Albion Monitor /News

State GOP Wants Public Paddling, Chain Gang

by Jane Hunter

One bill tried to reduce child support payments

(IPS) SACRAMENTO -- Republicans have only just gained control of California's lower house, but they are already kicking up dust with measures critics say will strip away protections for workers, consumers, and the environment.

Some of the measures have evoked derision, like the bills to institute public paddling for young graffiti painters and to reduce the child support absent fathers must pay.

Chagrined, Republicans in the State Assembly are working hard to avoid more ridicule. But more extreme measures, such as one mandating prisoner chain gangs and another to clear-cut ancient forests are already up for debate.

"America was a better place" 40 years ago when chain gangs were common

Republican Assemblyman Brett Granlund, author of the bill to establish chain gangs, was initially reluctant to discuss his measure that would require prison inmates, linked together by leg shackles, to do hard labor.

"I don't want the media playing it up," he said. But, warming to his "great idea," Granlund said he supported chain gangs as "a deterrent," which "I'd want the public to see."

Disputing that such punishment was cruel, he maintained that "America was a better place" 40 years ago, when chain gangs were common. Asked if he anticipated opposition from those who connect chain gangs to the days of slavery, Granlund replied, "I believe in this. I think we owe it to the decent citizens of this state." Opponents of the Assembly Republicans' agenda recognize code words in such talk.

"People have to know that (the Republicans) have no use for you if you aren't white, Christian, straight and male," says long-time Democratic Assemblyman John Vasconcellos.

Democrats must respond to the onslaught by emphasizing "diversity, inclusiveness and equity," he says. "It's a struggle for the soul of our people."

Critics say the Republicans' agenda would drain the treasury and reduce protections for workers, consumers, and the environment in the country's most populous state.

Opinions are divided about whether the Republican program will be popular with the voters, whom the entire Assembly must face in November.

As television cameras rolled last month when Republicans took control of the lower house for the first time in 25 years, the measures to paddle graffiti artists and to reduce fathers' child support failed. Another measure that would bar recognition of same-sex marriages passed handily, 41-31.

Now, with the media largely departed and with Republicans apparently under orders to stop touting their pet bills to the press, dozens of measures that would affect the lives of virtually all Californians are quietly making their way through the Assembly.

Tax breaks for the overseas exports of raw logs

Among the bills that the Republican majority passed during their first 30 days was a measure that would abolish the right to overtime pay for employees who work more than eight hours a day.

Another bill would make it vastly more difficult to bring criminal charges against business owners for maintaining conditions that cause workers' deaths or injuries. Three bills passed by the new majority would make it much harder for injured consumers to sue manufacturers of dangerous or defective products.

At the urging of large, public and private garbage operators, the Republicans have passed a measure weakening regulations designed to keep garbage dumps from leaching into the aquifers that provide drinking water for more than half the state.

They also pleased building companies with a measure permitting contractors to fill wetlands and wildlife habitat. Three bills passed by the majority will allow clear-cutting of parts of ancient redwood forests and provide tax breaks for the overseas exports of raw logs.

According to a progress report on the Republicans' legislative program provided by the office of the Democratic minority leader, Richard Katz, 10 corporate tax reduction bills already passed would drain $1.97 billion from California's general fund and $1.18 billion from education.

More radical measures are also making their way through the Assembly. A bill that would require authorities to grant almost anyone a permit to carry a concealed weapon could come to a vote soon.

Respected Republican analysts have voiced concern that some of the party's more extreme measures will alienate the very voters who sent a raft of new Republicans to Sacramento in the party's national electoral sweep in November 1994. The Republicans only gained control of the Assembly in January, when former Democratic Speaker Willie Brown resigned to become mayor of San Francisco.

Democrats had initially taken comfort in their thin majority in the state Senate, where their leader Bill Lockyer has indicated he will prevent many of the bills from reaching the signature pen of Republican Governor Pete Wilson.

But it soon became apparent that Republicans would try to take over the Senate in the November election by accusing the Democrats of obstructing state business. That charge could resonate with voters already exasperated by partisan jousting.

And, according to the latest campaign finance reports, the Republican achievement of a thin majority in the Assembly has diverted contributions that once went to Democrats into Republican legislators' coffers.

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Albion Monitor March 10, 1996 (

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