In a bipartisan holiday mood, legislators get down to (some) business

In a bipartisan holiday mood, legislators get down to (some) business
New state Sen. Janet Nguyen (R-Santa Ana) holds her son Tommy Bonikowski III, 4, before a swearing-in ceremony in the Senate chambers in Sacramento on Dec. 1. (Steve Yeater, Associated Press)

With children in tow, state lawmakers gathered for a moment of bipartisan good cheer last week. Democrats and Republicans alike hugged and backslapped, got themselves sworn in and offered a few clues about the issues ahead.

By the end of Day One, they managed to introduce 114 bills and resolutions in the Assembly and the Senate and reelect Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) and Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) before going home for the holidays. They are due back Monday, Jan. 5.


Some of the business-related bills were new, such as Democratic proposals to pay double time to all employees who work on Thanksgiving and Christmas and reject a proposed toll on pedestrians crossing the Golden Gate Bridge. Republicans, meanwhile, want to stop the sale of state bonds to build a high-speed rail line.

Some are warmed-over ideas that got nowhere this year. Republicans dusted off a moribund measure to lower retail gas prices by cutting global warming-related fees. Democrats will once again try to raise the state's hourly minimum wage to $13 by 2017.

An Assembly resolution seeks to name a Marin County tunnel for a recently deceased native son, comedian Robin Williams. Additional resolutions would tout the Persian New Year, create a Korean American Day in California and condemn the Armenian genocide of 1915.

Lawmakers "tend to have a lot of optimism at the beginning of the session, which is good," said Sarah Swanbeck, a lobbyist for California Common Cause, a government watchdog group. "It's a long two-year cycle, and there's lots of work to be done."

Once again, the Democrats will have a tight grip on Sacramento. Though they won't have a two-thirds majority needed to raise taxes, Democrats hold 52 of 80 seats in the Assembly and 25 seats in the 40-member Senate. All five statewide elected officials are Democrats.

For the newcomers — 27 in the Assembly and 10 in the Senate — there's lot of learning ahead. It began Monday when Atkins, from the dais, had to explain to new members where to find the keys that would unlock their desktop buttons so that they could vote.

With only one day's service under its collective belt, the 2015-16 Legislature is still in its "hail fellow, well met" stage," said Barbara O'Connor, a professor emeritus of communications at Cal State Sacramento.

But those warm feelings probably won't last much beyond Christmas, O'Connor predicted. "They are hot to legislate, and they came with lists" of what they want to do, she said. "But the harmony wanes when their lists don't consummate with each other."

Gov. Jerry Brown, a guest at both the Assembly and Senate inaugural sessions, remained upbeat. He praised "the bipartisan spirit being expressed" and said he hoped to "continue to do what was done in the last couple of years to forge agreements that depend on both parties."

But Brown, who has the power to veto legislation, noted not so subtly: "I look forward to reviewing your bills as they pass."

Twitter: @MarcLifsher