The Strange Way They Legislate in Sacramento

Penguins, polar bears, global warming, Tibet, pawnbrokers and Matricula Consular cards were debated April 3 in the California State Assembly. The debate was remarkable, not necessarily for the importance of the bills up for a vote, but rather for what the debate itself said about the values of the legislature in the biggest state in the union.

In one 47-to-22 vote, with three Republicans joining the majority Democrats, the Assembly passed AB 1870, a bill by Assembly Member Kevin De León (D.-Los Angeles) to allow pawnshops and coin dealers to use Matricula Consular cards as valid identification. Current California law stipulates that pawn shops may only accept IDs limited to driver’s licenses issued by any state or Canada, or ID issued by any state or the federal government or a passport from any nation, so long as that passport is accompanied by “…another item of identification bearing an address.”

AB 1870 would make it easier for thieves to fence stolen property. By expanding the law to include the notoriously unreliable and easily forged Mexican Matricula Consular, this bill would have the effect of setting back anti-theft efforts by decades.

Mexico Lacks Valid Database

According to testimony by the FBI before the U.S. House of Representatives, the Matricula Consular is mainly used “…by illegal aliens in the United States,” while foreign nationals, whether in the U.S. legally or illegally, “…have the ability to obtain a passport from their own country’s embassy or consular office.” The FBI testified that the Matricula Consular is not a viable form of identification “due to the non-existence of any means of verifying the true identity of the card holder.” Because Mexico doesn’t have a database to coordinate the issuance of Matricula Consular cards, the cards are often issued to the same person under multiple names. This allows the person with multiple consular ID cards to better evade law enforcement when they commit crimes. Further, according to the FBI, “Mexican birth certificates are easy to forge…” In some cases, a Mexican consulate will even issue a Matricula Consular card to a person who is unable to produce any documents whatsoever.  Banks in Mexico won’t even accept a Matricula Consular card as a form of ID! 

Other than all that, Matricula Consular cards must be fine according to the majority Democrats. All 22 “no” votes came from Republicans.

Assembly Joint Resolution 41 by Assemblymember Ted Lieu (D.-El Segundo) was also approved. It memorializes the United States Fish and Wildlife Service to list both polar bears and penguins as needing protection under the federal Endangered Species Act. Never mind, that aside from a few polar bears and penguins residing in California zoos, the nearest of the furry white former are 2,600 miles to the North while the closest of the feathery black and white latter are almost 8,000 miles to the South.

The impetus for Assemblyman Lieu’s action is “…global warming caus[ing] catastrophic environmental change in the Arctic…” Lieu, a lawyer, discounts that polar bear populations have quintupled in only three decades, citing instead a federal report that asserts greenhouse gas emissions will render “…two-thirds of the world’s polar bears extinct by mid-century.” This would leave the world with almost 70% more of the ravenous carnivores than it had in the 1970s. Curiously, scientists believe that polar bears have done quite well in other, warmer times, such as during a warm spell in medieval times as well as during the prehistoric Holocene Climate Optimum that began 9,000 years ago and lasted some 4,000 years. Perhaps with polar bears, some like it hot, or at least hotter than things are today. In any event, polar bears and penguins will be delighted to know that the California State Assembly has gone to bat for them, sending copies of the AJR 41 to President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Speaker Pelosi and others.

Of course, the legislature could do something that could at least partially arrest global warming fears by ending California’s anachronistic ban on the construction of modern nuclear power plants–the only ultra-low carbon and large scale source of reliable baseload electricity. But, that would be logical, and logic in Sacramento is scarcer than penguins or polar bears. AJR 41 passed 57 to 11.

Putting things into perspective, Assemblyman Sam Blakeslee (R.-San Luis Obispo) spoke out on the floor, not in opposition to AJR 41, but with the observation that his own resolution, Assembly Concurrent Resolution 119, on the horrific Chinese human rights abuses in Tibet and China, remains bottled up in the Rules Committee over fears that it would be too controversial. There being no shortage of irony in Sacramento, Mr. Lieu, the author of the penguin measure, is the Chairman of the Rules Committee.

ACR 119 would designate March 10 as “Tibet Day” by “…condemn[ing] the recent activities taken by the People’s Republic of China against Tibet…” We’re talking about “people here,” Assemblyman Blakeslee reminded his colleagues (as opposed to animals), people who, according to the United States Department of State, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, and international human rights organizations, are subject to “…egregious violations of human rights including the repression of political, civic, and religious groups such as Tibetan Buddhists, Catholics, Protestants, Falun Gong practitioners, Muslims, democracy advocates, labor organizers, lawyers, journalists, environmental activists, political dissidents, and other innocent people; the illegal harvesting of vital body organs and coercive third-trimester abortions; the perpetuation of slave labor camps; and the deprivation of basic fundamental freedoms of expression, assembly, and religious beliefs…” by the officially atheist and Communist People’s Republic of China.

Oh, and lest you think that the Blakeslee Tibet measure had as much nexus to California as the Lieu penguin measure, consider this: China’s cyber offensive against critics of its human rights abuses in Tibet and elsewhere resulted in the blocking in China of California-based Google as well as YouTube, as well as causing service disruptions outside of China too. Messing with Californians’ Google and YouTube is serious business.

So, while penguins and polar bears are worthy of debate, the basic human rights of a few million people aren’t worth a few words and a ream of paper in Sacramento.
If Tibet was peopled by penguins and polar bears, the California State Assembly would have no doubt acted with alacrity.