appropriate $2 million to Secretary of State Debra Bowen's office to clear up a backlog of business filings - legislation sparked by a Bee story describing chronic delays in processing business paperwork.

That sounds responsive until one looks at the recent history of the situation. A year and a half ago, Pérez announced, with great fanfare, that the Assembly was shifting $1.2 million from its own budget to speed up processing of business filings, and Bowen declared - wrongly, as it turned out - that the money would erase the backlog.

Meanwhile, however, the Legislature has diverted more than $20 million in business filing fees into the general fund in the last three years to close the state's chronic budget deficit while slashing the budget item for processing "filings and registrations" from $52 million in 2011-12 to $46.4 million this year.

Bottom line: The Perez bill would "solve" a problem that the Legislature itself created by playing budget games - much like it did with the DOJ's gun seizure program.

That's not achievement.

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