Spring break means overseas travel for some lawmakers

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Associated Press

SACRAMENTO, CA — Ah, Paris in the springtime. The Eiffel Tower. The Louvre. The Seine. The Champs-Elysées. The TGV.

The TGV? It’s the French high-speed rail system. (TGV stands for Train a Grande Vitesse, which translates to high-speed rail.)

Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, D-los Angeles, and five other California lawmakers are scheduled to be in France this week to take a look at the TGV as the state considers building a 700-mile, high-speed rail system of its own.

Other legislators are traveling in Japan, Taiwan and other parts of Europe while the Legislature takes its annual 10-day spring recess.

France has been operating a high-speed rail system since 1981, when it opened a line between Paris and Lyon. Since then, it has added lines to other parts of the country and developed links to high-speed systems in other parts of Europe.

TGV trains carry passengers at speeds of up to 200 mph and have been clocked at more than 340 mph on test runs.

“France leads the world in high-speed rail, and with the Legislature weighing the fate of a $10 billion project, it makes sense for lawmakers to learn the feasibility and viability” firsthand, said Steve Maviglio, a spokesman for Nunez.

Also on the trip are Assembly members John Laird, D-Santa Cruz, Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, Joe Coto, D-San Jose, Michael Duvall, R-Yorba Linda, and Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar.

A nearly $10 billion bond measure that is supposed to be on California’s November 2008 ballot would provide about half the funding needed to build a high-speed rail line between Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay area. Plans also call for lines to Sacramento and San Diego.

But the vote on the bond measure has been delayed twice already, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wants legislation bumping the issue from the 2008 ballot, as well.

The lawmakers’ schedule in France includes a ride on a high-speed train, a visit to the company that makes them and meetings with French railway operators and other French officials. They also will take part in discussions about global warming.

The legislators are paying for their flights and hotels out of their own pockets or campaign funds. Other costs are being covered by the French government and the William Velasquez Institute, a nonprofit think tank based in San Antonio, Texas, that focuses on issues important to Hispanics.

A spokeswoman for the institute did not return telephone calls from The Associated Press.

Nunez also traveled to Switzerland in January to attend the World Economic Forum and talk about California’s efforts to combat global warming.

While Nunez and his group are in France this week, five state senators are in Taiwan to consider opening an office to promote trade with California.

Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, said the trip will include stops in Taipei, the capital, and Kaohsiung, Taiwan’s second largest city.

He said visiting the cities will give lawmakers “an understanding of their ability to foster trade and enhance trade with California.”

In addition to Yee, the delegation includes Sens. Roy Ashburn, R-Bakersfield, Ron Calderon, D-Monterey Park, Gil Cedillo, D-Los Angeles, and Denise Ducheny, D-San Diego.

The lawmakers are paying for their flights, and nonprofit organizations are covering their expenses while in Taiwan, Yee said.

Another five legislators are in Japan on a trip sponsored by the California Foundation for the Environment and the Economy. The San Francisco-based group finances annual overseas trips for legislators that focus on a particular issue facing the state.

The foundation’s board of directors includes representatives of oil and telecommunication companies, utilities, labor unions and environmentalists.

Alex Traverso, a spokesman for Assemblyman Lloyd Levine, D-Sherman Oaks, said Levine went on the trip to look at “new innovations in cell phones and broadband.”

Also on the trip are Assemblyman Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, and Sens. Jim Battin, R-Palm Desert, Bob Margett, R-Arcadia, and Jack Scott, D-Altadena, according to legislative aides.

The foundation sponsored a two-week trip to South America last November.

A consumer group, the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, called that trip a luxurious junket that gave corporate representatives and labor officials the chance to socialize with lawmakers.

But the foundation’s president, Patrick Mason, defended the trip as a vigorous study tour that focused on ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Assemblyman Ira Ruskin, D-Redwood City, is the lone legislator on another European trip this week, one organized by the California Climate Action Registry. The nonprofit organization was created by the state to promote greenhouse gas reductions.

Also on the trip are several Schwarzenegger administration officials, said James Lee, a spokesman for the California Environmental Protection Agency. Lee said the registry was covering costs.

The eight-day trip includes meetings with Belgian, German and British officials to discuss their efforts to combat global warming.

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