Legislature races against midnight deadline


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There are real consequences if lawmakers do not act fast. The Senate just passed a partial prison solution, but it is not enough to satisfy the feds. There seems to be momentum to solve the water crisis, but the next test is to see if there are enough votes.

State lawmakers are running up against a midnight deadline to pass bills before this regular legislative session ends for the year. They have yet to tackle two of California's most pressing issues: water supply and prison overcrowding. It's typical Sacramento-style to wait until the last minute.

"It's just the nature of the business. When you try to reach a consensus and try to get as many supporters on board as you can, it takes time," says Assembly member Alberto Torrico, D-Fremont.

Still, California's water problems have been around for decades. They have only worsened because of a drought that is in its third year. Farmers have stopped planting and field workers are out of jobs. They've been pressuring lawmakers to solve the crisis, or else places like the Central Valley will keep suffering.

"We have some of the highest unemployment rates in the state and in the nation. People are standing in 100 degree weather just for cornflakes and other surplus food to get through the week," says Assembly member Juan Arambula, I-Fresno.

Lawmakers have also failed so far to cut prison spending enough to balance the budget and change some sentencing laws to relieve inmate overcrowding. If overcrowding isn't solved, federal judges could order tens of thousands of prisoners released.

"Both the governor and the majority are essentially allowing inertia to take place to allow these prisoners to be released and say 'Hey, look. It wasn't our fault. We tried to do something,'" says Assembly member Chuck DeVore, R-Irvine.

Governor Schwarzenegger wanted those urgent issues addressed too. He calls this legislative year "slim with action" and has threatened to veto the hundreds of other bills headed his way, if his priority bills don't make the midnight deadline.

"It's all thinking about the future. Don't send me Mickey Mouse bills. Send me the big stuff. Then we can talk about the other stuff," says Governor Schwarzenegger.

And it is just these kinds of logjams and inability to resolve problems quickly that frustrate Californians. A new poll out by the Public Policy Institute of California shows Governor Schwarzenegger's approval rating is near his all-time low at 30 percent. The legislature's is even lower at 21 percent.

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