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In a concerted effort to aid California's drought-stricken communities, the Legislature on Thursday sped a $687 million relief package to Gov. Jerry Brown.

One week after Brown and legislative leaders unveiled the emergency legislation, both houses of the Legislature approved the bill with little resistance. The Assembly passed the bill 65-0, and the Senate sent it to Brown's desk with only three dissenting votes.

Relying largely on unspent bond money, the measure sets aside more than $500 million to quench the thirst of afflicted communities with infrastructure projects like capturing storm water and distributing recycled water.

It also sets aside millions for drinking water in communities at risk of running out and allocates food and housing aid for Californians, like those in the agricultural industry, who have seen their livelihoods damaged by diminished water supplies.

In the Assembly, Republicans used the opportunity to call for more storage capacity, an issue being debated via a set of water bond proposals. But they agreed with their Democratic colleagues that the emergency water package marked a needed intermediate step.

"This is part of the puzzle, part of the solution for the entire state," said Assemblyman Rudy Salas, D-Bakersfield.

Things went a little less smoothly in the Senate, where the water debate occurred against the backdrop of Republicans seeking to expel a state senator who has been convicted on eight felony charges stemming from lying about his residence. Senate Democrats rebuffed that attempt, preserving a status quo that has seen Sen. Rod Wright, D-Inglewood, accept a paid leave of absence.

The drought bills passed the Senate handily in the end, though during floor debate Republicans accused Democrats of maneuvering the procedure to avoid a two-thirds vote. Democrats do not have a supermajority this week because Wright and Sen. Ron Calderon, indicted last week by a federal grand jury, are out dealing with legal problems.

Republicans argued that the bills should be urgency measures -- which require two-thirds approval -- instead of budget trailer bills that take a simple majority to pass. They also argued that taking up budget trailer bills several months after the budget was approved violates a voter-approved initiative that the Legislature cannot get paid if it doesn't complete the budget by June 15.

"This bill is just another example of how our budget process has been twisted over the years," said Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, one of three opposing votes.

Laurel Rosenhall of The Bee Capitol Bureau contributed to this report.

PHOTO: Aerial view of Folsom Lake looking northeast from near Beals Point on Thursday, December 26, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton.



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