Your Tax Dollars At Work

It’s 4:30 pm in the California State Assembly on Thursday May 29, 2008. 

It is the final day of the final week to move legislation out of its house of origin. 

Presiding Officer, Sally Lieber, a Mountain View Democrat, recognizes Nicole Parra, a termed-out Fresno Democrat. 

Parra introduces AB 2572, requiring restaurants with 20 or more locations throughout the state to provide customers with nutritional information about the fare. 

“This is about information,” Parra tells her Assembly colleagues, several of whom aren’t listening. 

Fiona Ma, a San Francisco Democrat, is talking to Todd Spitzer, an Orange Democrat. Roger Niello, Sacramento Republican, pecks at his Blackberry. 

The information, which the bill says can be displayed on the menu, on a poster, a tray liner, a brochure, the counter, a table or the food packaging itself, will allow “people and consumers and customers to make good decisions,” Parra insists. 

Exempted from the bill’s requirements are farmers’ markets, commissaries, grocery stores, licensed health care facilities, mobile support units, public and private school cafeterias, restricted food service facilities, temporary food facilities and vending machines. 

No nutritional information would be provided for alcoholic beverages, either. The information provided to customers would include total calories, total fat, saturated fat and trans fat. Also, carbohydrates and sodium. 

Of 1,000 food chains in California, two-thirds will “have to do something” when the bill becomes law, Parra says. 

GOP Leader Mike Villines of Clovis rises to say he supports Parra’s bill. He notes that it is sponsored by the fast food industry and is “not overly proscriptive” but, instead, offers a sound, flexible way for the industry to move toward providing customers with nutritional information.

 As the debate continues, several Democrats say Parra’s measure doesn’t go far enough. It merely codifies existing practices of restaurants, the main argument used by groups like the American Cancer Society in opposing the bill. 

One Democrat notes that the bill Democrats backed last year was vetoed by Gov. Schwarzenegger. 

“It’s the choice between this bill and essentially nothing,” says Ted Lieu, a Torrance Democrat. 

Lloyd Levine, a Van Nuys Democrat points out that “some restaurants are stepping up to the plate on this.” He assures his colleagues no pun is intended. 

Chuck DeVore, an Irvine Republican, walks past the back of the chamber saying to no one in particular, “I have to ask you to back away from the Twinkie, sir.” 

Lieber recognizes Doug La Malfa, a Republican from rural Biggs. 

“I don’t know. When you go out to a restaurant are you really there to worry about what’s on the menu?” 

La Malfa opines that most people driving down Interstate 5 who are hungry simply pull off at Kettleman City and “go into the first Choke and Puke there.” 

Ira Ruskin, a Palo Alto Democrat, suggests the “information should be on the food itself.” 

Debate ceases and Parra closes: “The industry has stepped up and wants to be part of the solution.” 

Lieber opens the electronic roll, urges those who wish to vote to do so. The measure is sent to the Senate on a 42 to nine vote. 

Lieber then lifts a call on one of her own bills, which wins the needed votes to move to the upper house. 

Next, “File Item 85 by Mr. Mendoza,” Lieber says. 

“I’m here to present a trans-fat free bill, the Artesia Democrat says.  

Assuming money is found to complete the job, Mendoza’s bill would require a one-stop Web site displaying business-related announcements and funding opportunities by state agencies. The state would only have to maintain the site until January 1, 2014, assuming funds become available to create it. 

There is no debate. To the Senate on a 43 to two vote. 

Inglewood Democrat Curren Price presents File Item #86, his AB 2208 which, according to the Assembly Floor Analysis, at a cost of $200,000, would require the Department of Public Health to conduct the “Lupus Needs Assessment Program to identify the lupus-related diagnostic, educational and support service needs of health care providers and the needs of and services available to persons with lupus and those who care for them.” 

Price, who is African-American, notes it is a common malady among African-Americans and it’s “important we educate the public.” 

Nevertheless, when Lieber opens the roll, 26 Republicans vote against the bill although it still wins the 41 votes needed to send it to the Senate. 

Jim Beall, a San Jose Democrat, isn’t on the floor to present File Item #87 so Lieber returns to the beginning of the Daily File to take up bills missed on the first go-round. 

Mike Feuer, Los Angeles Democrat, doesn’t want to take up File Item #3. Nor does Burbank Democrat Paul Krekorian rise to take up File Item # 14. 

Wilmer Carter, a Rialto Democrat, does take up File Item #15 and reads a statement about the merits of her bill, AB 2825. She assures her colleagues she will continue to work with stakeholders as well as the opponents to address their concerns, should the measure be sent to the Senate. It is, on a unanimous vote.  

Then Lieber moves from the Third Reading File to the Second Reading File on which File Item #1 is a measure by Jared Huffman, a San Rafael Democrat. Huffman says his bill is a needed update of the state’s consumer privacy protection laws to address the increased use of cell phones. 

“The phone companies have been working the bill hard,” he tells his colleagues. 

Sam Blakeslee, a Republican from San Luis Obispo, says the cell phone industry is changing rapidly and the bill “is not necessary at this time.” 

Rick Keene, a Chico Republican, says the bill has been amended so that it now does nothing. 

“The problem is it is a solution in search of a problem,” Keene says. “There are already federal laws precluding the disclosure of this information.” 

Huffman tries to rebut the opposition arguments but ends up with 23 “yes” votes and 33 “no” votes. 

Devore walks past the back of the chamber, saying: “I’m going to go out on the porch and see if there’s anything I can shoot.” 

It is now 5 pm. 



Filed under: Venting


  1. Am I the only one who, as a 28-year veteran of the legislative process, is deeply, truly, madly saddened by the collapse of true discourse on bills? Surely those now responsible for writing their Members’ Floor Statements could do a better job than this. So sad.

    Comment by Robyn Boyer — 5.30.2008 @ 8:50 pm

  2. Robyn isn’t the only one deeply, truly, madly saddened by the lack of true discourse on bills. Many others are. Many more are saddened, deeply and truly, by the lack of meaning or reason for the bills. Tis a wonder the Floor Statements are even somewhat coherent, let alone well written, given the content of the measures.

    Comment by lotuslover — 5.30.2008 @ 10:24 pm

  3. The laments about lack of discourse in the legislature is right on the mark, and those “outside” the process are not the only ones who think so. Several of my colleagues and I frequently commiserate about the lack of serious deliberation and debate in the legislature. Believe it or not, it upsets many of us that issues too often get decided on factors other than public policy merits. It’s not just the floor sessions — it’s the whole system, from the excessive number of bills members are allowed to introduce (which overwhelms the system and makes it hard to focus on the bills that really matter), to the legislative rules and deadlines that discourage serious deliberation (this is why the floor sessions barely work the file for weeks at a time, and then scramble to pass hundreds of bills in the final few days), to the very obvious influence of monied interests (there is a block of perhaps a dozen Democratic members who worry far more about what their campaign funders want than what any given bill actually says), to the ubiquitous practice of “laying off” of not voting (which members use to either avoid tough decisions, or to make themselves “players” on tough bills), to the corrosive effects of term limits (in the just-concluded floor session, many votes were cast — or not cast — based on campaign strategy for numerous members who are already running or planning to run for their next office).

    There are many smart, principled and hard working members of the legislature. Many of them are just as frustrated with the system as you are.

    Comment by Assemblymember X — 5.31.2008 @ 8:14 am

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