by Jill Stewart
American Reporter Correspondent
September 16, 2004
CALIFORNIA'S LEGISLATURE STILL UNMOORED FROM REALITY
SACRAMENTO, Calif., Sept. 16, 2004 -- The mound of bad bills now sitting on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's desk is testament to government dysfunction, written in black and white. The big difference this year is that Arnold may veto many stinkers, while Gray Davis tended to buckle.
Because Democrats have controlled the California legislature for decades, with only a blip in the 1990's when the Assembly was split 50-50, the vast majority of laws are written by Democrats. As a Democrat, but also a big believer in the need for two parties, I suspect we Democrats have simply ruled the legislature for too long. When politicos of either party have no fear of being ousted, rational thought disappears.
This year, Assemblyman Paul Koretz of West Hollywood, Calif., one of the most consistently silly Democrats, has authored AB 1857, making it a crime to declaw exotic cats. As one appalled legislative staffer asked me, "Have we learned nothing from Siegfried & Roy?"
San Rafael, Calif., Assemblyman Joe Nation's AB 2193 makes it a crime to let anyone under 14 use a tanning salon. (Right now, the under-14 crowd can go with a parent. Clearly, these people must be stopped.) This, from the same legislature that utterly ignores California's scandalous teen dropout and illiteracy rates. Hey, a tanning ban lets legislators feel better about themselves.
AB 858, by Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg of Los Angeles, bans most uses of "Redskins" as a school mascot. Legislators continually ignore those Indians who say names such as "Braves," "Chiefs" and "Redskins" honor Indian courage and tenacity. But again, this is about legislators badly needing to like themselves.
Food stamps for drug felons, AB 1796 from Assemblyman Mark Leno of San Francisco, is another brainless guilt-reliever. Supposedly, counties would ensure that felons don't use food stamps to supplement and support their habits. Let me make a solid-gold prediction: counties will never know if drug felon food stamp recipients go back on drugs. The counties can barely track addresses of food stamp recipients, let alone their behavior.
Then there's SB 1901 by state Sen. Richard Alarcon of Los Angeles - more punishment of evil grape-growers. It largely bans growers from employing grape-pickers to be tasters of unwashed grapes (to rank things like sweetness).
I saw Sen. Liz Figueroa of Sunol speak about the horrors of unwashed grapes at a hearing. It was a delight to watch the audience audibly guffaw as politicos leaned into their microphones to denounce unwashed grape-tasting as "cruel" and "inhumane."
Who was this sane audience that had stumbled into a Sacramento hearing? It's practically not allowed. "Public" hearings are for big lobby groups like unions, who hate grape growers.
Figueroa then moved on to a new topic: her bid to make it a crime to crop dogs' ears. The cropping ban would devastate some of California's top-notch breeding industry. But legislators don't relate to people who raise Dobermans.
Suddenly, Figueroa announced she was dropping her ban. The folks in the audience whooped. They turned out to be dog breeders, making a rare foray into Sacramento politics. So I asked one breeder what she made of the grape-tasting and other discussions she'd just witnessed. She said, "If only people knew."
Hundreds of other bills don't kill jobs, but burn up crucial time while our legislators year in and out fail to perform their most basic duty - fixing our decaying state infrastructure.
Linden. Calif., state Sen. Mike Machado's push to name "purple needle grass" the official California grass illustrates why the legislature seems to bustle, yet accomplishes little. Legislators can spend up to an hour of public time "adjourning" in honor of their friends' birthdays.
We must cling to hope that Schwarzenegger flourishes his veto pen. And we must credit moderate Democrats, slapped awake by the Davis recall, as well as enlivened Republicans, for preventing at least some of the incessant meddling in California commerce and in our daily lives.
A humorous bill to require vending machines to sell health food was seen as way too much meddling. So was the hilarious plan to make builders use "Feng Shui" designs (and send costs skyward.) So was a regulation-gone-mad plan to force markets to protect helpless shoppers by posting milk prices of their competitors, and a similar one to force restaurant chains to discern and continually post nutrition values of their menus.
Long unmoored from reality, Sacramento wants to legislate every irritation in life. But that cannot explain 2004's most baffling proposal - Sen. John Vasconcellos' failed law to grant 14-year-olds the vote. Eviscerated nationwide, the lame duck Vasconcellos was dubbed "Senator Moon Doggy" on Jon Stewart's "The Daily Show," where a Stewart sidekick said the senator's plan "blew my mind."
If California residents knew the half of what's contained in the roughly 1,000 new crimes and laws dreamed up in Sacramento each year, that's exactly what they'd say, too.