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The Donald Sterling drama reached the Capitol Wednesday when a Senate committee approved legislation that would prohibit the Los Angeles Clippers owner from claiming a state tax deduction for a $2.5 million fine by the National Basketball Association for making racist remarks.

Members of the Senate Governance and Finance Committee didn't defend Sterling but several worried aloud whether the legislation, which would apply to any professional sports team owners who are fined by their leagues for any reason, would violate freedom of speech.

The measure, Assembly Bill 877, was drafted by Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra, D-Los Angeles, as Sterling was engulfed in controversy over remarks about African-Americans that a woman friend had revealed.

The NBA fined Sterling and has been pressuring him to sell the basketball franchise. At one point, it appeared the team would be sold to former Microsoft honcho Steve Ballmer, but the deal is now in flux.

Bocanegra and other supporters said that allowing Sterling to deduct the fine as a business expense would reward bad conduct, but Sen. Mimi Walters, R-Irvine, said it would impinge on 1st Amendment free speech rights.

The committee's chairwoman, Davis Democrat Lois Wolk, at first agreed with Walters and opposed the bill but then switched and called for its approval. With her support, the bill moved out of committee on a 4-1 vote although Wolk observed, "It's going to be hard to get a signature (from Gov. Jerry Brown)."

The bill might not get to Brown because as a tax increase it would require a two-thirds vote from both legislative houses, which means it would need at least two Republican votes in the Senate.

PHOTO: Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling watched the Clippers play the Los Angeles Lakers during an NBA preseason basketball game in December 2011. Associated Press Photo/Danny Moloshok


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