Big bills live, die as Legislature adjourns

1:38 AM, Sep 1, 2012   |    comments
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There's no better tradition at the end of a biennial session than the pitching of pennies by staff and lobbyists into the crown of the Capitol rotunda's Queen Isabella statue.

It's all about who has enough skill, and luck, to succeed under duress where so many others fail -- an apt metaphor for trying to get complex bills through the political gauntlet as the clock ticks toward midnight.

And the final 48 hours of the 2011-2012 session was indeed a gauntlet:  interest group politics, tough policy choices, and the specter of the November 6 election looming over just about everything.

Long gun ban? Yes. Styrofoam food container ban? No. New heat rules for farm workers? Yes. Overtime for farm workers? No. Ronald Reagan statute? Yes. Mattress recycling fee? No.

But the marquee measure was always a revamp of public worker pensions -- and the compromise deal between Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative Democrats pleased neither end of the political spectrum.

Brown, who wore down some shoe leather shuttling around the Capitol all day (and night) Friday, seemed to fairly sum up the worldly limits of comprehensive pension changes.

"This takes pension benefits back to the Reagan era, and maybe before," said Brown after a Friday afternoon meeting with Senate Democrats.  "So, we've taken a great leap. We don't, you know, send a rocket ship to Mars here in Sacramento. We take reasonable steps."

Using the governor's analogy, another closely watched bill may have been too unwieldy to gain orbit. That was Assembly Speaker John Pérez's gambit for new corporate taxes to fund middle-class college scholarships. By Friday night, the bill had been rejiggered to earmark some of the expected corporate tax dollars for paying off K-12 school debts, to replace a planned timber tax, revive the Healthy Families health care plan for low-income families.

And those were just for starters -- as it may have helped keep some tobacco company taxes lower. Perez, who worked virtually every angle on the bill, couldn't wrangle enough votes on the so-called mega deal. It officially died just after 1:00 a.m., one of only a few bills eligible for extra hours past the midnight deadline.

But other bills lost the battle with the clock -- including a bill to extend a vehicle pollution fee, which received GOP support in the Assembly but not the Senate.

"It's midnight!" yelled state Sen. Tony Strickland, R-Moorpark, as the clock hit the bewitching hour on the vehicle fee bill, S.B. 1455.

Almost three dozen legislators won't return, some leaving due to other political races and others termed out of office. Now the bills they enacted get the final review -- pennies in or out of the crown, as it were -- a signature or veto from Gov. Brown by September 30.

My iPhone video of pennies pitched onto the queen...


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