Head of the class
How did Sacramento’s representatives in the Statehouse fare this year?
On Friday, Assemblyman Dave Jones stood in front of a train, helping to fulfill promises he made this time last year. At the downtown Amtrak station, Jones announced that the governor had signed a piece of legislation that will establish a program for testing emissions coming from locomotives as they travel throughout California.
The bill, one of 24 he authored and ushered through the Statehouse this year, helps Jones meet a campaign pledge to tackle environmental issues. And it is one measure of his effectiveness as a representative for Sacramento residents.
At the train-side press conference, Burlington Northern Santa Fe representative Juan Acosta congratulated Jones on not just the one bill, but also the 13 of his that made it to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s desk this lawmaking season.
“That’s a very significant accomplishment for a freshman legislator,” Acosta said of Jones.
With both sides of the Statehouse adjourned until January, and Schwarzenegger having wrapped up signing and vetoing bills this past weekend, it’s an appropriate time to take a look at what our local legislators—Jones and Senator Deborah Ortiz, both Democrats—accomplished this go-round.
“We’re very excited,” Jones said on Friday. “We put a large number of bills on the governor’s desk.”
In fact, Jones ushered more of his proposed laws to the governor’s office than any other first-year Assembly member. As chairman of the Assembly’s Judiciary Committee, Jones introduced an additional five bills, four of which made it to the governor. Nine of Jones’ bills will become law.
Eleven of the 29 bills Ortiz began the session with made it through both the Senate and Assembly, seven of which were signed by Schwarzenegger.
Matt Ross, communications director for the Senate’s Republican Caucus, said matching a lawmaker’s campaign promises to his actions is a better measure of effectiveness than looking at simple numbers.
Jones agreed. “It’s one matrix,” he said. “Obviously, the content of the bills is important.”
In 2002, when Ortiz last ran for her Senate seat, she listed health, education and senior issues among her priorities. And this year, she saw through bills requiring health-insurance plans to cover smoking-cessation products, continue state-funded prostate-cancer treatment to low-income men and balance the rights of pharmacists with those of women in search of emergency contraceptives.
Ortiz also took the driver’s seat on the stem-cell-research issues, authoring a bill that would have required the state auditor to watchdog the newly created state stem-cell institute. Schwarzenegger vetoed that bill last month.
Ortiz also authored legislation aimed at her constituents, including a bill that will allow the Folsom Dam to be raised by 7 feet.
When Jones, a former Sacramento city councilman, was elected to the Assembly last year, he listed his top priorities as universal health care, education and smart growth. Among the bills he authored were:
• An effort to regulate staffing levels in hospitals, which failed in a Senate committee.
• A law that would require land developers to disclose their clients, which was vetoed by the governor.
• A law more clearly outlining how residential common-interest developments should open financial records to homeowners, which was signed by the governor.
• An attempt to earmark state money to train preschool teachers, which Jones withdrew and plans to pursue next session. Very few bills requiring new state money made it out of the appropriations committees this year.
As a comparison, freshman Assemblyman Alberto Torrico, D-Newark, like Jones, authored 24 bills and chairs a committee. But he only ushered 10 proposed laws into the governor’s office, compared with Jones’ 17.
“There are a lot of legislators who believe in quality over quantity,” said Steve Maviglio, spokesman for Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez.
Maviglio added that the speaker does not set quotas for members of his caucus, only limiting them to 40 bills per session, for logistical reasons.
As it is, 961 bills made it to Schwarzenegger’s desk. He signed three-fourths of them.