Frantic final day for 2001 legislative session

By Jennifer Kerr Associated Press Writer
Saturday September 15, 2001

SACRAMENTO – A $200 million program to help the state’s neediest schools won approval Friday as the California Legislature rushed to pass hundreds of bills. 

Lawmakers also gave driver’s licenses to immigrants seeking citizenship, state identification cards to medical-marijuana patients and rest breaks to shepherds. Also awaiting votes before adjournment, likely to be in the middle of the night, was a rescue plan for Southern California Edison. 

However, a proposed $12 billion school and college construction bond, which lawmakers had resurrected the night before, was apparently being shelved until lawmakers return in January. That means it cannot make the March ballot, but could be put on the November 2002 ballot. 

While legislators toiled, Tuesday’s terrorist attacks were never far from their minds. 

Gov. Gray Davis joined the Assembly for a brief memorial service that included a procession of lawmakers handing in letters they had written expressing their feeling about the attacks. The letters will be printed in a special Assembly Journal. 

“Here in California, our job is to keep the peace and preach tolerance,” said Davis, adding everyone should “stand behind the president” as he weighs future actions. 

The Senate, decked with 40 large flags at each senator’s desk, observed a minute of silence and sang “God Bless America.” 

Lawmakers approved a bill to send $1 million from the California Victim Compensation fund to a similar program in New York to help victims of terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center. 

The new school-improvement program, supported by Davis, would provide grants of $400 per student to schools with the state’s lowest test scores. They will have nearly four years to improve scores or face sanctions as severe as closing the school. 

It also expands the state’s current improvement program for schools with scores in the bottom half of the state, doubling funding for those at the very bottom. 

The author, Assemblyman Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said the schools would focus on proven strategies: reading, parent involvement and hiring and keeping of qualified teachers and principals. 

“We have an unprecedented opportunity here to invest $200 million in helping our neediest children,” he said. 

The Senate approved the program 27-8 and the Assembly 76-0. 

The Legislature approved a bill that would let an estimated 1.5 million immigrants apply for California driver’s licenses. The bill partly reverses a 1993 bill that blocks non-citizens from getting licenses. 

Immigrants would be allowed to submit their application for citizenship as proof of residence in the country and substitute a taxpayer identification number for the required Social Security number. Sen. Martha Escutia, D-Commerce, said licensed drivers are more likely to be insured drivers. “It’s an issue of safety, and at the same time, it’s the right thing to do.” 

However, Assemblyman Bill Campbell, R-Villa Park, said Tuesday’s events show it should be more difficult to get a license now because “I do believe we are at war; we should not be facilitating anybody to be coming at us from any direction.” 

The bill passed the Senate 22-7 and the Assembly 51-19. 

People certified by their doctors as needing marijuana for medical reasons could get a new state identification card under a bill approved by a 41-28 vote of the Assembly. It was returned to the Senate. 

The purpose, explained Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg, D-Los Angeles, is so police will know the person qualifies under Proposition 215, the initiative approved by voters, to use medical marijuana. 

The cards would be voluntary. Any unauthorized person using such a card to get pot could face a fine of up to $1,000 and up to one year in jail. 

Passed by a 41-28 Assembly vote, the shepherd bill would give people who watch sheep some of the basic working conditions that other workers have in state law.