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Full of Highs and Lows : For Deukmejian, Session Was Like a Roller Coaster

Times Staff Writers

For Gov. George Deukmejian, the 1985 legislative session was a long, twisting roller coaster ride of exuberant highs and stomach-wrenching lows that is likely to resume next year as he runs for reelection.

There were some sweet victories for the governor as the Legislature finished the first half of its two-year session. The sweetest came early Saturday when lawmakers gave him his long sought work-for-welfare program.

But at crucial times--for instance, when lawmakers only granted him a part of his emergency prison construction program--the Republican governor encountered a Democratic reluctance to send him anything that might be politically useful during his expected campaign rerun against Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley.

And on occasion, the governor was unable to muster loyalty from lawmakers of his own party.

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A clear example came just before dawn on Saturday when Assembly Republicans, refusing to submit to what they angrily charged was Democratic extortion, became partly responsible for the governor’s sourest defeat: the scuttling of his top-priority project, creation of a new state agency to more swiftly and efficiently clean up toxic wastes.

And there also were significant victories for the Legislature’s top Democratic leaders, Assembly Speaker Willie Brown of San Francisco and Senate President Pro Tem David A. Roberti of Los Angeles.

Brown, who relishes fast cars, drove away with a glamour issue when he pushed through legislation requiring California motorists and their passengers to buckle their seat belts starting Jan. 1 or face fines ranging up to $50.

Roberti, who for years has sought costly legislation to provide after-school care for youngsters whose parents work, finally extracted from the governor $30 million for “latchkey” children. In addition, he got $85 million in extra funds for children of welfare parents and the working poor.

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Unlike in past years, when the Republican governor and Democratic legislators locked themselves into one unproductive partisan battle after another and often barely were on speaking terms, a more civil and businesslike atmosphere tended to prevail this year. And in large part, this paved the way for passage of the emotionally charged workfare program for welfare parents.

“There would be no welfare reform if he (Deukmejian) didn’t propose and participate in it,” Roberti said. “He deserves a huge deal of credit. We’ve reached sort of a modus operandi with the governor. It took a while to find out how that works.”

Speaker Brown said, “I think this has been the best of all years substantively.”

‘Irresponsible, Arrogant’

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But this spirit of bipartisanship was noticeably absent at times, particularly in the often-bitter final days of the session. Deukmejian on Saturday vented his frustration by accusing Speaker Brown of being “totally irresponsible and arrogant” for adjourning the Assembly without allowing a vote on the toxics bill.

Brown gaveled the session to a close without a toxics bill vote because Democrats had decided en masse not to support the governor’s toxics program unless Republicans backed a Democratic measure to provide $3 million for the aged, blind and disabled. The GOP refused, despite the governor’s private exhortations.

For the Republicans, it was slim pickings with very few major GOP bills clearing both houses. The minority party even had to share the credit for the workfare program with liberal Democrats who helped fashion the compromise.

Despite what Deukmejian and lawmakers praised as major accomplishments so far, significant unfinished business remains for the lawmakers’ return on Jan. 6 to start the election-year wind up of the l985-86 session. Heading the list will be trying to reach agreement on reorganizing toxic waste cleanup, a long-term prison construction program and repeal of the unitary system of taxing multinational corporations.

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Usually, however, relatively little of great significance is accomplished at the state Capitol during an election year when both sides scramble to make themselves look good at the expense of the other. In addition to the race for governor, all 80 Assembly and 20 of the 40 Senate seats will be at stake.

Budget Surplus

Certain to become an election-year issue, however, is the approximately $1-billion budget surplus that Deukmejian has insisted on keeping in a special account to deal with unexpected economic emergencies.

Democrats and some Republicans have talked of drawing down the surplus for an election-year tax cut. However, Deukmejian has not allowed himself to be pulled into the discussion, maintaining that such talk is premature.

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On prisons, Deukmejian got only half a loaf when the Legislature begrudgingly sent him a scaled-back version of his emergency program to build new lockups to ease severe overcrowding.

Among other things, he wanted new prisons constructed without plans being first submitted to the time-consuming environmental impact study process. He also wanted a prison near downtown Los Angeles. He got neither, although the lawmakers gave him an abbreviated “fast-track” environmental review procedure and authority to build facilities for an additional 5,000 convicts by July 1.

The Legislature also acted on these issues during its 1985 session:

AIDS--Deukmejian vetoed from the state budget an extra $11.6 million that Democrats had added for AIDS treatment, research and educational programs. But as concerns escalated nationwide over the incurable acquired immune deficiency syndrome disease that has spread to children and others, he later agreed to restore $5 million. Many lawmakers, Democrat and Republican, detected the move as an indication of a softening in the governor’s widely perceived “no-compromise” image fashioned during his first two years in office.

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MENTAL--Under a bill that sailed through the Legislature without a dissenting vote and now awaits Deukmejian’s signature, state and county mental health programs for the first time would make a concentrated effort to provide basic necessities to the homeless mentally ill. The proposal would spend an additional $21 million to provide food, shelter, health care and psychiatric treatment for thousands of gravely disturbed people.

WINE--One of the most heavily contested “special-interest” bills was a measure to grant a few importers monopoly control over prestige European wines and champagnes brought into California. It would stamp out a flourishing gray market that has been outmaneuvering the authorized importers and undercutting their prices by as much as 50%. If Deukmejian signs the bill, consumers can expect to see those bargains quickly fade away.

RENT--A bill to curb the ability of cities to enact their own rent controls cleared the Assembly for the second year in a row, but was bottled up in the Senate, where it will be up for action in 1986.


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