Legislation to Hold Early Presidential Primary Dies : Politics: Measure is rejected by committee as state lawmakers head into overtime in trying to settle several contentious issues.


The effort to give California more clout in national politics by staging an early presidential primary died quietly Friday as the Legislature prepared to adjourn for the year.

Unless the legislation is resurrected--which seemed unlikely--California's presidential primary again will be held with its regular state primary in June, instead of on March 3, as proposed. The Senate Appropriations Committee rejected the early primary with two votes out of the seven votes needed for approval favoring the legislation. Six senators voted against the measure.

Meanwhile, tempers flared as the Legislature, trying to wind up its 1991 session but with contentious issues still before it, headed toward a scheduled midnight adjournment deadline it had little hope of meeting.

The lawmakers were expected to go into overtime because of a battle over the redrawing of Senate, Assembly and congressional district lines. The Legislature was expected to wrap up virtually all of its non-reapportionment bills by early this morning, then stay in session for a few more days to complete the redistricting.

Addressing one of its most controversial issues, the Assembly narrowly passed and sent to Gov. Pete Wilson a bill, by Assemblyman Terry Friedman (D-Los Angeles), to bar employers from discriminating against homosexual employees. The vote was 42 to 30 and came after an opponent, Assemblyman David Knowles (R-Sacramento), sparked an emotion-charged debate by using graphic descriptions of sex acts to try to discredit the lifestyle of homosexuals.

Knowles proclaimed the practices "disgusting" while another member rose in an attempt to silence him, calling Knowles' language unfit for the chamber and its cable television audience.

Knowles replied: "Now you see how shocking it really is."

Final passage of the bill sets the stage for a difficult decision by Wilson. Earlier this year, the governor indicated he was likely to sign the bill despite heavy opposition from conservative Republicans and fundamentalist Christian groups.

But more recently, Wilson said he had not made up his mind and indicated he is worried about a flood of lawsuits charging business owners with discrimination against gays and lesbians if the bill is signed into law.

During another floor debate, one assemblyman angrily called another a liar and, in the Senate, impatient members adopted a rule limiting each other's speaking time as the two houses acted on hundreds of measures--sending some to Wilson and killing others.

Among the bills the lawmakers sent the governor were ones requiring junior and senior high school instruction in AIDS prevention, restoring full renters tax credits that were reduced during state budget negotiations, banning free distribution of cigarettes on street corners and making it easier for people to reject life-support systems.

The author of the early primary bill, Assemblyman Jim Costa (D-Fresno), had been trying for a dozen years to advance California's balloting on candidates for presidential nominations. His bill passed the Assembly this year, cleared one Senate committee and gained Wilson's support. But it died basically because senators were concerned that it might adversely affect their own reelection efforts.

Costa argued that California has little voice in picking the presidential nominees because the June primary is held after 85% of the delegates have been selected by other states holding earlier primaries or caucuses.

But opponents replied that splitting the primaries--one presidential and the other state--would cost California $35 million during a time when it faces serious financial problems.

Debating virtually nonstop, the Legislature also acted on these issues:

SMOKING--The Senate voted 24 to 2 to send the governor the only smoking restriction bill to survive this year. It would ban the free distribution of tobacco products in public places. Aimed at cigarette companies that hand out samples on street corners, the measure was sponsored by Sen. Marian Bergeson (R-Newport Beach). It drew strong support from anti-smoking groups, who lost out to the tobacco lobby on several other restrictive bills. Wilson's office said the governor has no position on the legislation.

LIFE SUPPORT--A bill to strengthen California's "right-to-die" law that allows people to reject artificial life support was sent to Wilson by a 50-19 Assembly vote. It would allow an adult to sign a written document at any time directing that his or her life-sustaining treatment be withheld if a terminal illness has been diagnosed. Two previous versions of the bill by Sen. Barry Keene (D-Benicia) were vetoed by then-Gov. George Deukmejian.

ABORTION--The Assembly voted 50 to 23 to put the Legislature on record urging that California be chosen as a testing site for the controversial French abortion pill RU-486. The resolution, which does not require gubernatorial action, was authored by Assemblywoman Jackie Speier (D-South San Francisco). There was no debate on the resolution. Supporters have argued that RU-486 also has shown promise in the treatment of such diseases as breast, brain and prostate cancers, AIDS, glaucoma and diabetes.

DROUGHT--The Assembly approved and sent to the governor his $16.2-million emergency aid bill to finance projects that minimize the drought's impact on fish, wildlife and commercial fishing. The effort would include rescuing and transporting drought-threatened fish to areas where water is more plentiful and purchasing additional water for rare and endangered species. The program also would earmark $1 million in low-interest loans to economically hard-hit commercial fishermen to let them continue making loan payments on their homes, vehicles and vessels.

TIMBER--Ignoring the threat of a gubernatorial veto, the Assembly narrowly passed a forest protection measure that would add restrictions on logging in California's private timberlands. The Assembly vote of 42 to 28 followed passage of the measure in the Senate, 22 to 10. Supporters of the Democratic-backed legislation rebuffed efforts by conservatives to push through a less restrictive, industry-supported logging measure that was proposed Thursday by Wilson.

RENTERS CREDIT--The Assembly approved and sent to the governor on a 57-7 vote a bill to restore the full income tax credit for renters that was reduced during the recent state budget-balancing fight. The measure, by Assemblyman Mike Gotch (D-San Diego), would restore the tax credit for all renters to $60 per individual and $120 for married couples. Since July, only individuals making less than $20,500 a year and couples earning less than $41,000 qualified for the credit. The governor is expected to veto the measure.

AIDS EDUCATION--By a 44-30 vote, the Assembly passed and sent to the governor a bill to require California junior and senior high school students to receive instruction in the prevention of AIDS. Proponents of the measure, sponsored by Assemblywoman Teresa Hughes (D-Los Angeles), argued that children would needlessly be put in jeopardy without such information. Foes countered that the instruction should not be offered without parental consent. Wilson's office said he had no position on the bill.

PAY CUTS--In a move that could scuttle an unprecedented collective bargaining agreement that cuts the pay of 18,000 corrections officers by 5%, Assembly Democrats sidetracked legislative approval of the contract by keeping the bargaining bill bottled up in the Ways and Means Committee. The contract was signed Thursday by negotiators representing the California Correctional Peace Officers Assn. and the Wilson Administration. Traditionally, such contracts are given pro forma approval by the Legislature.

GUN CONTROL--The Senate sent to the governor a bill sponsored by Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren to create a special 90-day registration period early next year for owners who have not registered legally obtained semiautomatic firearms. A 24-5 vote provided final passage for the measure, which was carried by Senate President Pro Tem David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles). The bill also clarifies the list of weapons that are banned. Lungren said the existing law specifying outlawed firearms is so poorly drawn that it has been a nightmare to enforce. Wilson's office said he had no position on this legislation.

PARENTAL LEAVE--The Assembly voted 47 to 28 to send Wilson a bill by Assemblywoman Gwen Moore (D-Los Angeles) to let employees--without fear of losing their jobs--take up to four months unpaid leave to care for newborn or sick children or elderly family members. Opponents charged that it would be detrimental to businesses because of the cost of hiring and training temporary workers.

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