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Analysis : County Bills Find a Voice This Year in Sacramento

Times Staff Writers

There was something new and different about Orange County lawmakers during the first half of the 1985-86 session.

In years past, it was hard to find county legislators who would volunteer, or even agree, to carry bills of special local interest.

But when this year’s session began, many of the 13 lawmakers who represent the county were all but arm-wrestling to be authors of county-sponsored bills.

The lawmakers’ eagerness virtually assured that an issue on the minds of county officials in Santa Ana would find a champion in Sacramento.

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Often Rethought, Reshaped

But once in their hands, county-sponsored bills were often rethought and reshaped by the legislators, not always to the liking of Orange County officials and the Sacramento-based lobbyists who represent them.

On a bill to settle a years-old property tax fight between Orange County and the Yorba Linda Water District, for example, about half of the delegation sided with the tiny water agency, which eventually prevailed in winning about $150,000 in annual property tax revenues the county wanted to keep in its own coffers.

As the Legislature adjourned for the year, after a marathon all-night session last weekend, the county had accomplished many of its major legislative goals, but also faced its share of disappointments.

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On the final day, state lawmakers approved a bill considered important to Orange County--a measure by Sen. John Seymour (R-Anaheim) that will allow $9 million in annual interest earned on transit development money to be spent on freeway projects and road improvements.

During the year, the Legislature also passed measures to give the county four new judges, to allow Orange County’s privately run traffic school classes to exceed the 40-student state ceiling, and to force state health officials to reimburse the county for providing its own inspectors of X-ray equipment.

Lobbyists Couldn’t Stop Bill

County lobbyists fought back a measure that would have given rural counties a funding edge for road projects. But the lobbyists could not stop a bill that lets community colleges keep a larger share of on-campus traffic fines.

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A bill that would have made it harder for neighboring residents to sue over noise at county-owned John Wayne Airport never got off the ground.

And a county-sponsored measure that would have allowed industrial development bond financing for child care centers was derailed by what backers considered a parliamentary maneuver.

Also stalled during the year was a bill that would have made Orange County cities along the Santa Ana River share in the costs of some minor flood-control measures, and another that would have taken away part of Orange County cities’ share of fine money to pay for new courthouses.

Despite hopes and expectations for a long-sought reform, local governments at session’s end remained vulnerable “deep pockets” of funds that could be forced in court to pay millions of dollars for injuries even if the governments are minimally at fault.

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The county had strongly supported two unsuccessful bills that would have remedied the so-called “deep-pockets” practice of legal action. One of the measures would have changed the legal doctrine of joint and several liability, while another by Sen. Marian Bergeson--inspired by a $6-million judgment in a diving accident in Newport Beach, her home city--would have re-established governmental immunity to the doctrine.

Meanwhile, the county’s newest legislator, Assemblyman Gil Ferguson (R-Newport Beach), made a name for himself this year.

Chants of ‘Rambo’

When the retired Marine colonel spoke on the next-to-last day of the session against a bill to create a Japanese-American cultural center in Los Angeles, some assembly colleagues started chuckling and chanting, “Rambo, Rambo"--in reference to the movie about a Vietnam veteran who returns to help free POWs.

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The nickname was given to Ferguson by Assemblyman Tom Hayden (D-Santa Monica) after Ferguson called him a “traitor” and later vowed to try to have the former war protester expelled from the Assembly.

Even with more than three months to go before the Legislature convenes again, the Orange County Board of Supervisors has already ensured that next year’s will be an interesting session.

The supervisors have suggested measures dealing with two controversial local issues and made them top legislative priorities.

Court of Appeal Issue

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The county is asking for legislation that would keep the state Court of Appeal from being housed in the old Santa Ana Courthouse. That is almost certain to be resisted by Assemblyman Richard Robinson (D-Garden Grove), who feels county officials are backing away from a deal they made several years ago.

Three years ago, Robinson pushed through legislation creating the appellate court after getting county supervisors to agree that the historic building would be available to the new justices.

In anticipation of county plans to find a permanent home for the appellate court somewhere else, Robinson tacked a provision onto a court expansion bill this year that says lower court judges can not use the 85-year-old structure.

Supervisors will also revive a longstanding Orange County controversy by sponsoring a compromise measure designed to eliminate the perceived potential conflict of interest when someone dies while in jail or in custody.

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This year, a bill by Ferguson that would have split the offices of sheriff and coroner was defeated.

The mere suggestion that there is an inherent conflict in the dual role has often angered Orange County Sheriff-Coroner Brad Gates.

Orange County Legislation at a Glance Transportation: A county-backed bill won Orange County the right to use about $9 million--the interest from a mass-transit fund--on road repairs rather than mass transportation. Judges: In separate bills, three new Orange County Superior Court judges and one new Municipal Court judge were authorized. Environment: A bill to allow disposal of shredded metal from old cars was virtually rewritten to provide stronger protection for ground water supplies. Inspectors: Newly passed legislation now requires the state to reimburse Orange County for providing its own inspectors of X-ray machines. Traffic School: Legislation now permits Orange County to exceed the existing state limit of 40 persons per traffic school class.


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