BY JIM MILLER
SACRAMENTO BUREAU
jmiller@pe.com

Published: 27 November 2011 09:57 PM

SACRAMENTO – Instead of voting yes or no, members of Inland Southern California’s legislative delegation abstained on hundreds of bills that came before the full Assembly and Senate this year.

Lawmakers sometimes were absent or away from their desks when a vote was taken. The vast majority of nonvotes, however, reflected lawmakers’ intent, such as protesting a budget bill, trying to compel changes in legislation, or mollifying a colleague.

Critics say the abstentions have the same effect as voting no, but without the public accountability. Voters elected lawmakers to vote, they say, not to “take a walk” on controversial bills.

Among Inland legislators, state Sen. Bill Emmerson, R-Hemet, abstained on the most bills in 2011 – 178 – based on voting data maintained by State Net, a legislation tracking service. That is twice as many nonvotes as colleague Bob Dutton, R-Rancho Cucamonga, who did not vote on 80 bills.

Among the region’s Democratic lawmakers, Assemblywoman Wilmer Amina Carter of Rialto did not vote 65 times and state Sen. Gloria Negrete McLeod did not vote 120 times.

Emmerson abstained on legislation that dealt with federal stimulus funding for energy-efficiency projects (passed the Legislature and signed into law), scrapping the academic performance index for schools (passed the Legislature and vetoed), and a budget-related bill (passed the Senate and stopped).

The senator said he missed some votes to attend events in his district. On most of the other bills, Emmerson said, he abstained because he opposed the measures but had been assured that his concerns would be addressed by the time the bills received final consideration later.

“I think sometimes when you do abstain, you have a better ability to work with groups and make changes,” said Emmerson, who is viewed as one of the more moderate members of the GOP caucus.

Republican lawmakers abstained on several Democrat-crafted budget measures this year. Assemblyman Kevin Jeffries, R-Lake Elsinore, said the Democratic majority made the bills public only a short time before putting them up for a vote.

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