August Essential Politics news feed: California Legislature’s session ends in the wee hours

Welcome to our August archive of Essential Politics, our daily feed on California government and politics news. This year’s legislative session closed out at the end of the month.

Take a look at some scenes from the legislative session captured by the L.A. Times.

Find our current news feed here.

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Here’s a look at some of the Legislature’s most notable moments

(Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times)

Lawmakers early Thursday morning wrapped up their work for the two-year session of the California Legislature, heaping praise on their many accomplishments.

Even so, at least one major item on the to-do list was never resolved. And some of the battles during this session could leave political scars that last much longer.

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Consumers could pay a new battery recycling fee under a bipartisan bill sent to the governor’s desk

Soil taken from a yard in Commerce near the now-shuttered Exide battery plant is tested in February by a team from the L.A. County Health Department.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Californians who purchase lead-acid batteries like those used to start cars and trucks would pay a new $1 fee under legislation sent to Gov. Jerry Brown early Thursday morning, with the funds earmarked for cleaning up contaminated sites such as the former Exide battery plant in Los Angeles County.

The fee charged to battery buyers would rise to $2 in 2022. Lawmakers would direct the revenues — estimated to be as much as $40 million a year — to deal with contamination sites as needed.

"For four decades, our community has been waiting for something,” said Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens), the author of AB 2153.

The bill was the final piece of legislation taken up before the Legislature adjourned, and it received a quick bipartisan vote in both houses within a span of only a few minutes. Garcia said there were late negotiations with the Brown administration on the final details.

AB 2153, if signed into law, would not take effect until April 1, 2017. Battery manufacturers and consumers would each pay $1 fees on each new battery for the first five years of the proposal; after that, the full $2 fee would be shouldered by consumers.

Some Republican legislators said that setup is a mistake.

“This tax is regressive,” Assemblyman Travis Allen (R-Huntington Beach) said during the midnight debate. “It’s paid by the people who make the least amount of money.”

The Vernon site of the former Exide battery plant was closed under a deal with federal prosecutors last March. Lead contamination in the soil of homes around the plant was discovered two years ago. The battery fee would likely go first to Exide cleanup efforts, which are already underway. Brown estimated in February that the price tag could reach $176.6 million.


Sorry, Internet poker fans. It won’t be legal in California anytime soon

After 10 bills over eight years failed to legalize Internet poker in California, the latest plan also died Wednesday in the Legislature amid continued squabbling by competing factions of the gambling industry.

A bill that would have allowed Californians to legally play poker online lacked support from two-thirds of Assembly members and was not brought up for a vote on the last day of the legislative session.

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The clock runs out on a major bid to overhaul the state’s energy regulator


Effort to add members to Southern California air quality board fails


Lawmakers say goodbye to their termed-out colleagues on the final day in Sacramento

Outgoing Democratic state Sens. Isadore Hall III of Compton, left, and Mark Leno of San Francisco share a moment on the last day of the two-year legislative session.
(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

Lawmakers cried, sang, recited limericks and confessed crushes on departing colleagues this week in their farewell speeches for California legislators whose terms are up.

For 14 Assembly members and six state senators, Wednesday likely marked their last day arguing on the floors of their respective chambers. In an end-of-session tradition, lawmakers said goodbye to their termed-out colleagues between voting on bills.

Assemblyman Matt Dababneh (D-Encino) revealed he might have a legislative crush on outgoing Assemblywoman Nora Campos (D-San Jose).

“I will not miss anyone more than I will miss you,” Dababneh told Campos, who is running for state Senate this fall. “Often as a single guy, I get asked ... when are you going to find the perfect girl, and I say, ‘If I find anyone half as amazing as Nora Campos, I would be married the next day.’”

Campos, like the other members whose terms are up, served six years in the Assembly. Termed-out state senators have served eight years. Although new 12-year term limits were passed in 2012, lawmakers elected in 2010, including Campos, are still subject to the old term limits.

Assemblywoman Cheryl Brown (D-San Bernardino) sang “Katcho, Katcho Man” to the tune of “Macho Man” by the Village People while saying goodbye to Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian (R-San Luis Obispo).

Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula (D-Fresno) recited a limerick he wrote for departing Assemblyman Roger Hernández (D-West Covina) that drew chuckles for the line, “As a doctor, I’m happy your blood pressure is lower.”

Hernandez was running for U.S. Congress before allegations of domestic violence involving his ex-wife “crippled” his ability to campaign, he told reporters earlier this month. After a judge issued a domestic violence restraining order against him, he took a nearly three-week leave of absence from the Legislature for high blood pressure.

The speeches featured many bipartisan compliments for departing lawmakers.

Sen. Joel Anderson (R-Alpine) described Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) as his liberal complement in the Senate.

“This is a sad day for me. You see, Mark completes me,” Anderson said. “I’m sorry I have two more years and I won’t be spending them here with you.”

Assemblyman Richard Gordon (D-Menlo Park) wiped away tears as fellow Assemblyman Brian Jones (R-Santee) thanked him.

“If I have been able to have any effect across the aisle, it’s because of your grace and your compassion,” Jones said. “If I had the opportunity to give back my six years so you could have six more, I would do it in a heartbeat.”


California workers won’t be getting double pay for Thanksgiving Day duty

(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

State lawmakers defeated a measure late Wednesday that would have given retail and grocery store employees who work on Thanksgiving double pay.

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), the bill’s author, said it was needed as more and more retailers were extending Black Friday sales into Thanksgiving Day.

“I narrowed and narrowed and narrowed this bill so it only affects the things that concern us the most: the larger retailers who continue to open up on Thanksgiving rather than allowing people to stay home with their families,” Gonzalez said.

No opponents to the measure spoke on the Assembly floor, but numerous business groups, including the California Chamber of Commerce, were against it. They argued the bill unfairly hurts big-box retailers that are competing with online outlets for sales. The measure fell 10 votes short of passage, with both Republicans and Democrats in opposition.

A similar bill from Gonzalez failed last year.


Bill to advance California’s high-speed rail project is sent to Gov. Brown

A bridge in Fresno under construction in March is meant to one day be used by the California High Speed Rail.
(California High Speed Rail Authority)

In the last few hours before the end of session, lawmakers passed a measure to advance the California bullet train project.

Voters approved nearly $10 billion in bonds for the high-speed rail project in 2008, but it has since stalled. The bill passed Wednesday would clarify wording in the 2008 measure and allow some of the money for the project to upgrade existing rail lines.

“It’s a critical investment in our infrastructure,” the bill’s author, Assemblyman Kevin Mullin (D-South San Francisco), said.

But opponents say the bill passed Wednesday alters the voter-approved measure too much.

“This is a revision of what the voters intended,” Assemblyman Jim Patterson (R-Fresno) said.

The bill, AB 1889, now heads to the governor for approval.


An overhaul of California’s taxi regulations passes the Legislature

(Brian van der Brug, Los Angeles Times)

In potentially a major change to California’s taxi business, state lawmakers passed legislation late Wednesday to centralize control over the industry, an effort supporters said would allow cabs to better compete with Uber, Lyft and other ride-hailing services.

The bill, AB 650, would prohibit local governments from setting taxi rates or limit the number of taxis on the road as well as allowing cabs to pick up and drop off passengers outside specific local jurisdictions. Ride-hailing companies have looser regulations in those areas and have made significant inroads into the taxi business.

“The laws and regulations governing the provisions of transportation services are many decades old and have evolved slowly,” said the bill’s author, Assemblyman Evan Low (D-Campbell). “As with many new technologies, the rapid growth of [ride-hailing] companies has created a disruption in taxis’ archaic model of transportation.”

Under the bill, the taxi industry would be regulated by state departments that handle transportation. The measure exempts San Francisco, which backers of the measure described as having a unique taxi medallion system. AB 650 would take effect as soon as next year, once Gov. Jerry Brown finishes a reorganization of transportation departments.

The bill has caused significant consternation among local governments and within the taxi industry. Last week, the city of Los Angeles voted to oppose the measure unless it was also exempted. Since that vote, Low changed the legislation to accommodate some of the largest objections. Cities will still be allowed to force taxis to pick up in every neighborhood to prevent discrimination and require taxis to accommodate people with disabilities.

Some lawmakers opposed to the bill argued on the Assembly floor that it was rushed.

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) also contended that the measure lowered worker protections for taxi drivers in an effort to increase competition with ride-hailing companies.

“Those are such terrible jobs with such few regulations that protect workers that to say the answer to the [ride-hailing] problem, and there is a problem in the sharing economy, is to say, ‘Let’s just forget regulations?’” Gonzalez said. “That may be somebody’s answer, but that’s not mine.”

The bill now heads to Brown’s desk.

Times staff writer Laura J. Nelson contributed to this report.


The clock is ticking towards midnight in the Assembly


A $3.5-billion statewide parks bond will not go forward this year


After facing long odds, $3 billion low-income housing bond is done for the year

A $3 billion low-income housing bond is done for the year.

The measure, which would have put a ballot measure authorizing the bond before voters in 2018, was aimed at helping relieve the state’s huge housing supply deficit, especially for California’s poorest residents. The bill, authored by state Sen. Jim Beall (D-San Jose), didn’t come up for a vote in the Assembly. It faced long odds, needing a bipartisan vote there and then the signature of Gov. Jerry Brown, who had already expressed his opposition.


After a rocky final few months, Roger Hernández quietly finishes his legislative career

(Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times)

A number of politicians wrapped their legislative careers on Wednesday as the Legislature adjourned for the year, but few face as much uncertainty in the months to come as Assemblyman Roger Hernández.

The West Covina Democrat spent much of the final day of the 2016 legislative session sitting quietly at his desk after returning to Sacramento last week in the wake of a domestic violence restraining order in July. Hernández was then excused on medical leave for the first few days of the August proceedings.

In a final farewell speech in the Assembly on Wednesday afternoon, the lawmaker briefly reflected on some 17 years in local and state public service.

“I leave this floor with great joy and some sadness because I love this job,” Hernández said. “This is my favorite job I’ve ever had.”

In the final legislative hours, Hernández also sought to explain his decision as a committee chairman this summer to kill a closely watched bill to expand the state’s parental leave law — only to then vote for the proposal once it was resurrected by its author, state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara). In a post on his Facebook page, he said the earlier action was because of the original bill’s impact on small businesses.

“I believe the impact on small businesses has been taken into greater consideration in today’s bill,” he wrote on Tuesday.

Hernández recently said that he no longer feels he can mount a campaign for Congress against Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-Norwalk).

The lawmaker left his Assembly colleagues with some advice in his farewell speech.

“There are so many people that are depending on each and every one of us to fight ardently for them.” he said. “You are their champion. Don’t forget that please.”


Planned Parenthood-inspired bill to crack down on secret recordings clears Legislature

Planned Parenthood's offices in Thousand Oaks, Calif. in 2015.
Planned Parenthood’s offices in Thousand Oaks, Calif. in 2015.
(Los Angeles Times)

It’s already illegal to record someone without their permission in California; under a bill that got final legislative approval on Wednesday, distributing such a recording could lead to even more legal trouble.

The bill by Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez (D-Echo Park) would make it illegal to distribute secret recordings involving a healthcare provider. The measure was inspired by the high-profile videos taken by anti-abortion activists that purported to show Planned Parenthood doctors and employees engaged in illegal sale of fetal tissue. Planned Parenthood was not charged with any wrongdoing, and the organization argued the videos were doctored.

The bill, AB 1671, represents a compromise between Planned Parenthood and media organizations, which were wary that the proposed crime could ensnare journalists.

But approval from Gov. Jerry Brown is not a sure thing; the bill creates a new crime and the governor has rebuffed other efforts to add to the penal code.

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Lawmakers approve new climate plans to help California’s disadvantaged communities

(Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images)

Three more measures intended to address climate change in poor and polluted communities were passed by state lawmakers Wednesday night.

They followed on the heels of major legislation approved last week to set a new target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and to increase oversight of state regulators.

One of the bills, AB 1550 from Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez (D-Echo Park), would refine guidelines for spending revenues from the state’s auction of greenhouse gas pollution credits and would require more money be used to help low-income households.

Gomez said the bill would bring greater equity to the state’s programs.

“Our most polluted neighborhoods are disproportionately home to Latinos, African Americans and other communities of color,” he said.

AB 2722 from Assemblywoman Autumn Burke (D-Marina del Rey) would ensure more state grants awarded through a housing program would go toward disadvantaged communities.

A third measure, SB 1383 from state Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), would direct state regulators to crack down on “short-lived climate pollutants,” which include emissions that contribute to global warming and create health hazards.

Gov. Jerry Brown’s office has signaled that he supports all of the proposals.


Lawmakers and Capitol staff, tired as long and final day dragged on, vented on Twitter


Technical difficulties in California’s Capitol

On the last night of the legislative session, the state Senate is going “old school,” said the chief of staff for Senate leader Kevin de León.


Is this the last time a legislative session ends in Sacramento with quickly amended bills?

(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

At several points Wednesday night, with only hours before the end of the legislative session, proposed laws were being quickly rewritten and placed in front of weary lawmakers for a fast vote.

It’s a familiar scene at the state Capitol. But one group hopes it’s also the last time it happens.

Proposition 54, which will be considered by California voters on Nov. 8, would require most bills be in print and online for public review for at least 72 hours before final legislative votes.

That would almost completely eliminate a number of bills debated and passed Wednesday, usually brought up “without reference to file.”

The idea behind Proposition 54, written by Republican donor Charles Munger Jr. and former legislator Sam Blakeslee, actually originated in the Legislature. The two men circulated their initiative after the Legislature failed for several years to move the idea forward.


$900-million cap-and-trade spending plan gets OK in both houses

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‘Let’s get the Olympics back to California’: Lawmakers OK $250-million spending guarantee for 2024 Summer Games

An artist's rendering shows downtown Los Angeles during the 2024 Summer Olympics.
An artist’s rendering shows downtown Los Angeles during the 2024 Summer Olympics.

State lawmakers on Wednesday sent the governor a bill that would allow him to provide up to $250 million in financial guarantees in case the city of Los Angeles goes over budget in its proposal to host the 2024 Summer Olympic Games and Paralympic Games.

Senate President Pro Tem Kevin De Leon (D-Los Angeles) said the authorization is needed to allow the city of Los Angeles to compete to host the Games, which he said are not expected to show a deficit.

“Let’s get the Olympics back to California,” De Leon told his Senate colleagues before they voted to approve the bill. The guarantee is required by the U.S. Olympic Committee and the International Olympic Committee as a prerequisite before any city can be considered for hosting an Olympic Games.

“Hosting the Games in California is expected to generate billions of dollars for the state’s economy,” stated De Leon’s bill giving authorization to the governor. “The city of Los Angeles expects there will be net revenue exceeding expenses that can be devoted to legacy programs for youth and citizens of California.”


New processing standards for medical marijuana would be set under bill sent to governor

Lawmakers proposed new standards for manufacturing medical marijuana products in a bill sent to the governor.
(Eduardo Contreras / San Diego Union-Tribune)

The University of California would conduct a study of the effects of marijuana on motor skills, and new standards would be set for manufacturing medical cannabis products under legislation sent Wednesday by state lawmakers to the governor.

The measure was approved as California prepares to begin issuing licenses to marijuana growers and sellers in 2018 and as voters consider a November ballot measure that would legalize recreational use of pot.

The bill by Assemblyman Ken Cooley (D-Rancho Cordova) and others would exempt collectives and cooperatives that manufacture medical cannabis products from some criminal sanctions if they meet state requirements. The manufacturing must use processes without solvents or processes with nonflammable, nontoxic solvents.

“Recent raids and busts on the ground have highlighted the need for this bill,” said Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Oakland), a co-author of the bill.

Cooley said the new manufacturing standards can be enforced by the new Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation.

“As the bureau ramps up licensure programs and puts regulations in place, it is important that local governments have clarification about what types of manufacturing and extraction are allowed,” Cooley said.

The measure, which also provides for reporting of license denials, is supported by the California Cannabis Industry Assn., which said it will protect the health and safety of medical cannabis patients.

The study on pot’s effect on motor skills comes as groups opposing recreational use charge that legalization will lead to more automobile accidents in California.


Overhaul of the state’s electricity regulator continues to move forward

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Capitol cracks down on traditional penny toss

Every year at the end of the legislative session, lobbyists and staff members gather on the second floor of the Capitol rotunda and toss pennies off the balcony. If they land a coin in the crown of the statue below, it’s supposed to bring good luck.

Here’s a video of the ritual from 2014.

But some blamed the penny tossing for damage to the statue of Queen Isabella and Christopher Columbus. And with another legislative session ending on Wednesday, officials took steps to cut off the ritual before it began.


Yes, in your backyard: Legislature OKs easing restrictions on building ‘granny flats’ in California

Construction on John Gregorchuk's secondary dwelling unit has been stalled because of a legal ruling against the city of Los Angeles.
Construction on John Gregorchuk’s secondary dwelling unit has been stalled because of a legal ruling against the city of Los Angeles.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

It might soon be easier for California homeowners to convert garages into new residences or build additional freestanding structures in their backyards, after lawmakers approved a measure to streamline restrictions on the units statewide.

This week, the Legislature approved two measures, SB 1069 from Sen. Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont) and AB 2299 from Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) aimed at forcing local governments to approve the secondary housing units, often known as “granny flats.”

“People are shocked and frustrated when they see the enormous fees and requirements that are preventing them from adding a small unit or converting a room in their house,” Wieckowski said in a statement. “SB 1069 will eliminate unnecessary fees and reduce requirements to give homeowners more control over their home.”

Under the two bills, local governments will no longer be able to require homeowners to add parking for new granny flats near transit stops or have a large uncovered pathway to the street, and will limit fees for connecting the additional unit to water and sewer lines.

State lawmakers who have tried to encourage building such units for more than a decade as a way to address California’s soaring housing costs have expressed frustration with local government inaction.

In Los Angeles, for example, all granny flat permitting is on hold after a Superior Court ruling earlier this year found a conflict between local rules and state law. City officials have tried to resolve the issue recently, but are facing opposition from homeowners who argue that the units would hurt the character of neighborhoods.

Gov. Jerry Brown endorsed both measures earlier this year, and is expected to sign them.


Aug. 31, 4:22 p.m. This post was updated after AB 2299 passed the Legislature.

This was originally posted on Aug. 30 at 7:04 p.m.

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Wear your jean jacket proudly. Legislature makes denim California’s official fabric

(Bleulab jeans)

It’s official.

The California Legislature has declared denim the state’s official fabric.

Assemblyman Marc Levine (D-Marin County) presented the wryly named AB 501, while his colleagues displayed jean jackets and joked whether Jordache jeans would be included.

“AB 501 tells both the story of California and global culture,” Levine said.

Levine easily overcame the opposition.

The bill passed 59-3. Gov. Jerry Brown hasn’t weighed in yet.


More incentives for developers to build low-income housing heads to the governor’s desk

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Uber and Lyft drivers could soon face tougher background checks, thanks to bill headed to Gov. Jerry Brown

(Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg)

Drivers for Uber, Lyft and other ride-hailing services could soon face stricter background checks under a measure that passed the California Legislature on Wednesday.

The bill would prohibit the companies from hiring drivers who are registered sex offenders, have been convicted of violent felonies or, within the last seven years, have a driving-under-the-influence conviction.

The bill’s author, Assemblyman Jim Cooper (D-Elk Grove), said the measure “will help ensure the safety of passengers utilizing [ride-hailing] services.” He noted that prosecutors in Los Angeles and San Francisco last year found 25 people with lengthy criminal histories driving for Uber.

But Assemblyman Bill Quirk (D-Hayward) argued that the measure is too strict and hurts the ability of those with long-ago convictions to find jobs.

“The language in the bill doesn’t take into consideration individuals who committed crimes 10, 15 or 20 years ago, have paid their debt to society and are now model citizens,” Quirk said.

The bill also mandates a maximum $5,000 fine each time a ride-hailing company violates the background-check rules. The measure now heads to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk.


California lawmakers ask governor to criminalize possession of synthetic drug ‘spice’

Safety officials assist a man on downtown L.A.'s skid row last week.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Alarmed that dozens in Los Angeles have been sickened after ingesting a synthetic drug called “spice,” state lawmakers on Wednesday sent the governor a bill outlawing possession of the substance.

The urgency measure requested by the California Narcotics Officers Assn. would make a first offense of possession of specified synthetic cannabinoids or stimulants an infraction. A second or third offense could be a misdemeanor. It is already a crime to sell the drugs.

Sen. Cathleen Galgiani (D-Stockton) cited the situation on Los Angeles’ skid row in which more than 50 people have been hospitalized in the last few weeks, many suspected of using the drug.

“These synthetic drugs are a uniquely dangerous threat to public safety,” Galgiani told her Senate colleagues before a unanimous vote to approve her bill, Senate Bill 139.

The measure’s supporters also included the Assn. for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, the California Police Chiefs Assn. and the Los Angeles Police Protective League.

The measure is opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Drug Policy Alliance.