Governor, lawmakers still split over water

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and state lawmakers remain divided on major water legislation, but reported some momentum Sunday as they seek a deal that has eluded them for years.

Leaders offered few details — and many battles remain. But the governor said he was convinced “we have made enough progress” to allow him to lift his threat to veto unrelated legislation. He also called a special session on water.

A drought and battles over environmental protections in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta — the source of farm and drinking water — have brought the state’s growing water needs to the forefront.

“I commend the legislative leaders for their focus and commitment to solving this crisis and I will weigh all the bills on their merits,” he said in a statement released after a late-might negotiating session with the four Senate and Assembly leaders.

The governor’s threat loomed over the all-day negotiations because he had until midnight to act on 704 bills passed during the year. Bills not vetoed or signed become law automatically.

The governor’s threat loomed over the all-day negotiations because he had until midnight to act on bills passed during the year.

By the end of the night he had signed more than 450 bills and vetoed more than 220.

The bill signings include two gay rights bills, one honoring late activist Harvey Milk and another recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other states. Local bills include one that requires DUI offenders in Tulare County to put Breathalyzer-type devices on cars.

Another round of water talks is scheduled for today, with possible public hearings this week. No vote is scheduled.

“There’s evidence we’re now in fact moving in the right direction,” said Assembly GOP Leader Sam Blakeslee.

Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, said: “We’re just not quite there, but I wouldn’t say that we’ve hit any stumbling blocks.”

Even if an agreement is reached, leaders will have to sell it to rank-and-file lawmakers, who will be lobbied hard by regional water districts and environmentalists — all of whom have different needs.

Outstanding issues include policy proposals favored by Democrats to mandate conservation, set new rules for ground-water monitoring and crack down on illegal diversions of water.

Environmentalists, backed by Democrats, say the plans will “break the cycle of conflict and environmental damage that have plagued California’s water management system for decades,” according to a letter sent to leaders by a key coalition of environmentalists.

But Republicans, farm groups and some industrial water users oppose the plans as written, saying they would create a “vast new government bureaucracy.”

The ground-water proposal involves new rules requiring reporting of how much water is extracted from aquifers.

Senate GOP Leader Dennis Hollingsworth said Republicans fear “an intrusion on private property rights of well owners, and so we’re trying to find some type of middle ground.”

Also unresolved are the size and scope of proposed borrowing to pay for projects, including dams — possibly including one near Fresno — which Republicans favor.

It’s not clear that leaders even got to this issue Sunday.

The policy changes don’t require GOP votes, but Republicans have made it clear they won’t sign off on bond financing — which does require their votes — until their policy demands are met.

The bills acted on by the governor include the following:


- AB 91: Requires DUI offenders to put Breathalyzer-type devices on cars. The pilot program covers four counties, including Tulare.

- SB 680: Renews a law allowing students to easily change schools. More than 370 Valley students take advantage of the “district of choice” program.

- AB 691: Authorizes the Alpaugh Unified School District to operate a four-day school week.


- SB 84: Would have preserved about $400 million in funding for low-performing schools, including $16 million for 19 Fresno schools. The governor says an alternate plan will keep the money flowing.

- SB 14: Would have required all electric utilities to generate one-third of their power from renewable sources by 2020.

- SB 242: Would have made it a civil rights violation to adopt policies against the use of a foreign language in a business.

- AB 98: Would have required health plans to cover maternity services.