Darrell Steinberg will be a busy man for the next month as the central figure in what happens — or doesn't happen — on the California Legislature's remaining major issues.
Steinberg is nearing the end of his stint as the Senate's top leader. While his political future is still cloudy, his current status as the catalyst for legislative action is very clear.
Steinberg is personally carrying several of the most contentious bills remaining on the Legislature's agenda and is managing others through the process.
His personal bills include those that would punish charter cities that do not adopt “prevailing wages” for local public-works projects (Senate Bill 7), re-energize the United Farm Workers union by making it easier to force agricultural employers into mediation (SB 25), revive local redevelopment programs with a new name (SB 1) and overhaul the California Environmental Quality Act (SB 731).
The last is especially contentious. As Steinberg moves his bill, he's also negotiating privately with business, environmental, local government and labor groups, seeking “that elusive middle ground.”
He's also personally carrying one (SB 374) of the more than two dozen pending gun-control bills that Democratic legislators are pushing this year and appears to be coordinating the entire gun-control push.
“I think these bills put California at the head of the pack again in the nation,” he said as the Senate approved one batch in May.
Steinberg appears to be the central figure in an issue on which no legislation has yet surfaced, but that everyone expects to pop up before adjournment in mid-September: altering California's 38-year-old $250,000 cap on pain and suffering damages in medical malpractice cases.
The trial lawyer lobby has been trying for decades to repeal or modify the cap, signed in 1975 by Jerry Brown during his first governorship, but has been blocked by a coalition of insurers and medical care providers.
Steinberg has called on the cap's defenders to negotiate and compromise, while lawyers and their allies are threatening a 2014 ballot measure.
There are, of course, some pending issues in which Steinberg is not overtly involved, but they're mostly bills residing in the Senate after Assembly passage, so he is automatically involved.
They include legislation to raise the state's minimum wage (Assembly Bill 10), change how abusive teachers are disciplined (AB 375) and legalize “inclusive zoning” to compel developers to set aside rental units for low-income residents (AB 1229).
Each of the pending bills, including those being personally carried by Steinberg, has high-powered support and opposition, thus giving him the opportunity to practice the political mediation he's so fond of espousing.
Dan Walters covers state politics for the Sacramento Bee.