Back and Bickering

Times Staff Writers

Despite Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's calls for the Legislature to "put the rancor of the past behind us," partisan bickering dominated the first day of the Legislature's return Tuesday, and Democrats succeeded in putting off an immediate vote on a bill to repeal a new law that would grant driver's licenses to illegal immigrants.

Within minutes of the Assembly reconvening, nasty debate began between Republicans and Democrats over SB 60, a law signed by Gov. Gray Davis in September that would allow illegal immigrants to apply for driver's licenses.

Democrats who dominate the Legislature passed the original bill, and polls later showed widespread public distaste for the measure.

Republicans have gone to court to block the law, which is to take effect in January, and they have begun gathering signatures to ask voters to repeal it on the March ballot.

Schwarzenegger has called upon the Legislature to repeal SB 60 in one of three special, concurrent legislative sessions.

Assemblyman John Benoit (R-Palm Desert) quickly brought a motion to the Assembly floor to waive the usual rules so that a bill to repeal SB 60 could be voted upon immediately.

But Democrats defeated that motion, 47 to 32, saying Benoit's bill should be heard and debated in at least the Transportation Committee before being brought to the Assembly floor for a vote.

Democrats promised to hear the bill as soon as possible.

"There is no intent to delay a hearing of the bill," said Assemblyman John Dutra (D-Fremont), chairman of the Transportation Committee.

Republicans accused Democrats of being disingenuous and defying the will of the voters who elected Schwarzenegger.

"Everyone knows what this bill is," said Assemblyman Mark Wyland (R-Escondido).

"It might have failed to be rescinded, but why put off a vote?" he said.

"Let's vote up or down and then move on.... The spirit of this governor and his mandate is, listen to the people, get the job done now."

But Assemblywoman Sarah Reyes (D-Fresno) reminded Republicans that Schwarzenegger himself has said he would not sign any bill that had not received a full public hearing before the policy committees of both the Assembly and Senate.

On his official Web site, a Sept. 18 news release from Schwarzenegger quotes him as saying, "Nearly 400 bills were amended during the last week of this year's session. Bills are passed in a rush, in the middle of the night. There is no such thing as democracy in the dark."

"We are doing what your governor and what you ... asked us to do," Reyes said.

The Senate met briefly late Tuesday afternoon and will reconvene today to discuss committee assignments for Republican-sponsored legislation aimed at repealing the driver's license law and other issues.

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