California lawmakers return to the Capitol this week to begin an election-year session complicated by the state’s ongoing multibillion dollar budget deficit. Here are some of the top issues they will debate:
— Public pensions: Gov. Jerry Brown wants to increase the retirement age, require local and state government workers to pay more toward their pensions and retiree health care, and place new workers into a hybrid plan that includes 401(k)-style accounts. Republicans say the plan doesn’t go far enough, while Brown’s fellow Democrats are reluctant to make wholesale changes.
— High-speed rail: Some lawmakers of both parties, and the nonpartisan legislative analyst, want the Legislature to rethink spending $9 billion in voter-approved bonds toward a $98 billion high-speed rail system.
— Water bond: Gov. Jerry Brown is among those who think voters would reject an $11 billion water bond on the November ballot. Legislative leaders say they could reduce the cost or delay voters’ consideration for a second time, but they say the money is urgently needed to provide jobs and improve California’s water system.
— Medical marijuana: Attorney General Kamala Harris says lawmakers should clarify the state’s 15-year-old medical marijuana law after federal prosecutors cracked down on pot growers and dispensaries. She wants the Legislature to decide if dispensaries and delivery services are legal or if patients must form collectives to grow their own marijuana.
— Internet poker: Senate leader Darrell Steinberg previously delayed consideration of competing bills that would make Internet poker legal in California, but he now wants to see if California can reap millions of dollars by taxing the proceeds. Assembly Speaker John Perez is skeptical that Internet gambling can solve the state’s budget problems.
— Campus and Caltrans scandals: Lawmakers will consider tightening child abuse reporting requirements in response to the scandal at Penn State University, review use-of-force policies for university police and examine bridge and highway safety after a California Department of Transportation technician was fired for falsifying safety test reports.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.