SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Lawmakers return from their spring recess this week focusing on hundreds of bills that have to pass from one house to the other by the end of May, but the most contentious issues will come later.
Among the bills under consideration are several that try to protect health or the environment by banning cigarette sales online, microbeads in cosmetics, mislabeled seafood and unprotected sex in adult films.
Bills shaping up as potentially divisive include SB1000 by Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel, which would require warning labels on sodas and other sugary drinks, and SB1132 by Democratic Sens. Holly Mitchell of Los Angeles and Mark Leno of San Francisco, which would place a moratorium on fracking for oil and natural gas.
Some already have been shelved, including the state Senate leader’s call for a carbon tax on consumer fuels and a Leno proposal to accelerate minimum wage increases to $11 an hour in 2015 from the $9 an hour level taking effect in July. Democrats want two-thirds majorities in both houses of the Legislature but face the prospect of lower voter turnout within their party this year. Proposals to raise taxes or increase costs to businesses would give fodder to Republicans in an election year.
Against that backdrop, Democratic Sen. Ed Hernandez of West Covina pulled a proposed constitutional amendment that would have reintroduced affirmative action into the college admissions process. The amendment passed the Senate but was pulled from consideration after a furious backlash by Asian-Americans and a reversal of support from some Asian lawmakers. Even though it is no longer on the table for this year, Republicans are using SCA5 to try to win favor in the Asian community.
One bill that remains alive and is certain to draw partisan opposition is AB1552 by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, which would require employers to offer up to three days of paid sick leave to their workers. It is among the top “job killer” bills identified by the California Chamber of Commerce, an organization that has influence with both political parties.
But Gonzalez says her bill is about providing “bare minimum” labor protections, which are modest compared to previous proposals that would have allowed up to a week of leave. And she said election-year considerations to policy-making are no reason to abandon an issue that she says has broad public support.
“If anything, this a good election-year issue, to be quite honest, because it is so popular among the Democratic base and the people who don’t normally turn out in elections,” Gonzalez said in an interview.
Other high-profile bills have bipartisan support, including several that are meant to close campaign finance reporting loopholes and strengthen political ethics. They were introduced after three Democratic senators caught up in separate criminal cases were suspended and a lobbyist was hit with a record fine.
In addition to the routine bills they will consider, lawmakers also will meet in a special session called by Gov. Jerry Brown to debate changes to a rainy day fund ballot measure already on the November ballot. Brown wants to change the measure by having the reserve fund capture excess capital gains revenue in good budget years and dedicate that money to K-12 schools and to paying down the state’s debts and unfunded liabilities.
Discussions on divisive, longer-term issues will not have to be solved until later in the year.
Chief among them will be how to alter an $11 billion water bond that is on the November ballot but that nearly all lawmakers agree needs to change drastically. Legislative leaders say they expect the negotiations to produce a much smaller bond that will be stripped of the local, special interest projects that were crammed into it when it was first proposed several years ago.
Ambitious spending proposals, such as Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg’s $1 billion call for universal preschool, are likely going to be handled during budget negotiations in early June. Republican lawmakers have been critical of spending the state’s budget surplus to create permanent programs.
Nearly 1,900 bills were introduced for this year, the second half of the two-year session. Among those that must pass their house of origin before the end of May:
— SB1381 by Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, would require genetically modified food to be labeled at grocery stores, after voters rejected a similar proposal in California in 2012. Similar bills have been introduced in 23 states and adopted in two.
— AB2394 and Assembly Constitutional Amendment 12 by Assemblyman Jeff Gorell, R-Camarillo, would allow votes to decide in November whether to make the secretary of state’s office nonpartisan. The secretary of state also would take over from the attorney general’s office the duty of writing the title and summary for ballot propositions.
— SB1262 by Sen. Lou Correa, D-Anaheim, would regulate the state’s unwieldy medical marijuana system. Law enforcement and local government groups who normally opposed such moves are now shaping the legislation to their liking.
— SB984 by Mimi Walters, R-Laguna Niguel, would appropriate up to $2 billion from the state general fund, depending on revenue projections this year, to the California State Teachers Retirement System, which is at least $80 billion in the red.
— AB1576 by Isadore Hall, D-Compton, would mandate that adult film actors use protection while filming and that producers pay for sexually transmitted disease testing, following a similar measure in Los Angeles County.
— AB1829 by Assembly Minority Leader Connie Conway, R-Tulare, would prohibit felons convicted of fraud from handling patient data or working for the Covered California health insurance exchange.
— AB1535 by Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, follows other states facing a growth in heroin use by making it easier for pharmacists to dispense naxolone, an opiate overdose treatment, to addicts and their family members.
— SB1266 by Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, would require school districts and county offices of education to provide emergency epinephrine auto-injectors to trained personnel and require those workers to use the pens on people suffering a severe allergic reaction.
— SB1138 by Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, would require seafood to be clearly labeled by its species after the nonprofit group Oceana found rampant mislabeling of fish at grocery stores.
— AB2374, by Assemblyman Allan Mansoor, R-Costa Mesa, would increase oversight of residential drug and substance abuse rehabilitation centers by requiring them to report a resident’s death. It also would require those cases to be addressed by the state Department of Health Care Services in a timely manner.
— SB843 by Sen. Lou Correa, D-Anaheim, would create an expedited system for dismissing teachers accused of egregious wrongdoing after another measure was vetoed last year.
— AB2036, by Assemblyman Allan Mansoor, R-Costa Mesa, would require the approval of two-thirds of Orange County voters to build new toll lanes within the county.
— SB1183 by Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, would allow cities, counties or regional park districts to impose a special sales tax on new bicycles, except those with wheels less than 20 inches in diameter. The money would pay for bike trails.
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