Editorial: A legislature of far too little impact

09.05.2010 | Los Angeles Times

The California Legislature wrapped up its session last week, hustling through a bevy of bills in its final hours, as is customary. The results were sadly predictable. Although legislators passed a few worthy measures, more time was spent pandering, rewarding special interests, ducking tough issues and denying the public information to which it is entitled.

Some work got done. The Legislature passed bills to discourage smoking and to distribute clean needles to drug addicts. It approved tax relief for homeowners hit by natural disasters, and extended public oversight over college fundraising. It objected to Uganda’s demonization of gays, and honored California’s Sikhs. All well and good, if at times trivial.

And there were some more far-reaching accomplishments too. The Legislature broke important ground with bills to establish a state exchange through which individuals and small businesses can shop for health insurance (AB 1602 and SB 900). It enacted new rules for reporting the use of tax incentives by public companies (AB 2666), and it required that future tax breaks be monitored and benchmarked more closely so that officials can gauge their effectiveness (SB 1272). The state’s elected leaders also adopted a small but nifty bill (SB 1381), introduced by Sen. Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto), that thoughtfully phases in a requirement that all kindergartners be 5 years old when they start school. That sounds like a small change, but it acknowledges the transformation of kindergarten from a play year to an introduction to school.

Unfortunately, those successes must be regarded as exceptions. Smart and important legislation, much of it propelled by substantial public support, fell by the wayside in the final days. Indeed, what is most notable about the recently concluded session is not the little bit of good policy the Legislature made but the great deal that it did not. Not to mention the bad bills it passed.

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