California set to ring in the new year with fewer new laws

SACRAMENTO — California's budget coffers are emptier than a politician's promise, but there may be a silver lining to the state's dark financial clouds: fewer new laws.

Legislators approved only 872 bills in their 2009 regular session, and just 632 have become or will become law by today.

While that may seem like a lot more new laws than we need, it's actually the fewest bills passed, and the fewest signed into law, in more than 40 years.

In fact, according to legislative consultants, it's 131 fewer laws than last year; 393 fewer than 10 years ago, and a whopping 1,093 fewer than in 1967, the first year after voters made the Legislature a full-time institution.

The biggest reason for the drop-off is money — or the lack thereof. Simply put, most new laws have a price tag, and the state is too broke to afford more than a relative handful.

Still, that didn't keep lawmakers from trying. During 2009's regular session and seven "extraordinary" sessions, they introduced 3,056 bills, proposed constitutional amendments and resolutions — an average of 25.5 per member.

That's about the same number as in 1939, when the state and country were wrestling with the Great Depression.

And while they may have lacked in quantity, compared with recent years, this year's crop did not lack for variety.