Minimum Wage, Guns, Fracking Bills Face Lawmakers
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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — State lawmakers head into the final week of this year’s Legislative session facing issues that could help shape California’s environment and business climate for years to come.
They also plan to add new limits to what already are some of the nation’s strictest regulations for firearms, while trying to find a compromise that will meet federal court demands to reduce the prison population by the end of the year.
With just four days of hearings scheduled to consider hundreds of remaining bills, some of this year’s most contentious issues remain unresolved while the Democratic leaders of the Senate and Assembly try to work a compromise over how to address the state’s prison crisis.
In addition to the competing prison proposals, lawmakers will consider changes to the most stringent environmental law in the country. The debate over the California Environmental Quality Act is pitting environmentalists against business interests and includes fast-track provisions to aid a planned NBA arena for the Sacramento Kings.
Regulations for the oil and gas drilling technique known as fracking, a minimum wage increase and whether to strip the tax exempt status of the Boy Scouts because the group excludes gay adults also are on the agenda for the end of this year’s session.
“There are a few hot buttons and controversies,” said Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, adding later that, “We’ll get it done.”
Hanging over the lawmakers is a federal court order requiring California to reduce its prison population by about 9,600 inmates by year’s end to improve the delivery of medical and mental health care. Steinberg is at odds with Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown and both Republican leaders over whether to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on rehabilitation programs, as Steinberg wants, or to lease empty cells in private prisons or county jails, as the others want.
Steinberg predicted a compromise, while Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, said the prison dispute is unlikely to be resolved unless Brown calls a special legislative session for later in the year.
Several bills remain that the California Chamber of Commerce labeled “job killers,” most notably AB10, by Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville. His bill would raise the state’s minimum wage from the current $8 an hour to $10 by 2018.
The bill would drive up other wages and workers’ compensation costs, said Jennifer Barrera, an advocate with the chamber.
“If you don’t have the money right now to pay for that extra cost, then it’s going to cut jobs,” she said.
Business groups also are concerned that Steinberg’s proposal to change the state’s landmark environmental law in a way that would accelerate the legal process when lawsuits are filed will not go far enough. The bill has recently been tied to other legislation that would fast-track a downtown arena for the Sacramento Kings.
Lawmakers this year introduced 2,189 bills, including 1,376 in the Assembly and 813 in the Senate. Some of the remaining high-profile bills to be considered during the Legislature’s final week include:
— SB323 by Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, which attempts to pressure the Boy Scouts of America into fully accepting gay members. The bill would deny state tax breaks to youth groups that discriminate on the basis of gender identity, race, sexual orientation, nationality, religion or religious affiliation. Conservative legal aid groups promise to sue if the measure becomes law.
— AB4 by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, which would prohibit law enforcement agencies from detaining people for deportation if they are living in the country illegally and are arrested for a minor crime. Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed similar legislation last year because it did not let officials detain those convicted of crimes such as child abuse and drug trafficking. The bill creates a statewide standard for how local agencies comply with a federal program that requires law enforcement to check the immigration status of anyone arrested.
— AB1222 by Democratic Assemblymen Roger Dickinson of Sacramento and Richard Bloom of Santa Monica, which would help retain $1.6 billion in federal grants to transit agencies statewide. A deal crafted by Democratic leaders responds to a finding by the U.S. Department of Labor that last year’s public employee pension changes violate union members’ collective bargaining rights. The bill would temporarily exempt workers at public transit agencies from contributing more to their retirement funds, while the state and a local transit agency sue over the federal agency’s ruling.
— SB4 by Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, which would regulate an oil and gas drilling technique known as “fracking.” The bill would require permits and disclosure of what chemicals are used. It also would require state and local agencies to develop regulations and study the effects of the practice. Her bill is the only fracking-regulation bill to survive to the end of session.
— About two dozen gun control bills are awaiting final consideration. Among the pending measures are ones that would ban the sale of semi-automatic rifles that accept detachable ammunition magazines and outlaw the possession of ammunition magazines holding more than 10 bullets, even by those who already own the magazines. The pending legislation would add to California’s already strict gun laws and follows similar efforts in other states in the wake of mass shootings in Connecticut and Colorado.
— AB1309 by Assemblyman Henry Perea, D-Fresno, which would prohibit professional athletes who spent most of their careers with teams in other states from filing workers’ compensation claims in California. Supporters say such out-of-state claims put a burden on the state’s workers’ compensation system and could raise insurance costs. Opponents say the bill is an attempt by owners of football, baseball, basketball, hockey and soccer teams to avoid liability for legitimate injuries. It passed the Senate on a 34-2 vote Friday and was returned to the Assembly for final action.
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