Lawmakers OK water plan, pass statewide single-use plastic bag ban

After a lawmaking season that left them bruised by political scandal but salved by California’s revitalized economy, state lawmakers were attempting to wrap up their work late Friday by tackling the complexities of water policy, everyday matters such as grocery bags and dozens of other issues.

Working into the night, legislators passed the state’s first-ever plan for regulating underground water supplies. Supporters said the package of bills would provide much-needed oversight for the water that more than three-quarters of Californians rely on for drinking.

The measures, which go now to Gov. Jerry Brown, were opposed by agricultural groups and lawmakers who represent farmlands and fear restrictions on water for crops.

Lawmakers also passed what would be the country’s first statewide ban on single-use plastic bags, such as those offered in supermarkets, pharmacies and convenience stores. The move is intended to reduce litter on beaches and streets.


The hotly contested bill, strongly supported by environmentalists, would allow stores to charge customers 10 cents for paper or reusable plastic bags as an alternative.

Similar bans are already in place in more than 100 California cities and counties, including Los Angeles County and San Francisco. Those regulations would remain intact.

“This is a statewide problem meriting a statewide solution,” said Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), author of the bill, SB 270.

If signed by the governor, the ban would kick in for grocery stores and pharmacies on July 1, 2015, and extend to convenience stores and liquor stores a year later.


The bill was opposed by bag makers, who warned of job losses, and Republicans, who viewed the measure as an unnecessary government intrusion.

“I’m quite frankly offended by having the state dictate what we need and don’t need in our lives,” said Sen. Ted Gaines (R-Rocklin).

This was the second straight year that allowed lawmakers to conduct their business without the cloud of budget deficits that plagued California for years. But a series of ethics scandals roiled the Capitol, leading to the suspension in March of three Democratic senators charged with crimes.

On Friday, the Legislature voted to reduce the limit on gifts to elected officials to $200 from $440; bar gifts from lobbyists; and prohibit elected officials and legislators from accepting free tickets to professional sports and entertainment events, horse races and amusement parks. Sen. Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) filed the proposal, SB 1443.

Lawmakers had earlier approved two measures for voters to consider in November: a proposal to boost the state’s rainy-day fund and a $7.5-billion borrowing measure to pay for improvements in California’s water system.

Unlike the water bond proposal, which was approved by a near-unanimous vote, the debate over groundwater — such as that contained in wells — revealed sharp regional divisions. Many urban and coastal legislators, almost all Democrats, supported the package, which was also backed by environmentalists and water district managers.

Farm interests said it could lower their property values and reduce crop production. The bulk of Republicans, as well as Democrats from agriculture-heavy districts, sided with them.

The regulatory plan consists of three bills. SB 1168 by Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) would direct local agencies to create management plans. AB 1739 by Assemblyman Roger Dickinson (D-Sacramento) would set conditions for state intervention. SB 1319, also by Pavley, would delay such intervention in certain places where surface water has been affected by groundwater pumping.


Other legislation sent to Brown on Friday would:

•Require the state Department of Education to collect records on truancy and absenteeism to help schools and districts analyze attendance patterns. The bill, AB 1866, by Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra (D-Pacoima), was part of a package backed by Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris to reduce truancy.

•Provide $3 million to help nonprofit legal centers represent unaccompanied minors in California who immigrated to the U.S. illegally. SB 873, by the Senate Budget Committee, resulted from an agreement between the governor and other Democratic leaders.

•Allow a law enforcement agency or family member to ask a court to bar a possibly dangerous person from possessing a firearm for 21 days. The bill is AB 1014, by Democratic Assembly members Nancy Skinner of Berkeley and Das Williams of Santa Barbara.

•Make it easier for imprisoned felons to request DNA tests of evidence to prove their innocence. Rather than require them to show that such a test would prove innocence, prisoners would need to show only that the test was relevant to the case. The bill, SB 980, is by Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance).

•Allow transgender people to have their gender identity listed on their death certificates. The bill, AB 1577, was authored by Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins (D-San Diego).

•Change the state’s ballot initiative process. The bill, SB 1253, by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), would allow initiative sponsors to amend or withdraw their measures from the ballot if they reached agreement with lawmakers on an alternative way to address the issue involved.

•Give California’s attorney general more time to review transactions involving nonprofit health facilities, such as the sale of a hospital. The bill, SB 1094, was filed by Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) after Hoag Hospital announced it would suspend elective abortions after forming a partnership with a Catholic healthcare provider.


Twitter: @mcgreevy99

Twitter: @melmason

Times staff writer Chris Megerian contributed to this report.

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