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California Democrats unveil immigration bills, jab Congress on inaction

'Today we remind the rest of the nation that California is different': Lawmakers unveil 10 immigration bills

Flanked by immigration advocates and lawmakers from both houses, California legislative leaders unveiled Tuesday a slate of new proposals to aid those in the country illegally, including offering state-subsidized healthcare and increasing legal protections against deportation.

"Today we remind the rest of the nation that California is different," said Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles). "We respect immigrants and recognize the contribution that they have made to this state from the very beginning."

Lawmakers used the Tuesday morning news conference -- conducted in English and Spanish -- to blast Congress for failing to pass an overhaul of federal immigration laws.

The 10-bill package unveiled Tuesday "is a reflection of the dereliction of duty of Congress," said De Leon, which he chalked up to "either intellectual laziness or a lack of work ethic on this issue."

The most sweeping proposal would extend Medi-Cal coverage to people living in the country illegally. Lawmakers acknowledged that such an expansion of state-paid healthcare for the poor could come at significant costs, but the bill's author, Sen. Ricardo Lara, said he was lobbying authorities in Washington for the federal government to shoulder part of the burden.

The proposal's price tag could pose a challenge to California's delicately balanced budget.

Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) acknowledged that not all of the proposals will face easy passage.

"If we thought this were easy, it would be done," Atkins said. "D.C. would be doing something if it were easy. We intend to set the model. We intend to set the tone."

Senate Republican leader Bob Huff (R-Diamond Bar), noting that his caucus supports federal immigration overhaul, said California is being overburdened by trying to act in the federal government's place.

"We understand the burdens facing immigrants who want to go to work and raise their families in safe neighborhoods, and the rationale behind these bills is admirable," Huff said in a statement.  "But without money from Congress and President Obama, it will be very difficult and costly for California taxpayers to fund all of these bill proposals.”

Other measures in the package would:

--Change California's civil-rights law to extend anti-discrimination protections to immigrants.

--Require defense attorneys to inform their clients of the immigration consequences of certain judgments or plea deals. 

--Establish an Office of New Americans in the governor's office to assist immigrants with naturalization and other services.

Follow @melmason for more on California government and politics.

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