Three Ring Circus in Sacramento: Special Session on Health and Water, Tonight is Deadline for Governor to Decide Whether to Allow Iraq Vote, A Flood of Bills Pass by the Hour Including More Flood Safety Legislation5 min read

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The news is not flowing out of Sacramento today, it is gushing—by the hour. Here are the highlights.

Governor Schwarzenegger announced in a press conference this afternoon that he is calling the legislature into special sessions on both health care and water. He had complimentary things to say about Speaker Nunez and his efforts on the health care bill, AB 8, that he is planning on vetoing. He said, in response to a shouted question at the end of the briefing that they were “real close” and that he thought they were weeks away from an agreement.

The Governor has until midnight tonight to sign, veto, or allow a vote in the February primary on the Iraq War to take place without his signature. SB 924 (Perata) is on his desk and reports are that he checked yesterday with the office of Legislative Counsel to make sure he had until the end of today to make a decision. Despite at least a couple of questions, he would not reveal how he was leaning—and even said he had not yet made up his mind. He simply said he would have an announcement later.

Schwarzenegger also complimented Senator Perata for his interest in the water issue and the package of legislation the Senator has introduced, some of it passing today in the legislature.

The pattern that emerges from what the Governor said and what Speaker Nunez himself said at a press conference shortly afterwards is that Nunez will lead a team of Assemblymembers and perhaps Senators on the health issue and Perata will take the lead on water.

Nunez said he would gavel the Assembly’s regular session down for adjournment for the year tonight (which in legislative time includes the morning hours) and then gavel up the special sessions. He said he would have his appointments made within 12 hours. Taking those comments literally, since they were made at 4:11 p.m., would mean the Assembly will adjourn at about 4 in the morning.

From what Nunez said and what would be expected to hold for the Senate as well, these teams will get to work shortly and the hope is that they would be able to get a final product or one close to it hammered out in a matter of weeks and then the rest of the legislature would be called back to Sacramento to deal with one or both issues.

Speaker Nunez indicated there is the need to get quicker action on water as the plan appears to be to get a bond issue on the February ballot. The normal deadline for this would be September 27. According to Elections Code Section 9040, that is the last day for the legislative measure to qualify for the February 5 election, although there has been slippage in the date in recent years which sometimes necessitates the preparation of a supplemental ballot pamphlet. The underlying assumption is that action on water needs to take place quickly and there is discussion of a bond which would include water conveyance and storage, above and/or above ground.

As to health, Nunez indicated there was not the same deadline, but he did not want to give himself and others too much time. He made the comment that if it was up to him and the Governor, they could have a deal put together in 20 minutes.

The idea for health care that emerges from what both the Speaker and the Governor said is for there to be legislation passed by the legislature but with the financing to be placed on an election ballot for the voters to approve.

Speaker Nunez said “bingo” when a reporter asked him if the idea was to have legislation that would stand on its own, even if the funding mechanism on the ballot did not pass. He also said that AB 8 would be the “baseline” from which negotiations would take place and at one point said he did not want to see too much deviation from it, but at another time said “everything is on the table.”

As to water, the Speaker indicated he did not want to go “too deep” and that it is a very complicated area for public policy and he would be relying on other legislators to work on that issue. He as asked about Republican legislators who had suggested a $5 billion bond, and was noncommittal—even noting that there were other bonds that were in contemplation (presumably not for the February ballot) and that the level of bonded indebtedness needed to be considered before making any decisions. He specifically mentioned as competing measures for bond money High Speed Rail. When told that Republican Senator Dave Cox had suggested the $5 billion figure—he playfully chided the reporter to check his notes, saying it must have been another Dave, Assemblymember Dave Jones or someone else because Senator Cox held the budget up, saying we were spending too much.

Noted in reporters questions to both the Governor and the Speaker was the absence of redistricting/reapportionment in the special session call. Nunez said that while he had made his best efforts to reach an agreement with Republican Assembly leader Mike Villines, that he had not been able to do so. He said the issue will not make the February ballot. Schwarzenegger had been asked in his press conference taking place earlier if he would not support the term limits proposition on the February ballot without redistricting being on it. All he said is that he had linked the two issues in the past.

While all this was going on, the Senate gave passage to AB 156 (Laird) and AB 70 (Jones) which must be voted on in the Assembly for concurrence in amendments tonight to receive final passage.

All sorts of other legislation has been passed today. Of special note is AB 1708 (Swanson) by the Senate which includes a modification of Senator Romero’s sentencing commission bill, AB 110. Romero’s bill previously failed to pass the Assembly but is pending a motion to reconsider. The Swanson bill may be a harbinger for passage of Romero’s bill, with or without a similar bill by Assemblymember Lieber, in these final hours of the session.

More about all of this later—before it becomes outdated—or overrun by more news.

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