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 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. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, 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.
As for state Republicans, they were their typical obstructionist selves throughout the year, opposing nearly everything they could. And then they ended the session in scandal when one of their rising stars, Assemblyman Mike Duvall, a "family values" politician from Orange County, quickly resigned after a tape surfaced of him bragging about having extramarital affairs and raunchy sex with two women. Questions immediately arose as to whether Duvall was trading sex for votes because one of the women was reportedly an energy lobbyist and he sat on an influential Assembly energy committee.
As for issues affecting the Bay Area, the legislature also tabled a watered-down version of BART's police oversight plan. BART developed the plan in the months following the fatal shooting of Oscar Grant, then agency officials secretly gutted it in order to overcome objections from a state police officers' group and gain quick approval in Sacramento. But the behind-the-scenes maneuver failed when Legislative leaders refused to fast-track the proposal. The plan is expected to undergo full hearings in 2010.
Have Yoo Ever Been to Spain?
Two Spanish judges are now investigating Bush administration lawyers, including UC Berkeley law school professor John Yoo, for their roles in authorizing torture. But US Attorney General Eric Holder could stymie those investigations if he refuses to answer legal inquires made by the judges, according to legal writer and journalist Scott Horton, writing for the Huffington Post. The judges, one of whom is Baltasar Garzon, best known for indicting Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, have given Holder until the end of October to answer questions about the roles played by Bush-era lawyers in the torture of Spanish citizens at the US prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The judges also are anxious to review an internal US Justice Department report on whether Yoo and his colleagues violated American legal standards when they authorized traditionally unlawful interrogation techniques such as waterboarding. The report has been five years in the making, but Holder has refused to release it. He also has refused to open his own criminal investigation into Yoo and his colleagues, and is concentrating on CIA agents and contractors who tortured prisoners beyond what Yoo authorized. According to Horton, Holder's decision to limit his investigation prompted the Spanish judges to go ahead with theirs.
UC President Mark Yudof wants to raise student fees by more than 30 percent in the next year to balance a huge budget deficit, according to the Chronicle. The increase would mean that annual student fees have nearly tripled in the past decade and would pass $10,000 for the first time in 2010. ... The opening of the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge could be delayed beyond 2013 because of welding problems in China and issues relating to the signature single-tower design, according to Caltrans officials. ... Alameda County District Attorney Tom Orloff has decided to retire, and is recommending that his chief deputy Nancy O'Malley take his place. She would be the county's first woman DA. ... And evidence surfaced that Fox News host Glenn Beck wasn't the only one to target Obama advisor Van Jones. A representative from a conservative group that has close ties to big oil companies and whose primary goal is to block climate-change legislation took credit for Jones' resignation in a posting last week on Fox News' web site.
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