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Gov. Jerry Brown again is trying to save Democratic legislators from their leftist selves. This time he’s stopping them from protecting criminals.

The governor finally has spoken out unequivocally regarding the Democrats’ so-called “sanctuary state” legislation.

What he’s saying makes sense: Sure, help the people who migrated here illegally but are contributing positively to the state. But corral the crooks and deport them.

Here’s how Brown put it on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday:

“We want to be very understanding of people who have come to our state, have worked in our economy, often for decades, picking our food, working in our restaurants, working in high-tech industry. The whole range of what constitutes the life of California has been contributed to by many of these immigrants that are not documented.

“And we want to make sure we help them to the extent that the law of California can coexist with the law of the United States.”

But, the governor continued: “It is a balancing act. It does require some sensitivity. And that’s why I take a more nuanced and careful approach to dealing with what is a difficult problem.

“Because you do have people who are not here legally. They’ve committed crimes. They have no business in the United States in the manner in which they’ve come and conducted themselves subsequently.”

Brown had been asked about SB 54, authored by Senate leader Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles. It would extend to the entire state many of the protections that already exist in so-called sanctuary cities and counties, including Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco. It also would strengthen those protections.

The bill would severely limit state and local cops’ ability to help federal agents enforce immigration laws. That’s fine. State and local tax money should not be spent on enforcing federal laws. California already has plenty of laws essentially going unenforced because there aren’t enough police to do it.

But the problem with SB 54 is that it would also help convicted criminals, who are here illegally, avoid U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

Under the bill, state prison officials and local jailers could notify the feds about the pending release of an inmate here illegally only if he’d been convicted of a “serious” or “violent” felony. If he were about to be freed after serving time for a lesser offense, ICE couldn’t be informed unless the guy previously had been convicted of a serious or violent felony.

That excludes a bunch of other crimes, such as burglary, human trafficking, assault on a police officer, sexual battery, spousal abuse, soliciting a murder and drunk driving while causing severe injury.

“As written, this bill protects criminals and jeopardizes public safety,” Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown told reporters on a conference call Tuesday. He’s president of the California State Sheriffs’ Association, which strongly opposes the bill.

“It provides sanctuaries to criminals,” he asserted.

Brown objects to the sanctuary tag, as does De León — adamantly.

“That bill does not declare California a sanctuary state,” the governor insisted on “Meet the Press.”

Asked to explain, Brown responded: “Well, as a former seminarian, I have a very clear image of the sanctuary. It’s in a church. It conjures up medieval sanctuary places. …

“The goal here is to block and not to collaborate with abuse of federal power. That’s the goal.”

OK, “sanctuary” is not a precise and perfect handle. But it’s much closer to reality than De León’s spin-tag: the “California Values Act.”

Right now, the bill has “Willie Horton” written all over it. Willie Horton was a convicted murderer, a black man who raped a pregnant white woman and tortured her fiancé while on a furlough from a Massachusetts prison. Michael S. Dukakis was the governor, which voters were reminded of by George H.W. Bush in an odorous TV ad when the two ran for president in 1988.

Closer to home, there’s the 2015 fatal shooting in San Francisco of Kate Steinle, 32, by a Mexican national who had served three federal prison terms for felony reentry into the country. The shooter had been under the San Francisco sheriff’s custody on a drug charge. He was released without federal agents being notified, although they’d asked to be. This was a sanctuary city, after all.

Brown, De León and the sheriffs say they’ve been trying to reach a compromise.

But they haven’t been trying very hard recently. Sacramento currently is in slumber mode. The Legislature is off on its summer vacation. Nothing’s happening.

Frantic chaos will return when the Legislature reconvenes Aug. 21. Then the lawmakers will have four weeks to pass their bills before they adjourn for the year.

The sanctuary bill already has zipped through the Senate and two Assembly committees on party-line votes. The measure’s next hurdle is the Assembly Appropriations Committee, an easy leap. Then there’ll be the Assembly floor vote. A simple majority is all that’s required.

But unless the criminal coddling is removed, Brown won’t sign the bill.

He has been rerouting Democrats from their leftward drifts for years, principally on spending and borrowing. But he also deserves credit for tacitly encouraging Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Paramount, to wisely stomp on a sloppy, prohibitively expensive single-payer universal health care bill that the Senate irresponsibly passed.

Fixing the sanctuary state bill should be a no-brainer. Protect the good law-abiders. Help the feds boot the bad guys.

George Skelton is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times.

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