This year may go down as one of the most pathetic in the history of the state Legislature. Not only did Sacramento lawmakers spend nearly all of 2009 groping for solutions to the state's intractable budget problems, but the Legislature failed to enact any significant reforms that would help solve California's other major issues. As for Democrats, the only semblance of progress they made was passing a watered-down version of a prison reform bill that was weaker than the one proposed by the state's Republican governor.
Indeed, it was the height of cravenness for Democrats, especially those in the state Assembly, to stake out of a position to the right of Arnold Schwarzenegger because they were so afraid of being called "soft on crime." But that's exactly what they did when they approved a bill that would lessen California's inmate population by 17,000 instead of the 27,000 that the governor sought. Democrats apparently found that Schwarzenegger's plan to release some elderly and sick inmates and to downgrade some nonviolent felonies to misdemeanors was far too liberal.
Democrats also are probably hoping that the federal judiciary will bail them out. A three-judge panel has ordered the state to cut the inmate population by more than 40,000 in the next two years to relieve severe prison overcrowding. The judges' say overcrowding is the root cause of inadequate health care in the state's prison system, and it's so bad, it constitutes "cruel and unusual" punishment. Schwarzenegger has appealed the judges' decision and had hoped that a tough new prison reform bill would have rendered it moot. But the Democrats were too scared of the political consequences to make that happen.
Lawmakers also finished the legislative session on Saturday without addressing the failing Sacramento/San Joaquin River Delta or reaching a compromise with the governor over renewable energy standards. There is talk about a special legislative session to find a solution to the delta's problems, but as for climate change, Schwarzenegger may act on his own this week. According to the Associated Press, the governor plans to veto bills approved by the Legislature and then issue executive orders, requiring that one-third of the state's energy come from renewables by 2020. The governor opposed the Democrat-sponsored plan because it would have limited the amount of wind, solar, and geothermal power that comes from out of state.