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Minimum-wage hike and oil-drilling ban are among state bills shelved for the year

State lawmakers shelved bills Thursday to raise the minimum wage, ban oil drilling off the coast and provide work permits to agricultural laborers who are in the country illegally.

The bills were among more than 100 set aside for the year as the Legislature draws within two weeks of the end of the 2015 session. Among legislation still moving forward is a package of anti-tobacco bills approved by the Senate that includes measures to increase the smoking age to 21 and restrict the use of electronic cigarettes in public.

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With this year's session ending Sept. 11, lawmakers faced a deadline Thursday for deciding which bills they can afford this year. They withheld action on measures they considered too expensive or lacking political support, meaning they will not be acted on this year.

Those held up include one by state Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) to increase the minimum wage to $11 per hour next year and $13 an hour in 2017.

Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez (D-Los Angeles), who chairs the powerful Appropriations Committee, said raising the minimum wage will remain on the agenda next year and that he may explore bumping up wages by region, instead of statewide.

"Raising the minimum wage is a crucial next step for California to lift working families out of poverty, and we look forward to working with our legislative colleagues and the governor to make that happen," Gomez said.

Leno criticized the delay. "Any further study or delay of such an increase undermines working Californians who deserve to be paid a living wage," he said.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law two years ago to boost the minimum wage to $10 an hour starting in January. The current wage is $9 per hour.

Since that law went into effect, cities including Los Angeles and San Francisco have approved hikes in their own minimum wages.

Also shelved was a measure by Assemblyman Luis Alejo (D-Watsonville) to allow agricultural workers in the country illegally to get state permits to stay and work in California.

Brown's Department of Finance had opposed the measure, saying it would cost about $15 million a year to maintain a database of permit holders and $88 million to process 1.8 million new fingerprints.

"I am deeply disappointed that thousands of undocumented farmworkers throughout the state will continue to live in limbo and fear, despite their significant contributions to California and its economy," Alejo said.

Environmentalists were disappointed that lawmakers put a hold on a bill by state Sen. Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg) to ban new oil drilling off the coast of Santa Barbara.

"The fact that just months after the worst oil spill in California in two decades, a common-sense bill to prohibit risky offshore oil drilling can't even make it to the Assembly floor is a sad testament to the influence of the oil industry in our state," said Jena Price, legislative affairs manager for the California League of Conservation Voters.

Earlier in the day, the full Senate met in special session on healthcare and approved a package of six tobacco-control bills that now go to the Assembly for consideration.

Leno proposed the new restrictions on e-cigarettes partly in response to a federal study that found their use by teenagers has tripled in recent years.

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"This is important because the fastest growing segment of the e-cigarette market is middle and high school students," Leno told colleagues. The vaping industry is fighting the legislation, saying e-cigarettes use vapor, not combustible tobacco, and are safer.

The measure to increase the smoking age from 18 to 21 was pushed by Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina).

"We cannot continue to sit by while these tobacco companies continue to poison generation after generation with their addictive products," Hernandez said Thursday.

However, others argued that if Californians can join the military and fight in wars at 18, they ought to be able to decide whether to smoke.

The Senate also approved bills that would allow counties to impose tobacco taxes, outlaw tobacco use at all schools, plug loopholes in a smoking ban in workplaces, and boost the licensing fee for tobacco retailers.

Bills given final legislative approval and sent to the governor on Thursday would:

  • Allow residents in communities that have homeowners associations to replace their grass lawns with artificial turf to save water during the drought.

  • Prohibit drones from trespassing on private property without the owner's permission.

  • Ban the use of smokeless tobacco products on the playing field during professional baseball games.

Amid the flurry of legislative action, Senate Republicans abruptly announced the removal of Bob Huff of San Dimas as Republican leader. He will be replaced by Sen. Jean Fuller of Bakersfield.

Fuller immediately signaled a hard-line position on Democrats' proposals for tax and fee increases to improve California roads and healthcare, saying the state should tap its surplus and efficiencies before asking residents to pay more.

"Republicans do not raise taxes," she told reporters.

The Republican caucus had previously agreed that Fuller would take over from Huff in November. Asked why the transition was moved up, Fuller said Huff will be busy with his campaign for another office next year and that she can focus on the legislative session as well as the task of electing more Republicans to the Senate in 2016.

"Sen. Huff is running for the L.A. Board of Supervisors and he has a lot to do," Fuller said. "This way we can move forward."

Times staff writer Kurt Chirbas contributed to this report.

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