Capitol Journal

Lawmakers do warm-ups, but the game is far off

Last week's flurry of legislative activity was about meeting the June 5 deadline

Hundreds of bills flew from one legislative house to the other last week in an exercise much like batting practice.

Or like golfers taking swings on a driving range. Or two tennis competitors stroking balls back and forth before their match.

Lots of commotion, but little that was particularly meaningful. That won't come for most of these bills until at least August or September, and maybe not until the two-year legislative session adjourns around Labor Day in 2016.

At this stage of the legislative game, many lawmakers are just casting courtesy votes, going along to get along, to paraphrase the legendary U.S. House Speaker Sam Rayburn. Why tick off colleagues so soon by killing their bills? Better to curry favor.

Also, all lawmakers reserve the right to change their mind. And the bills definitely will change in the other house. Then they'll be returned to be voted on again. Some votes will be bartered as trading chips.

Last week's flurry of activity was about meeting the June 5 deadline for bills to pass their house of origin.

Many will die in the other house. And they should.

For me, one prime candidate for burial is SB 151, by Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina), which would raise the legal age to buy cigarettes from 18 to 21. Yes, wouldn't that be nice. But let's get real. We can't even enforce the age 18 limit. Kids somehow get smokes at 14 or whenever they want.

Government shouldn't waste time enacting laws that haven't got half a chance of being effective.

Another bill that should perish, unless substantially beefed up, is AB 575 by Assemblyman Patrick O'Donnell (D-Long Beach). Its goal is worthy: To strengthen teacher evaluations. But I challenge anyone to explain how this bill would do that.

Its driving force is union jitters over a Los Angeles judge's throwing out teacher seniority protections. The ruling is under appeal. The Democratic-controlled Legislature politically cannot change tenure or dismissal laws much, but it can wave the flag for teacher quality. So wave it with meaning.

Many measures, however, should live on, including:

• The assisted-suicide bill, SB 128, by Sens. Lois Wolk (D-Davis) and Bill Monning (D-Carmel). It would allow Californians with less than six months to live to end their lives by taking lethal drugs. There'd be lots of hurdles to guard against abuse.

This measure prompted the most emotional debate of the week. There was lengthy argument about what's moral and what's compassionate.

"Any death that is not a natural death," said Sen. Jeff Stone (R-Temecula), "is a sin."

"If it's the will of a patient to lessen suffering [and] voluntarily end life in peace," said Wolk, "is it our right to say you can't?"

It shouldn't be. Everybody should follow their own faith, but don't force yours on me.

• Regulation of medical marijuana. Finally.

It has been nearly two decades since Californians passed a ballot initiative to permit smoking pot to kill pain. Regulations were promised and never delivered. Medicinal weed is out of control.

Each house passed a separate bill, SB 643 and AB 266. Basically, the legislation would create a new state office to regulate how marijuana is grown and sold. Businesses would be licensed. Local governments would have enforcement powers and could create marijuana sales taxes.

Several legislators are authors. Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) is insisting they compromise so, this time, something gets done.

• Providing healthcare for many immigrants here illegally.

SB 4, by Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), is significantly scaled down from its original version. It now would permit roughly 240,000 minors to sign up for Medi-Cal — government healthcare for the poor — and allow access to a separate program for some low-income adults.

Republican Sen. Andy Vidak (R-Hanford), whose district is home for many immigrant farmworkers, said it best: "Taxpayers already are paying high healthcare costs for the undocumented when they show up in our emergency rooms."

Then there are bills that should be very closely studied and altered, even if they are politically trendy for ruling Democrats. They include:

• Escalating the war on climate change.

SB 350, by Senate leader Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles), would require us, by 2030, to generate half our energy from renewable sources, cut gasoline use in half and double the energy efficiency of older buildings.

De León called those mandates "reasonable and achievable."

Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff of San Dimas countered that the goal is "very lofty and noble" but added: "Other than [us] feeling good about it, what does it accomplish?" unless other states and nations follow our lead.

And there's little sign of that.

• Raising the state minimum wage. Again.

SB 3, by Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) would boost the $9 minimum to $11 an hour next January and to $13 in 2017.

Most Democrats contended that's fair and would stimulate the economy. Republicans argued it would reduce jobs because small businesses couldn't afford the wage hikes.

Seems to me it also could inch up consumer prices — inflation — and squeeze the elderly on fixed incomes.

A better plan for the working poor is Gov. Jerry Brown's proposal to enact California's first earned-income tax credit for the lowest wage-earners.

All these bills will heat up in late summer. And next time it won't be batting practice.

Twitter: @LATimesSkelton

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