As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

America's Worst Legislature

Trying to appease the cowards running for higher office in the Assembly rank and file, Karen Bass has dropped the sentencing commission out of the prison reform package.

The sentencing commission was among the most controversial provisions of the Senate prison plan. But on Monday, Senate leader Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said “a real sentencing commission, with teeth, is my top priority” for corrections legislation.

Steinberg spokeswoman Alicia Dlugosh said Monday that the Senate leader would like to see any legislation passed by the Assembly “realize the same dollar figure in savings as the Senate bill.”

The bill passed last week by the Senate, AB 14 XXX would save the state an estimated $600 million, according to an analysis of the bill. But the Assembly seemed poised to make key changes that would reduce those savings by about $220 million.

Among the other changes expected to be made by the Assembly would be the elimination of a provision that would change some crimes which can be either felonies or misdemeanors --known as “wobblers” – exclusively to misdemeanors. The Assembly bill expected to come up for a vote this week would leave the state’s wobbler law unchanged.

Assembly Democrats also balked at a provision in the Senate bill that would allow some sick and elderly inmates to finish their sentences under house arrest.

Bass said she hoped to pass the sentencing commission as stand-alone legislation later in the year. First of all, the year ends on September 11, and second, adding the commission to a must-pass reform package was the whole point. If lawmakers objected to it as part of a package, they're not going to turn around and support it in isolation.

Punting on this issue will ensure that federal judges will be mandating reductions of the prison population 10 years down the road. The only reform worth doing in the package now clarifies parole policy, devoting resources to those who need to be monitored instead of the blanket supervision that has turned our parole system into a revolving door. But that will not be enough to turn around the prison crisis for the long-term, without finally doing something about our ever expanding sentencing law.

This also shows the complete dysfunction of the leadership. Darrell Steinberg may not go along with the limited version, and I don't blame him. His chamber has now stuck their neck out three times on tough votes - Tranquillon Ridge drilling, HUTA raids and now this - that the Assembly has quashed. I wasn't unhappy about the first two, but if I was in the Senate, I'd be pissed about all these controversial votes I was needlessly taking. You'd think Karen Bass would have a sense of her caucus and know that she couldn't pass whatever she and Steinberg and the Governor hammered out in private. Because she's on her way out the door in 2010 she has no leverage over the caucus, because everyone's termed out and running for something else they have no fealty to the Assembly, and because they all live perpetually in fear they won't take a vote they know would help future generations deal with a crisis.

As I've said, a broken process will almost always produce a broken result. But individual lawmakers need to be called out. Particularly the three Assemblymembers running for Attorney General who think they're showing off their toughness. When all of them lose, they'll probably attribute it to other factors. They should be reminded of this day.

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