Dozens of proposals vetoed by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger are zooming through the Legislature anew, with the ruling Democrats hoping Jerry Brown will sign them.
But getting the governor on board may not be easy.
Plans to boost the use of renewable energy, make it easier for farmworkers to unionize and give illegal immigrants access to college aid are among the more than 60 bills rejected by Schwarzenegger, a Republican, that could soon go before Brown, a Democrat.
Others would protect tenants in properties facing foreclosure, keep pesticides away from schools, close loopholes in the workplace smoking ban, crack down on the smuggling of cell phones into prisons and regulate body piercing.
Many of the bills could put the governor in an awkward position. He’s intent on demonstrating to voters that he is not a machine Democrat. His effort to project an image of independence and fiscal prudence could be undermined by the acceptance of a raft of liberal legislation.
“I know exactly how Gov. Brown feels,” said former Gov. Gray Davis, who was similarly deluged with Democratic bills when he took office in 1999 after 16 years of Republican governors. “There is a great deal of pent-up demand. I’m sure they [legislators] are licking their chops.”
Brown has expressed general support for some of the ideas brought back. But his spokeswoman, Elizabeth Ashford, said that did not necessarily mean an endorsement of specific legislation. She said the administration would not comment on any measure until the governor acts on it.
The renewed bills are appearing as Brown launches a public relations offensive partly intended to persuade voters that he has been as careful as possible with their money. That image is one key to getting voters to sign off on billions of dollars in taxes later this year.
But indiscriminate vetoing could cost Brown support from fellow Democrats in the Legislature. His refusal to sign many Democratic bills when he was governor three decades ago chilled relations and ultimately stalled his policy agenda. Davis also paid a political price for irritating lawmakers as he sought to position himself as a moderate.
He surprised them in his first year by setting a record for the largest number of Democratic bills vetoed by a Democratic governor, causing rifts with party leaders.
“The bulk of those I vetoed … were bills that proposed spending more,” Davis said.
A measure by Sen. Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) that would require 33% of the state’s energy to come from renewable sources by 2020 is already on Brown’s desk, after flying through the Senate and Assembly without a single amendment. Brown made the 33% goal a linchpin of his campaign platform, but it is opposed by some of the same business groups Brown wants to back his call for more taxes.
Candidate Brown signaled support for another measure rejected multiple times by Schwarzenegger: one that would allow illegal immigrants access to college financial aid.
“I would have signed that bill,” Brown told a Latino audience last October during a debate with his Republican rival, Meg Whitman. Brown said opponents of the idea were “wrong morally and humanly.”
Those were encouraging words to Assemblyman Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles), who had seen his DREAM Act bill fall repeatedly under Schwarzenegger’s veto pen.
“The governor has impressed me as being a person who solves problems and is not looking at something as a partisan,” Cedillo said.
Cedillo is considering reviving a proposal to allow illegal immigrants to get drivers licenses, something Schwarzenegger refused to approve. Brown has said he opposes that idea. Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) is the author of a controversial bid to allow farmworkers to bypass secret-ballot elections and unionize by signing cards.
The measure, a top priority for the United Farm Workers, was vetoed by Schwarzenegger three times in three years. But it passed the Senate last week, with Democratic lawmakers noting optimistically that Brown signed the original legislation in 1975 that helped farmworkers unionize.
“As governor, I marched with Cesar Chavez and farmworkers for safe working conditions and crafted the first farm labor act in the country,” Brown said during the campaign.
Simitian says lawmakers should be careful not to overreach. “All of us have an obligation to work with this new governor,” the lawmaker said, “and not to press for legislation beyond what is reasonable.”