Lawmakers debate odd bills in midst of crisis

June 12, 2009 7:41:37 PM PDT
California is teetering on the edge of financial disaster and you would expect our lawmakers to be working on the budget crisis night and day. So why are they talking about blueberries and name-tags?

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Even in the face of what some call a complete meltdown of state government with lawmakers in near gridlock trying to solve that $24 billion deficit quickly, Sacramento is still working on unrelated matters.

One proposal creates a blueberry commission which aims to promote the industry and another, forces medical workers to wear name tags written in 18-point font. Then there's the plan to make sure pomegranate juice sold in California is 100 percent pure. Government watchdog groups are furious.

"They should be taking care of business. They should be trying to trim, cut and squeeze at all levels of government, trying to balance this budget," says Ted Costa, People's Advocate, Inc.

"The ground is shifting underneath us, members. Let's get done what we can," says Assembly Member Roger Niello (R) of Sacramento..

Ninety percent of state lawmakers are in their home districts on Fridays, but all 10 members of the bi-partisan Budget Conference Committee were in the Capitol working on deficit-reducing solutions. While they may not agree with what their colleagues are doing, the introduction of bills is part of the democratic process.

"Even in the midst of budget woes, people still have their ideas with regard to policy approaches," says Assembly Member Niello.

In a typical year, the National Conference of State Legislatures say California lawmakers introduce about 2,800 bills. One third gets approved, which is slightly above the national average. But the budget crisis has forced leaders to cap the number of bills to 40 bills per politician.

And if those proposals cost money? "Creating any new programs and any new commissions in this fiscal environment, it's not going to happen," says Assembly Noreen Evans (D) of Santa Rosa.

So while healthcare for a million low-income children and care for the mildly-disabled are on the chopping block, this still may be the year for blueberries, medical name tags and pomegranate juice to shine.

Governor Schwarzenegger even wondered what's going on, telling the Sacramento Bee lawmakers should concentrate on more serious work. By the way, he supports converting the legislature into a part-time body.

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