Politics & Government

Groundwater, sick leave, plastic bags among Gov. Brown’s decisions

Will he sign, or won’t he? Lawmakers spent the hectic final weeks of August whipping votes, accepting amendments and negotiating with interest groups in an effort to get their bills passed. The 768 bills that survived now face their final test: Gov. Jerry Brown. Here are some of the key bills on his desk:

Groundwater package (SB 1168, SB 1319, AB 1739): With a historic drought prodding them into action, lawmakers passed legislation that could make California the final Western state to oversee how much water is pumped out of the ground.

Analysis: Brown’s office spotlighted groundwater early this year, setting aside money in his January budget proposal to formulate a management plan. Talks between Brown and lawmakers produced the third bill in the package late in August. Given the extent of Brown’s involvement on the issue, his signature seems like a safe bet.

Paid sick leave (AB 1522): The latest attempt at a long-running liberal priority would require almost all employers to provide a minimum of three paid sick days to workers who accrue enough hours.

Analysis: The “almost all employers” is pivotal to this bill’s fate. In the final week of the legislative session, Brown secured amendments to the bill exempting health aides who care for disabled and elderly Californians through the state’s In-Home Supportive Services program. Unions furiously fought the change, but it cemented the governor’s support. Brown released a statement praising the legislation as soon as it passed.

Plastic bag ban (SB 270): One of the most contentious bills of 2014 would prohibit so-called single-use plastic bags in the name of environmental protection, allowing grocers to instead offer paper or reusable bags for a fee.

Analysis: During a gubernatorial debate, Brown said he “probably” would sign the bill, a move that could burnish his already solid environmental bona fides. Despite plastic industry warnings that this bill would cut jobs, the California Chamber of Commerce has not adopted a position.

Ridesharing regulation (AB 2293): Burgeoning “ridesharing” startup companies like Uber and Lyft have become a popular alternative to taxi cabs. This bill would require them to carry more insurance.

Analysis: Uber and Lyft vociferously opposed this bill until the dwindling hours of the legislative session. But after the bill’s author hammered out a deal lowering a minimum liability insurance requirement to $200,000, saying that Brown was on board as a result, the industry dropped its opposition.

Film tax credit (AB 1839): Arresting the departure of film production from its former California epicenter was a priority for Los Angeles-area lawmakers, who hope to keep cameras rolling here by dangling $330 million in tax breaks.

Analysis: With much fanfare, Brown and legislative leaders unveiled the $330 million deal in the last week of the session.

Ethics package (SB 1443): Part of a group of ethics bills, this measure reduces the permissible value of gifts lawmakers can accept and banishes popular freebies like tickets to concerts and baseball games.

Analysis: Senate leaders unveiled this bill as part of an ethics package, along with measures banning fundraisers at lobbyists’ homes (SB 1441) and compelling more frequent campaign disclosures (SB 1442). A separate measure, SB 831, requires interest groups to offer more information on the free trips they sponsor for lawmakers every year. Brown has publicly said little about a deluge of scandals that has included two senators allegedly taking campaign finance bribes and a prominent lobbyist receiving a six-figure fine for coordinating improper gifts and events at his house – including one with Brown in attendance.

Gun restraining orders (AB 1014): The Legislature’s response to the lethal shooting in Isla Vista, this bill would allow police officers or immediate family members to get restraining orders blocking mentally troubled people from owning a gun.

Analysis: When the Legislature sent him a wave of post-Sandy Hook gun control bills last year, Brown vetoed some of the farthest-reaching measures. He has not weighed in publicly on this bill.

Homemade guns (SB 808): Alarmed by the availability of homemade guns, including those produced by 3-D printers, legislators sent Brown this bill requiring Californians to register do-it-yourself firearms with the Department of Justice.

Analysis: Reviled by gun groups, this bill did win the support of some key law enforcement entities like the Peace Officers Research Association of California, a consistent supporter of Brown’s campaigns.

Toy guns (SB 199): Toy guns would need to be brightly colored so they aren’t mistaken for the real thing under this bill spurred by an incident in which Sonoma County police officers killed a boy wielding a toy gun.

Analysis: While the Los Angeles Police Department backs this legislation, critics say it might end up breeding more uncertainty for cops expected to make split-second decisions in potentially lethal situations.

Subcontractors (AB 1897): Companies that use third-party contractors could be held liable if those contractors withhold wages or fail to cover workers’ compensation under this bill.

Analysis: One of organized labor’s priorities for 2014, this legislation sits firmly in the California Chamber of Commerce’s cross-hairs. Signing the bill could open Brown to fresh criticism from those who believe over-regulation has smothered California’s economy.

Private contractors (SB 556): This union-backed bill would bar private ambulance workers and other contractors from displaying the logos of public agencies they work for, unless they also make clear they are private contractors.

Analysis: Local government groups like the League of California Cities detest this bill, depicting it as a union ploy to discourage cities from contracting out services.

Franchise agreements (SB 610): Pitting individual businesses against the larger chains they represent, this bill would make it more difficult for franchisors to cancel contracts or block sales of individual franchisees.

Analysis: An organization representing corporate franchises has lambasted this bill, launching ads warning that it will undermine quality control and public safety while damaging an economic recovery that has occurred “under the leadership of Gov. Jerry Brown.”

Campus sexual assault (SB 967): California colleges would need to adopt an “affirmative consent” standard for sexual assault, meaning students attending orientation lectures and investigators looking into rape claims would learn that what matters is not whether a student says “no” to sex but whether he or she indicates “yes.”

Analysis: With lax or uneven campus responses to sexual violence drawing criticism across the country, this bill has received national attention. It passed both houses of the Legislature with strong support. Brown has courted the campus vote heavily before, particularly during his campaign for Proposition 30.

Bilingual education (SB 1174): A decade and a half after California voters restricted bilingual instruction by passing Proposition 227, this bill would let voters undo those prohibitions by placing a repeal measure on the 2016 ballot.

Analysis: While the Proposition 227 rollback would not go on the ballot until after Brown’s current campaign has concluded, it could still provoke powerful reactions and raw emotions. Then again, the governor has sought to position himself as a champion of progressive immigration policies.

Audrie’s Law (SB 838): Juveniles who sexually assault unconscious or disabled victims would face tougher penalties under this bill.

Analysis: This bill was pushed by the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office in response to 15-year-old Audrie Pott’s suicide after she was assaulted while unconscious. It is less stringent than in its original form, mandating rehabilitation rather than incarceration, so it would not worsen the prison overcrowding Brown has fought to reduce under a federal court order.

Childhood sex abuse (SB 924, SB 926): This pair of bills would extend the statute of limitations for victims seeking redress for past abuse, allowing them to bring civil cases or seek criminal charges until they are 40.

Analysis: The governor last year vetoed a bill opening a one-year window for childhood sex abuse victims to take legal action. Brown wrote an unusually lengthy veto message invoking concepts of fairness and arguing that, at some point, the threat of lawsuits for past violations must dissipate.

Martins Beach (SB 968): Public access to the coast sits at the heart of this bill, which would have California mediate a dispute over a billionaire blocking a beach access road that traverses his property near Half Moon Bay.

Analysis: The billionaire in question, Vinod Khosla, hired some top-notch talent to fight the bill. He is also a longtime benefactor of environmental causes, for instance pouring $1 million into fighting a 2010 ballot measure undoing California’s cap-and-trade law.

Seafood labeling (SB 1138): Which fish is this? Responding to a report finding widespread fish mislabeling, this bill imposes a $1,000 fine or a year in jail for misrepresenting seafood’s type or origin.

Analysis: While environmental groups backed this bill, industry groups like the California Fisheries Institute and the West Coast Seafood Processors Association argued that it would impose a costly burden that would likely confuse customers.

Drug sentencing (SB 1010): This bill would eliminate sentencing disparities for crack and powder cocaine, erasing a distinction that advocates call wrongheaded and racially tinged.

Analysis: Brown has moved cautiously on bills easing drug penalties, last year vetoing a measure allowing simple possession to be charged as a misdemeanor. Likely influencing Brown’s thinking on this bill will be criticism from law enforcement groups like the California Police Chiefs Association.

Farm labor (SB 25): Farm management would find it harder to stall new labor contracts under this bill, which allows the Agriculture Labor Relations Board to implement farm labor contracts secured through mandatory mediation even if employers appeal.

Analysis: This bill would bolster a labor body Brown helped create during his first administration.

Rape kits (AB 1517): Many so-called “rape kits” containing forensic evidence from alleged sex crimes sit untested long after the fact. This bill would impose a timeline for the kits to be tested and entered into a national database.

Analysis: Not a single lawmaker voted against this bill. But Brown’s Department of Finance dissented, arguing that there is not enough money in the budget to support the increased workload.

School discipline (AB 420): Advocates argue that teachers and administrators too often invoke an offense called “willful defiance” to suspend students, with the resulting penalties falling disproportionately on students of color. This bill would limit such discipline.

Analysis: Brown has already vetoed a similar bill, writing at the time that “I cannot support limiting the authority of local school leaders.” Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, believes amendments narrowing the bill’s scope – it would now only bar willful defiance suspensions for children in kindergarten through third grade – could change the governor’s mind.

Drone surveillance (AB 1327): This bill would limit when law enforcement agencies can use drones without obtaining warrants and would require most data collected to be destroyed within a year.

Analysis: As unmanned aerial vehicles become increasingly common, civil liberties advocates are questioning the privacy implications of hovering eyes in the sky. While this legislation drew bipartisan support in the Legislature, it continues to be a nonstarter for arms of the law like the California Police Chiefs Association and the Los Angeles County district attorney.

Initiative changes (SB 1253): The bill allots more time to collect signatures and would allow ballot measure proponents to pull their initiatives or add amendments, among other changes.

Analysis: The breadth of organizations supporting this measure, from California Common Cause to the California Chamber of Commerce to the California Democratic Party, should help its odds, although the California Teachers Association remains in opposition.