Published Online: May 7, 2003
Published in Print: May 7, 2003, as State Journal

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Storm Brewing

Tensions in the California legislature—famous for its partisan bickering—seemed to peak late last month, when Republicans refused to acknowledge a Democratic-sponsored education bill by deciding not to vote on it.

The bill would allow districts more flexibility to offer early retirement to some of their veteran teachers, which could help the districts free up more money by paying the lower salaries of novice teachers.

Assemblywoman Ellen M. Corbett, a Democrat, introduced the bill with an "urgency clause," which requires a two-thirds vote. She wanted it to take effect immediately, rather than the normal Jan. 1 date, because districts have to decide whether to give final layoffs to teachers before then.

Assemblywoman Lynn Daucher, a Republican, said her party's members, though, knew there were many bills to help districts avoid laying off teachers and wanted to make sure all those measures received fair treatment. Assembly Democrats outnumber Republicans 48- 32, but that majority falls short of two-thirds.

By late last week, however, Ms. Daucher said that partisan tensions had eased. "This was just a minor hiccup, and I think we're going to work it out," she said.

The bill then passed the Assembly, the lower legislative house, without the urgency clause or GOP votes and the Senate planned to take it up last week.

Some observers say that action was but a temporary reprieve from divisiveness. During the last redistricting process, lawmakers struck a deal to carve nearly all legislative seats into safely Democratic or safely Republican districts. As a result, members tend to be either very liberal or very conservative. Furthermore, term limits have resulted in quick leadership turnover.

"The combination of term limits and reapportionment is exacerbating a problem that was pretty intense," said Michael W. Kirst, a co-director of the research group Policy Analysis for California Education and an education professor at Stanford University.

And then there's Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat disliked not only by nearly all Republicans, but also by many members of his own party. Some Republicans are working for a recall election on Mr. Davis, who won a second term last November.

Mr. Kirst said the governor has little influence over the lawmakers, and he predicted things could get worse: Republicans have put forth a budget plan that would borrow money heavily to counter Democrats' moves to hike taxes.

"This storm really hasn't come on shore yet," he said.

—Joetta L. Sack


Vol. 22, Issue 34, Page 21

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