Gov. Wants a Part-Time Legislature
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said Tuesday that he would like to make the California Legislature part-time so lawmakers would not have as much freedom to create so many “strange bills.”
The Legislature “already doesn’t have enough to do,” the governor said, adding that full-time status was proving an obstacle to productive, responsible work.
“I want to make the Legislature a part-time Legislature,” the governor said. “Spending so much time in Sacramento, without anything to do, then out of that comes strange bills. I like them when they’re scrambling and they really have to work hard. Give them a short period of time. Then good work gets done, rather than hanging. That’s when they start getting creative with things.”
Schwarzenegger’s comments came during an interview at the Four Seasons resort here on the island of Maui, where he is vacationing with his wife, Maria Shriver, and four children. He did not explain what he meant by “strange bills,” nor did he say specifically how he might work to change the Legislature’s status.
As the governor mixed work with golf, weightlifting and swims off a stunning Pacific beach set against mountains, lawmakers and their staffs in the California capital worked to prepare bills on one of Schwarzenegger’s overriding causes, reform of the state’s $20-billion workers’ compensation system.
“While I’m out here working my ass off, he’s pontificating from Hawaii?” Senate President Pro Tem John Burton (D-San Francisco) quipped in Sacramento.
California’s Legislature began working year-round in 1966. The state is one of four with full-time legislatures, according to a report by the National Conference of State Legislatures. Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania are the others. There are seven states where lawmakers put in roughly 80% of the time it takes to do a full-time job: Alaska, Illinois, Florida, Ohio, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Wisconsin.
Schwarzenegger used his movie background to illustrate the point. The best work got done in compressed time frames, he said. “Pre-production is three months,” he said. “You don’t have more than that.... Post-production is three months. And you have to be out next summer. Then people perform. ‘Oh my God, now we have deadlines.’ That’s when people perform best. Same with legislators. You have a deadline.... Everyone works. Works like a jewel.”
Among legislators, reaction to the idea was mixed.
Assemblyman Joe Canciamilla (D-Pittsburg) said it would not work. “If things weren’t screwed up enough already, that would probably just finish them off,” he said, adding that it would further erode the Legislature’s influence -- already waning due to term limits. “If you make it part-time, I think you will get a group of people that are even less focused on real public policy.
“The difficulty now is, these issues are too complicated, and there is no time to get into the meat of issues. A part-time Legislature is not going to solve that problem.”
Assemblyman John Campbell (R-Irvine) said the governor may be onto something.
“I’m torn,” he said. “I absolutely see his point. I think we are one of five states with full-time legislatures, and the argument against that system is that it just creates too many laws. By the time you get up and drive to work, you’ve probably broken five or six laws you don’t know about.”
The governor spoke in an outdoor dining area, sitting with Shriver and their two daughters, Katherine, 14, and Christina, 12. As he spoke, Katherine popped a croissant in his mouth; Christina tugged at his forearm. Earlier, the governor and Shriver sat alone at the table going over a daily news summary prepared by his staff. The hotel is a family favorite.
“Every time we try to go someplace else, we’re outvoted,” Shriver said.
“By the kids,” said Schwarzenegger.
He added: “It’s nice when you just come for a week in a vacation to know where you’re going and know where you can kick back and what the game room is like and where the kids can get their pizzas.”
Having just finished breakfast, the governor said, “We can sit here, and we can go out in the ocean and have a peaceful time. Every so often, someone has a long lens. But that’s the way it is.”
Schwarzenegger said he was not so tired that he needed time off, adding that with his children on spring break, it seemed like a good time for a family trip.
“When I left, I didn’t feel burned out or anything like that. I really don’t ever feel like I need a vacation, because my job is not what I consider a job. I’m having a great time doing it. But it gives us a chance to hang out together.”
And to talk. He said that he and Shriver spoke constantly about state issues.
Joking, he said that in reading about the outsourcing of jobs to other countries, he wondered whether California could export its troubled prison system.
He laughed. “Hey, we don’t have to have prisons in California. What about having them in Vietnam? What about having them in Mexico?”
Shriver jumped in: “No, no, no, no,” and said to a reporter, “Don’t write that down.”
Wearing a plain white T-shirt and shorts, Schwarzenegger said he had been in frequent contact with his office, working over details of a proposed workers’ compensation overhaul whose language is now being drafted. He said he was considering cutting short the trip and leaving as early as today to return to California and make sure the plan was ready for a vote by the Legislature next week. Though he is prepared to take a workers’ comp initiative to the ballot if a legislative deal falls through, he said that was not his first choice.
“It was always very clear that if we negotiate, that we will not [get] 100% of what was an initiative. But it will be maybe 50% of that. That’s what it comes out to be. The language is good. There will be people complaining that I have given up too much. Everyone will be saying, ‘He gave up too much.’ But that’s how you make a good, solid deal. Everyone gives up something.”
With lawmakers anticipating that a workers’ comp bill would be complete by Friday, the Senate Labor and Industrial Relations Committee has scheduled a hearing for Monday morning at 10.
Republican lawmakers, meantime, are balking, according to both GOP and Democratic sources close to the negotiations. The Republicans contend that few of their concerns about workers’ comp have been addressed and that they have been cut out of the negotiating process. Though workers’ comp bills can be passed with only votes from the Legislature’s Democratic majority, Schwarzenegger would like Republican support.
Since the couple’s arrival on Friday, a steady stream of guests has been coming up to say hello. One woman passed him a handwritten letter to ask that he autograph a copy of his book “Arnold: The Education of a Bodybuilder.”
She told him that her son suffered from attention deficit disorder and was helped through a strict weight-training regimen. He can now bench-press 350 pounds, she said.
Schwarzenegger: “I haven’t bench-pressed 350 pounds in years.”
With the ocean in the background, a relaxed first couple talked about the first five months in office. They acknowledged that even some basic questions were still being sorted out -- like Shriver’s title.
The governor likes the term “first lady.” Shriver does not.
Schwarzenegger: “It has to be first lady.”
Shriver, lowering her sunglasses and fixing him with a look: “It does?”
Schwarzenegger. “In this case, we’ll stay with tradition.”
Asked how he believed the term was unfolding, Schwarzenegger turned the question over to Shriver.
People, she said, were paying “more attention to what’s going on now in the state. A guy just said, ‘Thanks for everything you’re doing in workers’ comp. We have a hotel, and our bills have risen threefold in the last year. Thank you for Propositions 57 and 58.’ ”
In turn, Schwarzenegger offered his admittedly biased evaluation of Shriver: She is “trying to balance obviously the first lady job with, at the same time, taking care of the fratzen: kids, the German word.”
In a two-celebrity marriage, it’s not always clear who is the bigger draw. As the couple walked arm-in-arm Monday through the resort’s Spago restaurant, the governor wearing a bright Hawaiian shirt, two young women nearby stopped and gawked.
“It’s Maria!” one said.
Times staff writers Evan Halper, Marc Lifsher and Robert Salladay contributed to this report.