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Lawmakers reject sentencing bill

Times Staff Writers

SACRAMENTO -- With federal judges pondering a cap on California’s prison population, a measure that experts say could ease overcrowding fell to defeat Friday in the Legislature.

But lawmakers voted to legalize gay marriage by passing a bill that is almost certainly headed for a veto.

Legislators refused to give up the power to prescribe punishments for criminals, rejecting legislation that would have set up an independent commission to rewrite prison sentences to make them more consistent and effective.

The bill by Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles) would have created a commission including prosecutors and judges, whose recommendations would have taken effect unless the Legislature rejected them.

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Romero likened the defeat of her bill to the Legislature’s throwing up its hands and telling federal judges to take control of the troubled prison system.

Don Specter, an attorney with the inmate advocate group Prison Law Office, said the vote “certainly emphasizes the one-dimensional approach California has to crime, which is to build more prisons.”

Romero’s measure, SB 110, passed the state Senate in June. It failed Friday in the Assembly on a 34-38 vote, with all Republicans and some Democrats voting no.

Federal courts in July created a three-judge panel to study whether a cap on the inmate population is necessary to fix conditions so bad they have been found unconstitutional. The work of that panel is expected to take at least a year.

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The Senate, meanwhile, voted for the second time in three years to approve legislation legalizing marriage between same-sex partners. Schwarzenegger vetoed similar legislation in 2005.

“His position hasn’t changed,” said spokesman Aaron McLear.

Senate Republicans were so confident of another veto that none of them spoke before the measure, AB 43 by Assemblyman Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), passed 22-15.

Also on Friday, days after power outages struck Los Angeles neighborhoods, lawmakers shelved a bill that would have required the state to “evaluate the adequacy” of electricity distribution systems operated by municipal utilities, including the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

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Assemblywoman Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) withdrew the bill, SB 980, with the agreement of its author, Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), after cities including Pasadena, Burbank and Glendale objected to being evaluated.

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nancy.vogel@latimes.com

patrick.mcgreevy@latimes.com

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