Calif. Senate leader wants split sessions

SACRAMENTO (AP) - The leader of the state Senate said Saturday he will propose splitting California's legislative sessions, concentrating one year on the budget and the next on new laws.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said legislators have become preoccupied with passing laws while spending too little time reviewing the effects of their legislation.

He said that, plus the fallout from a poor economy, has helped push lawmakers to new lows in opinion polls and triggered a ballot drive to return California to a part-time legislature.

"I think there is a general recognition there is a whole lot that needs to change in how we do business," Steinberg said.

Steinberg, a Democrat from Sacramento, said he will call for the changes when the Legislature returns in January.

He's not yet sure if he will seek a constitutional amendment to formally return the state to a two-year budget cycle, or work with the Assembly to make the change informally through rules.

The Council of State Governments says 15 states pass a budget every two years, but the national trend has been toward annual budgets.

Steinberg said lawmakers still would have to consider the budget frequently as the state faces a new $21 billion deficit on top of billions in cuts this year. But he wants to minimize the consideration of new bills every second year.

California alternated its consideration of the budget and other legislation until 1966, Senate Secretary Greg Schmidt told the San Francisco Chronicle. The Chronicle and The Sacramento Bee's online Capitol Alert first reported Steinberg's proposal. However, legislators regularly had to set special sessions in off years because of budget problems.

Voters in 1966 amended the state Constitution to create a full-time Legislature, which now has the longest scheduled session of any Legislature in the nation. But lawmakers are still regularly called back into special sessions to consider the budget and other issues.

Steinberg blamed term limits for lawmakers' preoccupation with new laws. In 1990, voters limited assembly members to three two-year terms and senators to two four-year terms.

"It's not a surprise when members are in and out quickly, they tend to want to make their mark, and you make your mark with a major bill," Steinberg said. "We forget that under our system of government one of our primary responsibilities is to oversee the implementation of the legislation that we pass and oversee the executive branch."

His proposal is similar to ideas pushed by Republican senators, and has been floated by Assembly and Senate Democrats who are examining legislative reforms.

Sen. Mark Wyland, a Republican from Solana Beach, has introduced a constitutional amendment to split the session. Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, a Democrat from Los Angeles, told the Chronicle she is open to the idea as part of other reform proposals.


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