SACRAMENTO (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.