Opinion

Dan Walters: Odd events punctuate California Legislature’s last night

dwalters@sacbee.comSeptember 17, 2013 

Strange things tend to happen in the final hours of any legislative session. Last Thursday night was no exception.

As usual, legislative chambers and adjacent hallways, jammed with lobbyists, seethed with rumors about what would happen to dozens of pending bills or bills that might pop up, like mushrooms, in the dead of night.

As adjournment neared, one bill that would make about 1.4 million illegal immigrants eligible for driver’s licenses was especially dicey.

Its author, Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville, had declared that he probably would not take it up in the Senate.

It became apparent that organized labor was, for some reason, opposing the legislation despite pressure from immigrant rights advocates for it.

Semiofficially, the California Labor Federation didn’t like one provision that would place a special mark on licenses issued to illegal immigrants, but there were rumbles that the bill had somehow become entangled with other late-blooming issues.

Then Sen. Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, having been told by Gov. Jerry Brown that he was willing to sign the bill to goad Congress into immigration reform, decided to take up the bill. It passed easily, with a couple of Republican votes, and a final vote in the Assembly sent it to Brown.

The action may have left a bitter aftertaste. The Mexican American Political Association and other immigrant rights groups issued a statement castigating the labor federation and the Service Employees International Union for trying to stop the bill.

As that mini-drama was ending, another arose when Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, sought approval of what he described as a small “cleanup” to a bill passed earlier in the day to streamline environmental clearance of a new basketball arena in Sacramento and other projects meeting its criteria.

Steinberg pushed the bill through the Senate, essentially adding just three words to his previous measure. But when Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, sought Assembly approval just before adjournment, he faced withering criticism on the floor and what amounted to a revolt, even within his own party.

Although not mentioned in any staff analysis nor by Dickinson in his introductory remarks, the three-word change was being sought by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union to make it more difficult for nonunion big box retailers such as Wal-Mart to use the expedited environmental reviews.

It was, in other words, the latest in a series of union-sponsored bills aimed at Wal-Mart. So many other Assembly members were angered by the 11th-hour maneuver that they refused to approve it.

And, as with the driver’s license bill, it has left a residue of mistrust among liberal politicians and groups that normally are allies.

Call The Bee’s Dan Walters, (916) 321-1195. Back columns, www.sacbee.com/walters. Follow him on Twitter@WaltersBee.

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