Editor’s Notes

Pub date September 15, 2009
WriterTim Redmond


I’m really glad that you can watch the state Legislature on streaming video, because it gave me something to do Friday night. For a couple of hours, I sat there transfixed, flicking from the Assembly channel to the Senate channel, as the exhausted and somewhat punchy leaders of our state government blazed through about 100 different bills.

I think my favorite moment was when the Assembly Republicans tried to derail AB 962, a bill by Assembly Member Kevin De Leon (D-Los Angeles) that bans the sale of mail-order ammunition. De Leon tried to explain how reasonable the measure is — you can still order ammo on the Internet, but it has to be delivered to a licensed gun store, someplace where a clerk can check to make sure you’re over 18 and not a felon. He spoke of teenagers in his district ordering thousands of rounds of deadly bullets and getting them delivered to their doorsteps.

But oh my, the GOP was outraged. One Assembly Member announced that this was a violation of the Second Amendment and started chanting "let my people go." Another described a letter she received from a senior citizen who apparently had trouble getting around but needed a thousand rounds of live ammo for a "cowboy reenactment." The guy can’t drive to a gun store, but he can shoot live bullets at other old cowboys? What a great country.

At any rate, the Assembly passed the bill, with the minimum 41 votes, and the governor will now get to decide once again if he’s with the gun nuts or reasonable law enforcement.

I was a little worried that the modest prison reform bill would fail. Barely enough Assembly Democrats supported it, and some of the more liberal state Senators said it didn’t go far enough. Which it didn’t, and it doesn’t, and it’s at best a weak plan that could lead to the release of 17,000 nonviolent inmates. But the heart of the original bill, which called for a commission to review the state’s insane and often arbitrary sentencing policies, died. And some Assembly Democrats — including San Francisco’s Fiona Ma — refused to support a proposal to release more inmates to alternative custody, including home detention with electronic monitoring. So an alternative-release bill never made it to the floor.

That means the state is at least $200 million short of the cuts it needs to make in the prison system to balance the budget — cuts that were already included in the fiscal plan approved this summer. And California is still out of compliance with the federal courts, which have ordered the state to release some 40,000 inmates.

Something’s got to give.

The water system isn’t getting any better, either. The five key water bills failed to get approval, so it appears the Legislature will be coming back for a special session on water. Maybe one on education, too. Maybe more prison reform will come up in those sessions. Maybe Fiona Ma will realize that unlike some moderate Dems, she runs no risk of losing reelection over prison releases and can vote the right way next time.

And maybe Tantalus will get to eat some apples. Last I heard, he was still hungry.