America’s Worst Legislature

Trying to appease the cowards running for higher office in the Assembly rank and file, Karen Bass has dropped the sentencing commission out of the prison reform package.

The sentencing commission was among the most controversial provisions of the Senate prison plan. But on Monday, Senate leader Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said “a real sentencing commission, with teeth, is my top priority” for corrections legislation.

Steinberg spokeswoman Alicia Dlugosh said Monday that the Senate leader would like to see any legislation passed by the Assembly “realize the same dollar figure in savings as the Senate bill.”

The bill passed last week by the Senate, AB 14 XXX would save the state an estimated $600 million, according to an analysis of the bill. But the Assembly seemed poised to make key changes that would reduce those savings by about $220 million.

Among the other changes expected to be made by the Assembly would be the elimination of a provision that would change some crimes which can be either felonies or misdemeanors –known as “wobblers” – exclusively to misdemeanors. The Assembly bill expected to come up for a vote this week would leave the state’s wobbler law unchanged.

Assembly Democrats also balked at a provision in the Senate bill that would allow some sick and elderly inmates to finish their sentences under house arrest.

Bass said she hoped to pass the sentencing commission as stand-alone legislation later in the year.  First of all, the year ends on September 11, and second, adding the commission to a must-pass reform package was the whole point.  If lawmakers objected to it as part of a package, they’re not going to turn around and support it in isolation.

Punting on this issue will ensure that federal judges will be mandating reductions of the prison population 10 years down the road.  The only reform worth doing in the package now clarifies parole policy, devoting resources to those who need to be monitored instead of the blanket supervision that has turned our parole system into a revolving door.  But that will not be enough to turn around the prison crisis for the long-term, without finally doing something about our ever expanding sentencing law.

This also shows the complete dysfunction of the leadership.  Darrell Steinberg may not go along with the limited version, and I don’t blame him.  His chamber has now stuck their neck out three times on tough votes – Tranquillon Ridge drilling, HUTA raids and now this – that the Assembly has quashed.  I wasn’t unhappy about the first two, but if I was in the Senate, I’d be pissed about all these controversial votes I was needlessly taking.  You’d think Karen Bass would have a sense of her caucus and know that she couldn’t pass whatever she and Steinberg and the Governor hammered out in private.  Because she’s on her way out the door in 2010 she has no leverage over the caucus, because everyone’s termed out and running for something else they have no fealty to the Assembly, and because they all live perpetually in fear they won’t take a vote they know would help future generations deal with a crisis.

As I’ve said, a broken process will almost always produce a broken result.  But individual lawmakers need to be called out.  Particularly the three Assemblymembers running for Attorney General who think they’re showing off their toughness.  When all of them lose, they’ll probably attribute it to other factors.  They should be reminded of this day.

5 thoughts on “America’s Worst Legislature”

  1. but the prison packages were eligible to pass with majority vote.

    There was no 2/3 rule, so this package had nothing to do with any querk about California relative to the other states. However, yes, politicians are playing politics and different interest groups are threatening to make a big deal out of the vote, but that happens EVERYWHERE.

    Believe me, it’s all bluster. The only reason Dems propose tax increases is because they know Republicans would block it.

    Even if they had 2/3 of the vote, they wouldn’t pass a tax increase on their own.  Witness the Federal Employee Free Choice Act, how many so called “fans of it” who sponsored or voted for it in 2007 when they knew it would be fillibustered/veteoed, (like Feinstein), but backed away from it in 2009 (Arlen Specter also, Landrieu, etc).

    Look at another heavily Democratic state, Pat Quinn couldn’t ram a tax increase through that state legislature either. (You need 3/5 of the vote for a tax increase, and Dems have more than 60 percent in both

    Despite Gov. Pat Quinn’s vow to work out a budget solution in October, Illinois Senate President John Cullerton said Monday “there’s no reason” to vote on an income-tax hike this fall because there wouldn’t be enough support to make the increase effective immediately.

    Speaking to the Tribune’s editorial board, Cullerton said there aren’t enough votes to muster a three-fifths majority in the Senate and the House to pass an income-tax increase when lawmakers return to Springfield in October.

    “There’s no reason to do it,” Cullerton, a Chicago Democrat, said of a fall vote. “I would do it in January. I’d do it before the primary. Whatever makes it easier to pass.”

    Still, it’s questionable whether lawmakers would vote just prior to the Feb. 2 primary elections on an income-tax increase — particularly when Cullerton said he believes Republican votes are necessary to advance such a plan in the Senate and the House.

  2. You’re attacking the wrong Party.

    Not a single Republican voted for this package.

    And a Republican governor who hammered it out couldn’t get a single Republican (or Democratic) vote for it.

    Meanwhile, Republicans are hammering away that Democrats are “soft on crime.”

    The three Democrats in the Assembly running for AG aren’t right-wingers; they are solid progressives, each with a 100% record on progressive issues. It’s perfectly reasonable that they want stronger protections that were in the Schwarzenegger package or passed by the Senate (where some Democrats also voted no).

    Karen Bass is doing the right thing by taking her time to figure this out and hammer out a package that has the support of her Caucus.

    Meanwhile, instead of directly your attacks on Democrats, focus on the party where NONE of its members nor its leader, the Governor, are providing support.

  3. of why we should have one legislative body instead of two.

    That Constitutional Convention is looking better and better…

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