Democrats’ obliv­i­ous left­ward lurch

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - In sacra­mento

Democrats in the state Leg­is­la­ture are walk­ing a tightrope, seem­ingly obliv­i­ous to po­ten­tial dan­ger.

First, they raised gas taxes and ve­hi­cle fees. Then the Se­nate passed a ridicu­lously costly uni­ver­sal health­care plan. Now, the Leg­is­la­ture is get­ting close to help­ing un­doc­u­mented crim­i­nals avoid de­por­ta­tion.

How far left can the ma­jor­ity party ca­reen, even in deep blue Cal­i­for­nia, be­fore Repub­li­cans start ben­e­fit­ing at the bal­lot box?

The gas-tax hike was gutsy and needed. Ac­tu­ally, it will only re­turn fuel taxes to es­sen­tially where they were 25 years ago, ad­justed for in­fla­tion. The $5.2 bil­lion raised an­nu­ally will al­low the state to fi­nally be­gin re­pair­ing crum­bling high­ways.

But Cal­i­for­nia vot­ers only like state taxes that other peo­ple pay. A re­cent poll by UC Berke­ley’s In­sti­tute of Gov­ern­men­tal Stud­ies found that 58% of vot­ers op­pose the trans­porta­tion fund­ing plan.

In con­trast to the gas-tax leg­is­la­tion, Se­nate pas­sage of a sin­gle-payer health­care bill, in which the state would pay all med­i­cal costs for Cal­i­for­ni­ans, was sim­ply ir­re­spon­si­ble. The Se­nate’s own anal­y­sis pegged the an­nual price tag at an as­tro­nom­i­cal $400 bil­lion.

How does the Leg­is­la­ture ex­pect to fi­nance a Cal­i­for­nia-only sin­gle-payer sys­tem? The Se­nate dodged that ques­tion. It sent the As­sem­bly a bill with­out a fund­ing plan. The Democrats’ main goal, it seemed, was to ap­pease the leg­is­la­tion’s pri­mary ad­vo­cate: the po­lit­i­cally po­tent Cal­i­for­nia Nurses Assn.

Next up is Se­nate leader Kevin de León’s push to pass his so-called sanc­tu­ary state bill to pro­tect im­mi­grants here il­le­gally from Pres­i­dent Trump’s de­por­ta­tion zealotry. Good idea — un­less those to be pro­tected are com­mon crim­i­nals.

“Let me be clear,” the Los Angeles Demo­crat says. “SB 54 is not about safe­guard­ing crim­i­nals. In fact, it will

en­sure that se­ri­ous crim­i­nals will serve their full sen­tences in Cal­i­for­nia. Now [U.S. Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment] plucks crim­i­nals out of jail and sends them across the bor­der be­fore their tri­als.

“We’re fo­cused on ar­rest­ing dan­ger­ous crim­i­nals, pros­e­cut­ing them and im­pris­on­ing them — not en­gag­ing in crim­i­nal dump­ing and let­ting them avoid pros­e­cu­tion, only to come back to our neigh­bor­hoods and prey on our res­i­dents. That to me is scan­dalous.”

No dis­agree­ment there. No one is ar­gu­ing that crooks shouldn’t be pros­e­cuted and serve out their full sen­tences. But what hap­pens then? Should they be re­leased back into the neigh­bor­hoods or handed over to the feds for po­ten­tial de­por­ta­tion?

Un­der De León’s bill, state prison of­fi­cials and lo­cal jail­ers could only no­tify the feds about the pend­ing re­lease of an in­mate here il­le­gally if he’d been con­victed of a “se­ri­ous” or “vi­o­lent” felony.

That leaves out a whole bunch of other felonies and high-grade mis­de­meanors — things like bur­glary, hu­man traf­fick­ing, as­sault on a po­lice of­fi­cer, rape of an un­con­scious per­son, spousal abuse and re­peated drunk driv­ing.

Boot them all back across the bor­der that they pre­vi­ously crossed il­le­gally, pos­si­bly many times. That’s my view.

But help pro­tect the law-abid­ing im­mi­grants who pick crops, wash restau­rant dishes, mow lawns — and of­ten are headed to­ward col­lege de­grees. Pro­tect them from the feds and the crooks.

“Talk to peo­ple in the im­mi­grant com­mu­nity, and they don’t want these [crim­i­nals] com­ing back into their neigh­bor­hoods be­cause they prey on them dis­pro­por­tion­ately,” says Santa Bar­bara County Sher­iff Bill Brown, pres­i­dent of the Cal­i­for­nia State Sher­iffs’ Assn., which op­poses De León’s bill.

“When we start pars­ing who law en­force­ment can and can­not call ICE on, it’s a very slip­pery slope,” the sher­iff says, adding that De León’s bill “es­sen­tially pro­vides sanc­tu­ary for crim­i­nals.”

The Se­nate leader ve­he­mently re­jects that as­ser­tion. The FBI gets fin­ger­prints of ev­ery­one jailed, he says.

“If they want some­one, they can get a ju­di­cial war­rant and pick him up.”

Law en­force­ment says that’s eas­ier said than car­ried out.

The state sher­iffs’ and po­lice chiefs’ or­ga­ni­za­tions also ob­ject to other fea­tures of the bill. One would re­strict lo­cal cops’ abil­ity to team up with fed­eral of­fi­cials on crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tions if im­mi­gra­tion en­force­ment is in­volved. Another would make it dif­fi­cult for im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cers to in­ter­view in­mates in lo­cal jails.

Hardly any­one — ex­cept maybe some Repub­li­can leg­is­la­tors — op­poses the bill’s main pur­pose: to pro­hibit state and lo­cal cops from help­ing en­force fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion laws.

Cal­i­for­nia tax money, it’s gen­er­ally agreed, should be spent solely on en­forc­ing state laws. Let the feds use their own re­sources for en­forc­ing fed­eral laws.

“We do not want to be in the busi­ness of front-line im­mi­gra­tion en­force­ment,” says Gar­dena Po­lice Chief Ed­ward Me­drano, pres­i­dent of the Cal­i­for­nia Po­lice Chiefs Assn. “We want to make sure we re­tain trust and cred­i­bil­ity in our com­mu­ni­ties, re­gard­less of im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus.”

Sher­iff Brown: “Lo­cal law en­force­ment should not — and in­deed does not — en­force fed­eral law. We’re not out there scoop­ing peo­ple from ho­tels and restau­rants.”

He adds: “This [bill] re­ally is about po­lit­i­cal pos­tur­ing and be­ing against the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion.”

The bill passed the Se­nate in April and cleared the As­sem­bly Public Safety Com­mit­tee last week, both on party-line votes. De León is seek­ing a Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee hear­ing next week.

Los Angeles Po­lice Chief Char­lie Beck en­dorsed the bill Mon­day.

“This is not a soft-on­crime bill,” he in­sisted.

But not all law en­force­ment agrees.

“We’re still talk­ing with the sher­iffs’ and po­lice chiefs’ as­so­ci­a­tions,” De León says. They’ll re­quire some se­ri­ous com­pro­mis­ing by the Se­nate leader.

Demo­cratic leg­is­la­tors have been be­hav­ing as if they can’t fall from their lofty su­per­ma­jor­ity perch. Keep it up and there could be a jar­ring splat.

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