Legislation: Between A Pen And Hard Place

By Published On: October 9, 2009

There are dozens of energy bills awaiting enactment but whether they will be approved or vetoed by the governor--or become law by his inaction--remains in flux as the deadline approaches. The governor must act on bills that reached his desk by the last day of the legislative session before midnight October 11 or else they become law. The fate of other legislation--passed but not sent directly to the governor’s desk--is uncertain. The state chief threatened to deep six all bills in front of him unless Democratic leaders agreed to pass a massive water bond measure. The water legislation is intended to bolster water supply reliability and the health of the San Francisco Bay-Delta--the heart of the state’s water system. In response, the Senate withheld or pulled off the governor’s desk stacks of Senate bills, said reliable capital sources. By October 8, however, all but about three dozen bills had been sent to the governor, according to a spokesperson for Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento). Among those originally withheld was a measure to establish a 33 percent renewable energy mandate. (The governor executed an order to establish a mandate for public and private utilities to procure one-third of their power supplies from renewable resources after he threatened to veto the legislation that would raise the alternative power standard from 20 percent to 33 percent, [Circuit, Sept. 18, 2009].) Keeping a large number of bills out of the governor’s reach for an extended period is unprecedented. The maneuver could leave affected energy legislation in legal limbo. Some believe that lawmakers’ move to withhold bills extends the signing deadline. Others Circuit contacted disagree, insisting the cutoff date remains unchanged--the end of the day October 11. “We are plowing new ground and rules aren’t real clear,” said Steven Kelly, Independent Energy Producers policy director. Bills sent to the governor upon the Legislature’s September 11 adjournment must be acted upon within 30 days under the state constitution. Legislation not acted upon by the cut off date automatically becomes law. A well-known example of bills not approved or vetoed that became law occurred during Governor Pete Wilson’s administration in the 1990s. A half a dozen bills were accidently left on a copy machine and not put on the former governor’s desk. Those measures became law much to the fury and chagrin of Wilson, according to a long time lobbyist. There is a different time frame, however, for legislation not sent to the governor’s desk upon adjournment. According to the state constitution, “Any other bill presented to the governor that is not returned within 12 days becomes a statute.” The 12-day clock may start running at the time bills delayed by lawmakers arrive in the executive office. But how the California Constitution’s language is interpreted and what may happen to the legislation remains to be seen. Many measures, including SB 14 that sets a one-third renewable power mandate for utility procurement, were cut loose by Senate leaders and carried down to the governor’s office mid-week. The Senate measure is tied to AB 64, which sets renewable parameters, including how much imported power is eligible under the higher threshold. Since September, the governor has taken minimal action on the bill front. He vetoed bills (one that dealt with Vietnam War veterans and the other elections for labor representatives) and signed one which dealt with state cash deferrals.

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