Central Valley

Valley legislative priorities resurface as Congress convenes

WASHINGTON -- Some familiar San Joaquin Valley priorities are being resurrected in the new 111th Congress that began Tuesday.

Among them:

Restoring the San Joaquin River.

Providing funding for a Yosemite-area school.

Designing an irrigation drainage cleanup for the Valley's west side.

Helping out distressed homeowners, of whom there are thousands in the Valley.

Because legislating takes a long time, and Capitol Hill hope springs eternal, these revived bills are coming back.

On Tuesday, for instance, Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer reintroduced legislation restoring water flows and salmon to the San Joaquin River below Friant Dam. The bill, shrunk from previous versions, provides $88 million over 10 years to the project that also would receive funding from other sources.

Rep. Dennis Cardoza's first bill of the Congress is likewise a do-over, with a reintroduced ethics package that adds a fine and two-year prison term for a public official "who engages in any conduct in furtherance of a federal felony." A related bill passed the House last year but was stymied in the Senate.

"It's more applicable than ever," the Merced Democrat said, citing the recent allegations against Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

On Tuesday, a traditional party-line vote -- the only one of the year in which all House members call out their choices instead of using their voting cards -- confirmed Rep. Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco as House speaker. Pelosi and her fellow Democrats now enjoy a 257-158 margin over Republicans.

Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia, said the odds are against congressional Democrats approving an energy bill he will be reintroducing that would boost nuclear power production.

"Obviously, my ideas are not going to become law," Nunes said, "but it's important to put these ideas out there for public consumption."

Rep. George Radanovich, R-Mariposa, plans to reintroduce legislation providing federal funding for the Wawona School and others serving Yosemite National Park employees and concession workers. The current funding bill is running out.

Also coming back: the regular introduction of Armenian genocide commemorative resolutions. These resolutions are politically popular in the Valley, with its large Armenian-American population. They are unpopular diplomatically, because of how they antagonize Turkey. A reintroduced Armenian genocide issue could prove an early test for President-elect Barack Obama and secretary of state nominee Hillary Clinton, both of whom supported genocide resolutions before.

Still other returning bills spark fights between traditional antagonists like farmers and environmentalists. Radanovich will reintroduce legislation from last year permitting more irrigation water to be pumped from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta; environmentalists don't like it.

The majority control also means Democrats will continue heading committees and subcommittees, which provides additional staff, visibility and power to set an agenda. At present, Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, expects to retain chairmanship of the House energy and mineral resources subcommittee, and Cardoza is heading the House horticulture and organic agriculture panel.

The completion of a five-year farm bill last year means the agriculture-related panels, like Cardoza's, will likely have less legislative work. Nonetheless, in recent days Cardoza and Costa began pressing the chair of the full House Agriculture Committee for potential action aiding the dairy industry.

Costa said he also expects to conduct subcommittee hearings, on both East and West coasts, on the issues of oil and gas development on federal lands.