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Politics

Newsletter: This week in Sacramento may have a huge effect on how utilities pay wildfire costs

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Essential Politics
(LAT)

The political and policy stakes couldn’t be higher this week in Sacramento, as lawmakers hurriedly consider a plan to offer financial stability to California’s largest utilities in the event of devastating wildfires.

And no one has more on the line than Gov. Gavin Newsom.

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A WILDFIRE CASH FUND, A MAJOR VOTE IN SACRAMENTO

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Newsom’s proposal, which wasn’t fully crafted until late in the afternoon Friday, would establish a new cash fund for utilities to pay wildfire-related expenses — something akin to the state helping to establish a new insurance fund for the big three power providers: Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric.

There are any number of potential pitfalls for the new governor on an issue that has vexed state lawmakers over the past 12 months.

For starters, it’s unclear whether the amount of money envisioned by Newsom — $10.5 billion to begin with, possibly double that amount later — is enough to cover the costs that could be incurred in a deadly fire season. Then there’s the concern that the governor’s plan doesn’t focus enough on ensuring utilities take sufficient steps to prevent wildfires. And then there’s the huge political challenge that the initial $10.5 billion, collected from ratepayers, will be seen as a bailout of the utilities.

So why must the proposal be ratified by the Legislature now? The answer is really one of perception: In April, Newsom laid down a challenge to lawmakers to take action before leaving on their monthlong summer recess, which begins next week.

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CALIFORNIA’S BUDGET IS FINISHED … SORT OF

Twenty-eight pieces of legislation compose the state budget agreed to by Newsom and lawmakers last month. But two bills remain pending, a reminder that the deadlines for budgets — June 15 action by the Legislature, June 30 signing by the governor — really only apply to the main blueprint of a spending plan.

And there are already a lot of details in place for where the state will spend $214.8 billion over the next 12 months.

One of the most significant final puzzle pieces to fall into place was the agreement over how to spend $650 million on fighting the state’s homelessness crisis. The plan also includes potential penalties for cities that flaunt California rules on building more housing.

The final two budget-related bills are slated to be heard by the Senate’s budget committee on Monday.

NATIONAL LIGHTNING ROUND

-- Recent reports from doctors, lawyers and lawmakers who visited Border Patrol holding areas highlight ongoing problems. Here’s why migrants are getting sick or dying.

-- Mounting a fresh effort to defuse attacks on his 40-year record on school busing and other issues, former Vice President Joe Biden on Saturday for the first time made a partial apology.

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-- The four-star admiral set to become the Navy’s top officer on Aug. 1 will instead retire.

TODAY’S ESSENTIALS

-- Proponents and opponents of rent control are prepping for another California ballot fight next year as the sponsor of a failed 2018 initiative has begun collecting signatures for a second try.

-- Gun-owner groups have filed a federal lawsuit challenging California’s new law banning the sale of firearms to people under the age of 21, arguing that those 18 and older are adults with legal rights to possess pistols and rifles.

-- Legislation to cap interest rates on high-cost small loans in California has cleared a major hurdle in the state Senate, despite strong opposition from deep-pocketed lenders.

-- The soda industry again demonstrated its dominance in Sacramento, scuttling all bills introduced in the Legislature this year to regulate sugary drinks.

-- The latest data show doctors have granted medical exemptions from vaccines to 4,812 kindergartners in California, a 70% increase from two years ago.

-- California lawmakers have proposed a ballot measure that would legalize sports betting. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states can permit wagering.

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-- An L.A. police misconduct case has sparked a push in the state Capitol to loosen California’s existing wiretapping law.

-- Newsom signed a bill that makes California the first state to protect black employees and students from discrimination based on hairstyles.

-- Making good on completing a process begun in 2012, California prison officials have brought back all prisoners housed in out-of-state facilities.

LOGISTICS

Essential Politics is written by Sacramento bureau chief John Myers on Mondays and Washington bureau chief David Lauter on Fridays.

You can keep up with breaking news on our politics page throughout the day. And are you following us on Twitter at @latimespolitics?

Miss Friday’s newsletter? Here you go.

Please send thoughts, concerns and news tips to politics@latimes.com.

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