"Year of health reform" to end without health care plan

By Margarita Snegireva. The Legislature is about to finish the “year of health care reform” without passing a health care plan, inspite of all the efforts in the Assembly last week.

While that outcome had become expected, what was surprising to many observers was the person responsible for blocking action before the new year: Don Perata, the Senate leader and a liberal Democrat from Oakland who co-authored the bill.

Perata announced he would not allow the Senate to vote on the Assembly-approved bill - not until he knows more about how the $14 billion-plus measure would affect existing health programs and the state's overall finances.

But hearing Perata question a measure that bears his own name has left Capitol observers wondering what exactly he's up to. Is he seeking leverage on some other issue? Exacting revenge on his Assembly counterpart and occasional rival, Speaker Fabian Núñez, D- Los Angeles ? Or simply taking more time to vet a proposal with far-reaching and potentially unintended consequences?

The best answer might be all of the above. Still, by pushing Senate consideration of the bill into next year, some proponents privately fret that Perata may stall its momentum and kill the measure's already slim chances of being enacted, Mercury News reports.

Don Richard Perata (born April 30, 1945 ) is a California Democratic politician , who is the current President pro tempore of the California State Senate . He was elected to the post of President Pro Tempore in 2004. He will continue his Presidency until the end of the current 2007-2008 session. Perata has a daughter and a son.

Perata's first attempt at state politics came in the 1994 democratic primary for controller. Perata was unsuccessful and captured only 27.27% of the vote. Afterwards, Perata served as a staff assistant for then Senate Pro Tem Bill Lockyer.

In 1996, Perata was elected as an California State Assemblyman for the Oakland, Alameda, and Piedmont district. He became the California State Senate President Pro Tem in 2004.

Perata's run (and election) to the State Senate in 1998 was part of a series of five special elections that were held in the East Bay within less than 12 months, as Perata and other East Bay politicians vied for different political offices. For a detailed account of events, see Special election musical chairs.

Perata has been an advocate for the rights of the elderly, the mentally ill, and the disabled. He supported legislation to create a discount drug program and legislation to require HMO's to pay for mental health treatment. Perata supported legislation that secured $27 million annually for ovarian and prostate cancer and legislation that increase access to breast cancer screening for low-income women. He has authored legislation requiring California utilities companies to contract for cleaner energy sources and supported tougher penalties on oil refinery emissions .

In early 2005, Perata introduced a bill to repair California's flagging infrastructure including highway improvements, housing reform and levee repairs. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger began to speak out in favor of improving state infrastructure after Schawarzenegger's November 2005 special election ballot initiatives were defeated. While Schwarzenegger's plan included fixing transportation problems, his infrastructure plan was drastically more costly and advocated more prisons and didn't address the housing problem. In a rare occurrence for Sacramento politicos, in early 2006 Perata and Schwarzenegger began to work together to piece together an infrastructure plan that both sides of the legislature could embrace. They were successful and five bond measures were approved by California voters on the November 2006 ballot. These measures are aimed at improving roads, mass transit, affordable housing, levee repair, and upgrading educational facilities.

In July 2007, during state budget negotiations, Perata order the Senate to remain in session for 19 hours in an attempt to reach an agreement on the budget.

"We cannot make decisions in the dark," Perata said in a letter to his supporters last week.

But it also seemed clear that Perata wants assurances that the governor won't move to slash health programs for the poor in upcoming budget talks. The senator is also trying to muster support for a water conservation and infrastructure plan. Holding up the health care proposal, which the governor wants badly, gives him a huge bargaining chip.

In the end, even Republicans expect Perata will scare up the votes to pass the bill sometime in January. But they have enjoyed hearing the senator talk their talk.

"I love it," said Assembly Minority Leader Mike Villines, R-Fresno. "I'd love to see it happen throughout the year."

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