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With budget done, lawmakers turn to other issues

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POSTED June 18, 2017 6:38 p.m.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — After approving a $125 billion budget last week, California lawmakers are turning their attention to other matters for the last three months of the annual legislative session. Aside from a controversial increase in gas taxes and vehicle registration fees, which Gov. Jerry Brown signed in April, no major legislation has yet cleared both the Assembly and Senate.

With most spending decisions finalized, debates over housing, health care, climate change and other issues will accelerate.

Here are things to know about the Legislature’s upcoming debates:

STILL NO

HOUSING FIX

Addressing the state’s housing shortage is a priority this session, legislative leaders have said, but lawmakers have yet to send significant housing legislation to the governor.

An estimated 1.5 million California families lack access to affordable housing. The state also has disproportionately high homelessness rates.

Two bills to fund housing for low-income people have cleared several committees but haven’t passed either chamber. One would eliminate a tax break for people paying a mortgage for a second home. Another would charge a $75 fee on real estate transaction documents. Both require approval from two-thirds of the Assembly and Senate to pass.

Other bills to speed construction of housing and prompt more enforcement of existing housing laws have passed one chamber and still require a vote in the second.

WHAT’S NEXT FOR CAP AND TRADE

California’s landmark cap-and-trade law, which puts a cap and a price on carbon emissions, expires in 2020.

Brown, who has been touting California’s climate policies with governors and world leaders, pushed unsuccessfully for lawmakers to extend cap and trade in tandem with the budget. He says he’s still hopeful it will be extended soon.

But the bill requires support from two-thirds of lawmakers in each chamber — a high bar. Assembly Republicans have signaled they’re willing to work with majority Democrats, but it’s not clear if the chasm between the parties can be bridged or if Senate Republicans will go along.

Republicans want limits on other climate-change mandates they fear would be more costly for businesses, while some Democrats want the policy to go further and limit air pollution around ports and refineries.

TAMPING DOWN ON DRUG COSTS

Lawmakers are considering a variety of measures they hope would constrain the growth of drug prices, from regulating middlemen known as pharmacy benefit managers to forcing pharmaceutical companies to provide advance notice before raising their prices.

Another bill would restrict the use of coupons to reduce copays for brand-name drugs, which some blame for raising overall health care costs even while they reduce prices for some individuals.

The United Healthcare Workers union, which is trying to organize dialysis workers, is pushing a bill that would impose staffing ratios at dialysis clinics.

RESISTING TRUMP ON IMMIGRATION

The Legislature is debating more than a dozen bills sponsored by Democrats to resist President Donald Trump’s immigration agenda, particularly his promises to increase deportations and build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

A bill to make California a so-called sanctuary state is being considered in the Assembly after it passed the Senate. The measure would limit state and local police from cooperating with federal immigration agents.

Bills to punish companies that bid to build the Republican president’s proposed border wall and to hamper immigration officials from entering workplaces without a warrant are also advancing.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORMS

Several bills to treat juvenile offenders more leniently than adults, including a measure requiring minors speak with a lawyer before waiving legal rights, have passed the Senate and will be considered in the Assembly.

Bail reform faces an uncertain future after the Assembly rejected one bill and the Senate passed another. The bills aim to eliminate bail for most defendants, allowing judges to take into account a person’s income and threat to public safety when deciding whether to impose bail as a condition of release.

A proposal that would bar suspending drivers’ licenses as a penalty for not paying traffic fines is also advancing.

Both chambers have passed bills to block employers from using arrest records to immediately screen out job applicants.

 

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