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Calif. Lawmakers Struggle to Take Action by Friday

Audio

Aired 9/8/09

California lawmakers are entering the back stretch of the legislative session. We're joined on Morning Edition by non-partisan Sacramento Political Consultant Leo McElroy.

— California lawmakers are headed into the final stretch of the legislative session this week. State water supply and prison overcrowding remain unresolved. We're joined on Morning Edition by non-partisan Sacramento Political Consultant Leo McElroy. Lawmakers have till Friday, Leo, to take action on water and the state's prison population. Are we likely to see any action this week?

LEO MCELROY: Forecast right now is one for two on that one. I was talking with one of the staff people, higher-ranking staff people at the capitol last night, and I said how serious is the water solution - is there really a solution coming? And he said very probably, there's a sign that it's serious talk because we're not hearing anything. He said when there's a lot of talk around the capitol usually means there's a battle going on. When they're not spilling anything down to us at the staff level it means they're really serious about coming up with answers. The battle seems to be whether to pay for the work to, particularly, save the Sacramento Delta area, and provide a better quality of water to southern California. Whether to pay for that entirely with bonds, which is a Republican position, or whether to pay for it with a combination of bonds and fees, which is a Democratic position. And then how many dams will be a part of the mix, and whether mandatory conservation's going to be in there. And that's pretty much a north versus south kind of issue. The north has not been a very big fan of mandatory conservation in the past.

ALAN RAY: Okay, you didn't mention a peripheral canal here.

MCELROY: I didn't mention peripheral canal because that is a dirty word, that is only spray-painted on walls in the dead of night. Ever since the defeat of the original peripheral canal measure, nobody uses that word anymore. They use separated waterway; they use isolated transference. They use all kinds of terms, but nobody at the capitol, under threat of fear and loathing, uses the terms peripheral canal. It may be one, but you don't call it that.

DWANE BROWN: Well, Democrats want to vote on a water package by Friday, Leo, but it seems the GOP is more focused on business related legislation. What's that about?

MCELROY: Well, there's a great deal of desire on the part of the Republicans to achieve something at this point, and something to give them a bit more business-friendly image. It's going to be a major part of where they're going. At the same time, of course, as you mentioned before, there is the ongoing rumble about the assembly trying to finish its part of the job on the prison reform issue, and they're still hung up over battles such as whether to have a sentencing commission that will reconsider some of California's laws, downgrading some felonies to misdemeanors, and the program of early release for some of the geriatric older prisoners who presumably are not much of a threat to anybody anymore. So, these are things that the Republican caucus can focus on at the same time that they appear to be going along much of the way on the water issue, which looks like the one place where government actually might do something functional.

RAY: Is there a chance the legislature might just bail - leave the federal government to start releasing prisoners or ordering the releases and then blame the feds for what's going wrong?

MCELROY: Well, the state is hinting at that because we filed the counter lawsuit basically challenging the feds authority to do this, and saying you can't make us do it because we don't have the money to do it; don't have the money to build new prisons - can't force us to release. I think there is some thought at the legislative side that if they can pass this off to the lawsuit, and let the lawsuit take the blame, then they'll never get blamed for whatever release of prisoners happens. Right now that is considered the political poison pill. Nobody wants to go before the voters and say, re-elect me, I helped put some people out of prison back on the streets.

RAY: That's non-partisan Sacramento Political Consultant Leo McElroy. We talk to him every Tuesday.

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