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Gov. Schwarzenegger calls Assembly gutless on prisons [Updated]

August 26, 2009 |  2:49 pm

Arnie Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger this afternoon said Assembly lawmakers “don’t have the guts” to make the cuts to the state prison system, criticizing them as politically motivated for stalling on a plan that would reduce the number of inmates in state lockups to save money.

“They don’t have the guts to go in there and to make the prison reform that they have been talking about for two decades, which we need to reduce the amount of inmates in there,” Schwarzenegger said in a webcast interview with the co-founders of Twitter at the company’s headquarters in San Francisco.

“The Assembly legislators, for them it was easier to go and make the $10-billion cut in education, but it is impossible for them to make the $1-billion cut” for prisons, he said.

The state Senate approved a Schwarzenegger-backed prison package last week, without any votes from minority Republicans. Democrats in the Assembly -- many of whom are running for higher office or trying to protect competitive seats -- have balked.

That plan is projected to reduce the prison population by 37,000 over two years.
 
Assembly Speaker Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) has deleted some of the most controversial elements in the package, and plans to hold a vote on a revised plan Thursday.

The parts she took out include a commission to reevaluate state sentencing laws, home detention for elderly offenders and those with a year to serve, and some sentencing reductions. Opponents of some of those provisions have called them “early release.”
 
Schwarzenegger said he was not going to put offenders on the streets -- "No one should be on the streets,” he said -- and asserted that the plan would enhance public safety by reducing parole supervision on low-level offenders and increasing it on high-level ones.
 
Lawmakers “are more worried about their safe seats, rather than their safe streets,” the governor said.

It isn’t the first time Schwarzenegger has questioned lawmakers’ fortitude. He once referred to them as “girlie men” and has sent some male lawmakers a metal sculpture of bull testicles, apparently to encourage them to stand firm against political pressure.

[Updated at 4:17 p.m.: Shannon Murphy, a spokeswoman for Bass, said in an e-mail: "The governor, who has vetoed prison reform legislation in the past, should spend less time rattling his rhetorical sword and more time producing Republican votes for his public safety proposals."]

[Updated at 8:45 p.m.: Bass has canceled Thursday's scheduled vote, in an indication that she does not yet have a plan her house will support. In a statement this evening, she said negotiations with law enforcement groups who had "serious concerns" were continuing.]

-- Michael Rothfeld in Sacramento

Photo: Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in a file image. Credit: Los Angeles Times