Gov. Jerry Brown and Democrats in the state Senate have ended their politically testy fight over reducing California's prison population... by essentially stapling their two plans together.
As a result, the state will first ask a trio of federal judges for more time to implement a long-term fix to chronic prison overcrowding, as Senate Democrats demanded; if the judges refuse, the state will automatically start shipping inmates out of state and to local lockups, as the governor proposed.
"We're asking the court to recognize our commitment to longer term solutions," said Brown on Monday morning at an impromptu news conference surrounded by a bipartisan group of legislative leaders.
But if not...
"There's insurance here against early release," said Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento.
Legislative staff say the bill is expected to be formally introduced on Tuesday, with plans to send it to Brown's desk for his signature before the Legislature closes up shop for the year at the end of the week.
In June, a panel of three federal judges ordered the state to shrink the total prison population to about 109,000 inmates by the end of the year -- even if it meant releasing prisoners early. The governor asked the U.S. Supreme Court for a brief delay in complying with that order, a request the high court refused last month.
That set in motion the scramble to craft a plan, and an almost two week long fight with Brown, Assembly Democrats, and legislative Republicans on one side and Senate Democrats on the other.
The governor suggested on Monday that private conversations in recent days have shown a willingness of the judges to consider a more long-term approach than he had originally proposed.
"There are little smoke signals emanating from the mountain tops," he said.
But it's also widely believed that the federal judges in this long legal fight over prison overcrowding must weigh in soon. State prison officials have said the transfer of some 8,000 inmates to either out-of-state or local facilities will take time... and the existing deadline is now just a little more than three months away.
The governor's plan, unveiled on August 27, was projected to cost the state $315 million in the fiscal year that runs through next June. Legislative staff say they expect the bill to be considered this week will stick with that estimate, though they expect the compromise to make clear that any savings will be diverted into some of the long-term criminal justice changes sought by Senate Democrats.
The new proposal does not, though, carry over a Senate Democratic element that Brown considered a non-starter: a new panel to help set the future cap on the state's prison population, with some of the panel appointed by the inmate plaintiffs in the long-running lawsuit.
The quickly called news conference ends what was an unusually bitter intra-party fight in the statehouse, where the governor and Senate leader Steinberg traded public jabs about how best to fix the state's prison problems.
Now, everyone says the two plans can be complimentary -- not in conflict.
"We need some time," said Brown. "If the court doesn't give us the time, then we will spend the hundreds of millions of dollars finding the additional beds."
Note: this posting was updated at 5:48 p.m. to add information on the rejection of a Democratic proposal to allow inmate plaintiffs to help set the future prison population.