A Year to Forget

State lawmakers end the legislative session without addressing some of California's worst problems. Plus, two Spanish judges are now investigating a UC Berkeley professor.

This year may go down as one of the most pathetic in the history of
the state Legislature. Not only did Sacramento lawmakers spend nearly
all of 2009 groping for solutions to the state’s intractable budget
problems, but the Legislature failed to enact any significant reforms
that would help solve California’s other major issues. As for
Democrats, the only semblance of progress they made was passing a
watered-down version of a prison reform bill that was weaker than the
one proposed by the state’s Republican governor.

Indeed, it was the height of cravenness for Democrats in the state
Assembly to stake out of a position to the right of Arnold
Schwarzenegger because they were so afraid of being called “soft on
crime.” But that’s exactly what they did when they approved a bill that
would lessen California’s inmate population by 17,000 instead of the
27,000 that the governor sought. Democrats apparently found that
Schwarzenegger’s plan to release some elderly and sick inmates and to
downgrade some nonviolent felonies to misdemeanors was far too
liberal.

Democrats also are probably hoping that the federal judiciary will
bail them out. A three-judge panel has ordered the state to cut the
inmate population by more than 40,000 in the next two years to relieve
severe prison overcrowding. According to the San Francisco
Chronicle
, the judges say overcrowding is the root cause of
inadequate health care in the state’s prison system, and it’s so bad it
constitutes “cruel and unusual” punishment. Schwarzenegger has appealed
the judges’ decision and had hoped that a tough new prison reform bill
would have rendered it moot. But the Democrats were too scared of the
political consequences to make that happen.

Lawmakers also finished the legislative session on Saturday without
addressing the failing Sacramento/San Joaquin River Delta or reaching a
compromise with the governor over renewable energy standards. There is
talk about a special legislative session to find a solution to the
delta’s problems, but as for climate change, Schwarzenegger may act on
his own this week. According to the Associated Press, the governor
plans to veto bills approved by the Legislature and then issue
executive orders, requiring that one-third of the state’s energy come
from renewables by 2020. The governor opposed the Democrat-sponsored
plan because it would have limited the amount of wind, solar, and
geothermal power that comes from out of state.

As for state Republicans, they were their typical obstructionist
selves throughout the year, opposing nearly everything they could. And
then they ended the session in scandal when one of their rising stars,
Assemblyman Mike Duvall, a “family values” politician from Orange
County, quickly resigned after a tape surfaced of him bragging about
having extramarital affairs and raunchy sex with two women. Questions
immediately arose as to whether Duvall was trading sex for votes
because one of the women was reportedly an energy lobbyist and he sat
on an influential Assembly energy committee.

As for issues affecting the Bay Area, the legislature also tabled a
watered-down version of BART’s police oversight plan. BART developed
the plan in the months following the fatal shooting of Oscar Grant,
then agency officials secretly gutted it in order to overcome
objections from a state police officers’ group and gain quick approval
in Sacramento. But the behind-the-scenes maneuver failed when
Legislative leaders refused to fast-track the proposal. The plan is
expected to undergo full hearings in 2010.

Have Yoo Ever Been to Spain?

Two Spanish judges are now investigating Bush administration
lawyers, including UC Berkeley law school professor John Yoo, for their
roles in authorizing torture. But US Attorney General Eric Holder could
stymie those investigations if he refuses to answer legal inquires made
by the judges, according to legal writer and journalist Scott Horton,
writing for the Huffington Post. The judges, one of whom is Baltasar
Garzon, best known for indicting Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet,
have given Holder until the end of October to answer questions about
the roles played by Bush-era lawyers in the torture of Spanish citizens
at the US prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The judges also are anxious to review an internal US Justice
Department report on whether Yoo and his colleagues violated American
legal standards when they authorized traditionally unlawful
interrogation techniques such as waterboarding. The report has been
five years in the making, but Holder has refused to release it. He also
has refused to open his own criminal investigation into Yoo and his
colleagues, and is concentrating on CIA agents and contractors who
tortured prisoners beyond what Yoo authorized. According to Horton,
Holder’s decision to limit his investigation prompted the Spanish
judges to go ahead with theirs.

Three-Dot Roundup

UC President Mark Yudof wants to raise student fees by more than 30
percent in the next year to balance a huge budget deficit, according to
the Chronicle. The increase would mean that annual student fees
have nearly tripled in the past decade and would pass $10,000 for the
first time in 2010. … The opening of the new eastern span of the Bay
Bridge could be delayed beyond 2013 because of welding problems in
China and issues relating to the signature single-tower design,
according to Caltrans officials. … Alameda County District Attorney
Tom Orloff has decided to retire, and is recommending that his chief
deputy Nancy O’Malley take his place. She would be the county’s first
woman DA. … And evidence surfaced that Fox News host Glenn Beck
wasn’t the only one to target Obama advisor Van Jones. A representative
from a conservative group that has close ties to big oil companies and
whose primary goal is to block climate-change legislation took credit
for Jones’ resignation in a posting last week on Fox News’ web
site.

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