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Don't expect a water deal today, Senate Republican leader Dennis Hollingsworth said Friday before resuming negotiations with legislative leaders and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

"Just about every large issue is still open," the Murrieta Republican told the media before the morning session.

Asked if a deal within the next 24 hours is doubtful, Hollingsworth replied, "That's a correct assumption. I think it's going to be a tall order to finish today."

More than two hours later, Hollingsworth emerged from the meeting and said prospects had not changed. He said he supports meeting throughout the weekend, if necessary, to strike a deal .

"We have some issues that we have to finish," he said. "They are very important issues, but as we've been saying for the last several weeks, we think there is light at the end of the tunnel -- and we can get there."

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, interviewed separately, was less pessimistic.

Responding to Hollingsworth's contention that every major issue remains on the table, Steinberg said:

"We haven't closed an entire agreement, but the way this works is that it's an entire package, so while we really have, in my view, conceptual agreements on a number of pieces, until you have all the pieces agreed upon or resolved, you don't have a comprehensive agreement."

Steinberg described negotiations as constructive and said he has not given up hope that the framework for agreement can be reached tonight.

"I think it's possible," Steinberg said. "But I also am not making big weekend plans outside the Capitol."

One key issue in water talks Friday was conservation. Comments by Steinberg and GOP leaders suggested significant disagreement.

Steinberg said Democrats are pushing for a "good, aggressive policy."

"You can build all the infrastructure you want, but if you aren't serious about conservation, none of that will make the difference in the end," he said. "So we're fighting for a very strong conservation bill."

Assembly Republican leader Sam Blakeslee said that Republicans fear that mistakes in crafting conservation policies "could set us back a generation in terms of getting real water to people who need it."

"We believe that making sure we have plans to conserve water is important, but we don't want to create a full employment act for lawyers who spend their lives and careers litigating," he said.

Part of the GOP's goal, Blakeslee said, is to "make sure these are real water solutions, and not vast expansions of bureacracies or the opportunities for lawyers essentially to hurt farmers who are struggling already."

Steinberg, echoing comments he made Thursday, described as a "sideshow" the governor's threat to veto many of the 700-plus bills on his desk unless a water deal is struck by the bill-signing deadline at midnight Sunday.

"I'm confident that the governor will consider bills on their merit - as his job requires," Steinberg said. "We're working hard to get a water agreement and let's all see where it goes."

Hollingsworth did not find fault with Schwarzenegger's veto threat. He downplayed the importance of bill-signings by citing the example of legislation to restrict the cutting of cows' tails at dairies.

"Thing like cow-docking are not nearly as important as delivering water for California's cities and farms," Hollingsworth said.


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