California State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg is about to take the stage here at Netroots Nation in San Jose for a panel discussion on “Not Another Newtown: Building a Movement to Prevent Gun Violence,” but I caught up with him a few minutes ago.
“We want to create momentum here in California and continue to push for a national solution to the gun violence problem,” said Steinberg, D-Sacramento. “We not only want to push through our legislation in California, which I’m confident we’ll be able to, but also to convey that what we’re doing is cutting edge.”
Steinberg is shepherding a package of bills that among many other things would ban all semi-automatic rifles that take detachable magazines – a step well beyond what any other state has taken.
“Rather than clamping down on the newest loophole that they find, we’re making it as clear as can be,” he said. “We need to eliminate not only the current loopholes but also anything else they might think of next.”
Discussing this in front of the liberal online activists of Netroots Nation is “an opportunity to continue to build the extensive public support for reasonable gun regulation,” Steinberg said.
He said he also would like to talk about mental illness, although he’s not willing to equate this with gun control because the vast majority of mentally ill people never commit any violent crimes. Here again, he said, California is far ahead of the curve; he noted that the biggest non-education budget boost this year is for expanded mental-health services.
“Mental health and combating mental illness is a key to solving so many of our society’s seemingly intractable problems,” Steinberg said.
On another matter, Steinberg said he’s satisfied with the resolution to the past week’s flap over budget trailer bills that would’ve gutted the California Public Records Act by letting local governments opt out of major provisions if they don’t want to pay the costs of compliance.
“It was never our intent to undermine the Public Records Act – it was to clarify that public agencies ought to be responsible for the cost of complying with the law,” he insisted, acknowledging that this week’s fiery criticisms of the proposed changes were “a significant distraction to some of the achievements in this year’s budget.”
The Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown have conceded that they’ll continue the Public Records Act’s state-funded mandate for another year, while putting a constitutional amendment before voters in 2014 to transfer the responsibility for bankrolling the law from the state to local agencies.
Steinberg said he’ll actively and publicly support that amendment when it’s on the ballot, but “I wouldn’t imagine that it would be an amendment that would be very controversial.” Voters should react well to the idea of permanently enshrining the Public Records Act – signed into law in 1968 by Gov. Ronald Reagan – in the state’s constitution.