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Legislators try to revive old bills

Local lawmakers used a brief legislative session this month to dust off old bills that never made it, and to push new proposals ahead of the new year.

State Sen. Carol Liu (D-La Cañada Flintridge) reintroduced two measures that failed last year, including one vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who will no longer be in office in January.

Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Silver Lake) introduced several bills, including a far-reaching overhaul of the state’s ballot initiative process. Assemblyman Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge) has introduced four bills, including two that failed last year.

All told, they were among the more than 130 bills introduced by lawmakers from throughout the state that might see a different fate with a new governor come January.

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Liu reintroduced a proposal to allow welfare seekers to use volunteer work in order to qualify for food stamps. It passed the Legislature, but Schwarzenegger vetoed the bill in September.

Liu spokesman Robert Oakes said the measure would extend federal benefits — not state money — to a larger percentage of California’s unemployed.

“It’s federal money that will come directly to California to help people get back on their feet,” Oakes said. “It received bipartisan support in both houses last year. We’re hoping the new governor will see the wisdom in it.”

Liu’s other measure would expand the role of the state in advising seniors and disabled people on the equipment they need in their homes to live independently.

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Last year, the Senate Appropriations Committee iced the bill because of concerns that it would cost the state money. But Oakes said it would save money by keeping people at home rather than living for extended periods at nursing facilities.

Gatto proposes a multi-part overhaul of the state ballot process. Voter-passed initiatives, which cannot be overturned by the Legislature, have locked in spending for specific programs. And the number of initiatives has expanded, cluttering the state ballot year after year.

“If in 1910 an initiative passed to stimulate the horse carriage industry, it is probably still on the books,” Gatto said.

Initiatives should be subject to legislative oversight before they go to the ballot, and the number of signatures needed to qualify for the ballot should be increased, he said. And propositions that would cost the state money should have to identify a specific revenue source, he added.

Some of the changes revert to rules governing the initiative process before 1968.

“When older people tell me, ‘I don’t remember there being all these initiatives before,’ they’re right,” Gatto said. “What used to be a last resort is now something abused by every special interest under the sun.”

Separately, Gatto is seeking to make permanent a tax credit for companies that provide payroll services for movie and television production. The bill is one of several efforts state lawmakers have made in recent years to keep film production from migrating to New York, Canada and other locations.

Another Gatto bill would cut red tape at the local level for developers and businesses looking to expand.

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Portantino, in addition to Gatto, introduced “pay-go” bills, requiring lawmakers to identify the funding source for any new legislation.

Portantino also introduced, for the seventh time, his bill proposing a pay freeze for high-level state employees, including university professors and administrators. The bill has stalled at the committee level several times.

Portantino is also again seeking an annual report card on colleges and universities from the California Postsecondary Education Commission.

Another Portantino measure would give businesses with fewer than 20 employees a 20% tax credit on workers’ compensation insurance premiums. Consistent with his pay-go measure, the rebate would be funded by $200 million from an underused program giving small businesses credits for new hires.

“I’ve been reaching out to small-business owners in my district for thoughts and ideas on how to help them during these difficult times,” Portantino said in a statement. “The single biggest complaint I hear is the high cost of workers’ compensation insurance.”


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