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California

Lawmakers are tense, tired and goofy in the waning hours of the legislative session

Reporting from Sacramento -- A weary Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan sat before the Senate Natural Resources committee Friday and began to introduce the leader of California’s upper house. She paused.

“Senator Whatshisname,” said Buchanan, a Democrat from the East Bay town of Alamo, drawing laughter from Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) as he sat nearby.

It was that kind of bleary-eyed week for the California Legislature, which churned through hundreds of bills in a rush to rewrite environmental, tax and regulatory laws before adjourning for the year.

Marathon floor sessions stretched from morning to evening. Rules were waived, quickie committee meetings were convened and sweeping new bills sprouted overnight — par for the course at this time of year. Lobbyists crammed the Capitol halls, hoping to win provisions for their clients in bills that were flying from chamber to chamber.

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“It’s crazy,” said freshman Assemblyman Tim Donnelly (R-San Bernardino), experiencing his first end-of-session dash. “I had four committees the other day. I couldn’t get from one to the other to the other.”

Legislators displayed a nerdy brand of humor, slipping awkward phrases into otherwise formal debate. Some members scribbled odd sayings on yellow Post-its and challenged their colleagues to squeeze them into speeches.

“Thighmaster,” “whitey-tighties,” “puff the magic dragon” and even a twist on some David Bowie lyrics (“We can be heroes, members, even for just one day”) found their way into the proceedings.

Leaders struggled at times to keep the rank-and-file focused.

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“OK members, rumpus time is over,” announced Assemblywoman Fiona Ma (D-San Francisco), who presided at the dais Friday, after a lunch break that had gone 30 minutes too long.

The debates dragged on. Assemblyman Mike Davis (D-Los Angeles) nodded off during a discussion of local labor issues. Earlier in the week, as special rules were forged to fast-track construction of a proposed NFL stadium in Los Angeles, television cameras caught a visiting dignitary from Honduras dead asleep, head back, mouth wide open.

At other times, partisan tension was palpable.

In a jab at Republicans who declined to support some Democrats’ bills, Assemblywoman Norma Torres (D-Pomona) said she was “shocked at the ignorance of the elitist folks in this room.” The Republicans howled in protest, though they’d spent much of the week calling the Democrats craven to their union masters.

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“I never thought I would be in a profession bloodier than trauma surgery,” said physician and Assemblywoman Linda Halderman (R-Fresno), after a particularly testy exchange.

As the sun set Friday, Ma announced that debate would be capped at three minutes per person. The chamber erupted in applause.

shane.goldmacher@latimes.com

Los Angeles Times staff writers Michael J. Mishak and Nicholas Riccardi contributed to this report


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