Lawmakers long on talk, short on deeds?

While hundreds of bills were flying through the Legislature in the mad scramble that ended this year's session, Assembly members found time to play a floor game that called for oddball words such as "Bullwinkle," "Woody Woodpecker" and "Pimp Daddy" to be slipped into legislative debate.

The lighthearted wordplay, known as legislative bingo, might be a fitting metaphor for lawmakers' performance: mostly talk.

Though more than 2,800 bills were proposed and about 960 were approved during the nine-month session, political analysts say the scorecard is dismal.

"If your expectations are low enough, it was a great success," John J. Pitney, government professor at Claremont-McKenna College, said of the Legislature's regular session that ended with a gavel's thud about 3:30 a.m. Wednesday.

"They took care of the ordinary business of government, but when it came to the large issues, it was a session of deferral rather than accomplishment," Pitney said.

Lawmakers were unable to solve two of California's thorniest priorities, an overhaul of its health care system and a solution to water woes, prompting Gov. Schwarzenegger to call special sessions to focus on those two issues.

No deal on political districts

Months of promises and closed-door debate also failed to produce agreement on giving an independent commission, rather than the Legislature, authority to set boundaries for political districts.

Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a political analyst from the University of Southern California, cautioned against judging the Legislature until the special sessions are over.

But Jeffe conceded that lawmakers aren't hearing much applause, adding, "I would say the perception is that the Legislature didn't accomplish very much." Dan Schnur, a GOP strategist, likened the legislative session to professional sports.

"(It's like) a basketball game that ends regulation in a tie," Schnur said. "They're going to overtime." Schnur disagrees with analysts who claim the state's 52-day budget impasse made it impossible to devote enough time to health care, water and other key issues.

"The budget is a convenient excuse," he said. "As soon as they realized there was the prospect of a special session, it lifted the threat of an absolute deadline. It gave them some breathing space."

Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, D-Los Angeles, said claims of legislative ineffective- ness are "bogus." Lawmakers accomplished much in con- sumer protection, public safety, environmental protection and other areas, he said.

"I'm content," he said. "I'm not ecstatic about the legislative session, but I'm content. If, in the next two weeks, we turn the corner on health care and water, whatever postmortem people write today, I hope they would re-evaluate."

Senate Republican leader Dick Ackerman of Irvine said effectiveness cannot necessarily be judged by the quantity of bills passed.

"We need less laws, not more," he said.

Prominent bills passed by lawmakers and sent to Schwar- zenegger include measures to legalize gay marriage, allow thousands of undocumented im- migrants to qualify for college financial aid, restrict long-term development on Central Valley flood plains that are not adequately protected, and in- crease vehicle fees to generate more than $130 million for clean- air projects.

Californians also face the prospect of a ban on smoking in cars when minors are present; a mandate that restaurant chains display calorie counts and nutritional information about menu items; additional labeling to ensure that consumers know the source of bottled water they buy; and a requirement that child booster seats be used for two additional years, until age 8, unless a child is 4 feet 9 inches or taller.