Schwarzenegger acts on bills as lawmakers try to hash out water plan

Although he failed to win bipartisan accord on a sweeping, multibillion-dollar plan to address the state’s water problems, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Sunday night backed down on his threat to veto hundreds of bills as punishment for legislative leaders’ inability to reach a deal.

As the midnight deadline for signing or rejecting 704 bills approached, Schwarzenegger said sufficient progress had been made in the water talks, and he planned to act on all of the bills. As negotiations concluded late Sunday, the governor had signed into law 230 bills and vetoed 221.

Those he signed included a measure intended to combat human trafficking and an anti-drunk-driving bill requiring DUI offenders in some counties to install devices in their vehicles that test blood-alcohol content before the vehicles can be started. Those he rejected included bids to force any extension of the 710 Freeway to be done underground, ban pay hikes for top administrators at public universities in bad budget years and tighten oversight on fertility clinics.


Schwarzenegger also called a special legislative session on water to start this week.

“Over the past few days we have made enough progress in our negotiations that I am calling a special session on water,” he said in a written statement. “While we still have a few remaining issues to work out, I commend the legislative leaders for their focus and commitment to solving this crisis, and I will weigh all the bills on their merits.”

Water negotiations, however, have been slow going, repeatedly becoming stuck in decades-old political and policy feuds. State leaders have been expressing confidence for years that a water deal was close at hand, only to see negotiations collapse.

The governor wants lawmakers to agree to ask voters to borrow billions of dollars to pay for infrastructure upgrades and other improvements. Legislative aides said the prime obstacles remained the monitoring of groundwater and how to finance big structural improvements that include two possible new dams.

All weekend, the governor and legislative leaders scurried in and out of meetings in their effort to hammer out a deal. As it became clear that an agreement was not at hand, negotiations appeared to shift toward finding a way for Schwarzenegger to retreat from his veto threat -- an option he ultimately did not want to exercise.

“We made great progress,” said Assembly Speaker Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles). “But with such a complex issue as water, as much as we wanted to finish by midnight, we’re just not quite there.”

She said she expects details of a bipartisan plan to be hammered out in time to present to the legislative caucuses within about 48 hours.

One of the bills Schwarzenegger signed Sunday was a hard-fought measure to reduce the prison population by 20,000 to 25,000 inmates, although it stops far short of solving the overcrowding crisis and does not include more extensive reductions that the governor wanted.

The measure, SBX3 18 by Sen. Denise Ducheny (D-San Diego), would also leave California’s budget with $200 million more in red ink. Top finance officials reported Friday that state revenue is already $1 billion short of their projections.

The drunk-driving bill, AB 91 by Assemblyman Mike Feuer (D-Los Angeles), creates a pilot program in Los Angeles, Alameda, Sacramento and Tulare counties. The program will permit first-time DUI offenders to drive only if they install a breath-testing device on every vehicle they own and pass a test on it before the ignition can be unlocked and the car started.

The human-trafficking bill, AB 17 by Assemblyman Sandre Swanson (D-Alameda), quadruples fines, to $20,000, on those convicted of such a crime. It also allows law enforcement officers to seize the assets of traffickers. The assets and money collected in increased fines would be spent on local programs serving the victims of trafficking.

Charter schools will be given a boost by two bills the governor signed. SB 592 by Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles) tweaks state law to allow the schools access to about $900 million in voter-approved bond money for construction. SB 191 by Sen. Roderick D. Wright (D-Inglewood) creates a uniform funding model for charters, giving districts more incentive to approve them.

Schwarzenegger also continued his push to expand the use of digital textbooks by approving a package of bills related to them. Part of that package is SB 48 by Sen. Elaine Alquist (D-San Jose), which requires that any companies selling textbooks in California colleges or universities make them available electronically by 2020.

And he signed SB 827, a controversial bill sponsored by Wright that allows the South Coast Air Quality Management District to sidestep a judicial ruling threatening to block several construction projects and cost the region 57,000 jobs. Environmentalists opposed the measure, and state Sen. Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach) criticized Wright for opening “the floodgates” to businesses that want to skirt the state’s environmental laws.

The governor declined to prohibit completion of the 710 Freeway from the edge of Alhambra to Pasadena using a surface route by vetoing SB 545 by Sen. Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles). The bill would have left only the possibility of a costly 4.5-mile tunnel to finish the highway.

Schwarzenegger wrote in his veto message that decisions on the road extension should be made by the same state agencies that oversee all other freeway projects. He also said the bill could cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars by forcing it to immediately sell properties along the proposed surface route.

On the university pay hike bill, SB 86 by state Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), Schwarzenegger wrote that “a blanket prohibition” on certain raises would limit the ability of state universities to attract the best staff, ultimately harming the state’s students.

Yee responded in an angry statement that the veto “protects the UC and CSU administration’s egregious executive compensation practices and allows them to continue to act more like [insurance giant] AIG than a public trust.”

The governor vetoed a so-called Octomom bill, derived by the controversy surrounding the octuplets born to Southern California resident Nadya Suleman.

The measure, SB 647 by Sen. Gloria Negrete McLeod (D-Chino), would have created new oversight for clinics that provide in vitro fertilization. Schwarzenegger said the bill did not go far enough, and he hoped to work with medical practitioners to develop even tougher licensing requirements.

In addition, the governor:

* Vetoed a bill that animal welfare advocates believed would stem the scourge of puppy mills in the state by capping at 50 the number of unsterilized dogs and cats for breeding or selling by one owner.

Schwarzenegger said he supports measures to prevent animal cruelty but felt “an arbitrary cap” had “the potential to criminalize the lawful activities of reputable breeders, pet stores, kennels and charitable organizations engaged in raising service and assistance dogs.”

The bill, AB 241, was sponsored by Assemblyman Pedro Nava (D-Santa Barbara).

* Rejected an extension of a moratorium on new card clubs in the state until 2020. In the veto message he attached to SB 213, by Sen. Dean Florez (D-Shafter), Schwarzenegger noted that there is already a moratorium until 2015.

* Said no to a measure that would have required police to receive training in how to deal with members of the Sikh faith, who carry a small, curved sword called a kirpan.

Civil rights activists pushed for the bill, AB 504 by Assemblyman by Warren Furutani (D-Long Beach), saying Sikhs who carry the blade, which they consider sacred, are being unnecessarily arrested and prosecuted. Schwarzenegger said the state Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training should set such guidelines, not the Legislature.

* Signed into law a bill intended to allow California to compete for billions of dollars in new “Race to the Top” education grants from the federal government. The bill, SB 19 by Sen. Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto), erases some restrictions in state law that may have limited the extent to which student data could be used to judge the quality of instruction, possibly disqualifying California from the federal program.

* Approved higher penalties on dogfight spectators. AB 242 by Nava subjects those who attend the fights to as much as a year in county jail and a $5,000 fine.