Legislative Intervention Sought on Crime Initiative

Times Staff Writer

Two pro-choice Democratic lawmakers unveiled their plan Monday to remove the highly charged abortion issue from an already controversial anti-crime ballot proposal.

Assemblyman Richard Katz (D-Sylmar) and state Sen. Barry Keene (D-Benicia) said they want the Legislature to intervene and place the measure on the ballot without language now in the proposal that could be read to limit abortion rights in California.

But key Republicans suggested that the effort is likely to fall short of the two-thirds majority that is needed in both houses of the Legislature to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot.

The so-called "speedy trial" initiative has been a political football in the early scrimmaging for the 1990 governor's race. Atty. Gen. John K. Van de Kamp, a front-runner for the Democratic nomination, has charged that the measure could endanger the right to abortion in California.

Van de Kamp said California abortion rights are protected by the state Constitution's explicit right to privacy, which does not exist in the U.S. Constitution. Under the initiative, which would restrict the rights of criminal defendants, the privacy right in California cases would be limited to the same extent that it is under federal law.

The initiative campaign's honorary chairman--U.S. Sen. Pete Wilson, who is expected to be the Republican nominee for governor next year--has insisted that the sweeping measure deals only with criminal justice reform and would not affect abortion law. Wilson, who says he supports abortion rights, has rejected Van de Kamp's urging that the proposal be amended.

But Katz, a moderate Democrat who supports the death penalty, said the initiative's chances might be weakened if it is entangled in a battle over abortion. Katz said he supported the measure until the question over abortion rights was raised.

"We don't believe that people ought to be forced to choose between the rights of victims of crime and the rights of women," he said.

Keene said he opposes the initiative's criminal justice provisions but believes that the proposal will qualify for the ballot and pass.

"I don't like it, but I think that's liable to happen," Keene said. "And I don't think the right to privacy . . . ought to go down with it."

But the two lawmakers face an uphill battle. Wilson and the sponsors of the initiative, who have already gathered 85% of the signatures they need to place the measure on the ballot, say they don't want the Legislature to intervene. And to obtain two-thirds majorities in the Assembly and Senate, the measure would need the support of many conservative lawmakers who oppose abortion and some liberals who would oppose the initiative even if it did not threaten abortion rights.

"This seems like a political ploy to me," Sen. John Doolittle (R-Rocklin), chairman of the Senate Republican Caucus, said in an interview. "The whole issue is just a clever way for Van de Kamp to avoid having to confront the initiative."

Assembly Republican Leader Ross Johnson of La Habra also condemned the effort to rewrite the initiative. Johnson said the Assembly's Republican caucus discussed the issue briefly and found a "pretty solid consensus of support for the initiative as it's written."

Katz and Keene might also find it difficult to have legislative rules waived so that they can rush the measure through before the Legislature adjourns for the year on Sept. 15.

Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) opposes the initiative but would go along with the effort to amend it, a spokeswoman said. But Senate President Pro Tem David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles) said he is awaiting an opinion from the Legislature's lawyer before deciding what position to take on the issue.

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