Capitol Alert

AM Alert: California kicks off new legislative session with Democratic dominance

New Sen. Janet Nguyen, R-Santa Ana, holds her son before a swearing-in ceremony on the floor of the Senate Chambers on Dec. 1, 2014.
New Sen. Janet Nguyen, R-Santa Ana, holds her son before a swearing-in ceremony on the floor of the Senate Chambers on Dec. 1, 2014. The Associated Press

It’s a big day at the Capitol.

Like the start of a new school year – where everyone spent the summer vacation fighting for their political lives rather than at camp – the building will burst back into life for a new legislative session.

The Senate and Assembly both convene at noon to swear in new members, with their proud families and friends in tow. There are nine in the 40-member Senate and 22 in the 80-member Assembly, four of those returning after losing in previous elections, a tremendous amount of turnover.

The new class of lawmakers brings other big changes to the Legislature, like a record number of Latinos and the fewest women in nearly three decades. The “moderate caucus” of business-friendly Democrats is also crowing about expanding its ranks, and education groups seeking to shake up teacher union dominance have elected more allies.

But the most significant development is that Democrats regained a two-thirds supermajority in both houses of the Legislature. The overwhelming dominance gives them theoretical power to pass taxes, amend political spending laws, move constitutional amendments to the ballot or enact urgency legislation without Republican support.

Expectations, however, are much lower than that. When Democrats first achieved the feat for years ago, political divisions within the caucus scuttled major policy efforts and then they quickly lost the margin.

WORTH REPEATING: “There are steep hills ahead, but we’ll scale them by continuing to take a series of bold actions.” – Gov. Jerry Brown, on the draft plan to combat climate change.

LIGHT IT UP: After two years of misfortune that pushed the event indoors and then forced its cancellation, the Capitol Christmas tree lighting is back where it belongs tonight, on the west steps. The ceremony will bring together Gov. Jerry Brown and first lady Anne Gust Brown with 7-year-old twins Alex and Alan Rosales to illuminate 10,000 low-energy lights on the 60-foot-tall white fir from a state forest near Redding. Also a celebration of children and adults with developmental disabilities, who made the ornaments, the tree lighting will feature performances from the California Army National Guard’s Detachment 1 40th Infantry Division Band; students from the Oakland Military Institute and Oakland School for the Arts, charter schools that Brown sponsored when he was mayor; Mariachi Puente; and St. Paul’s Baptist Church Choir. The program begins at 5 p.m.

LET ME OUT: Does the bail system unfairly penalize the poor? Critics charge that setting a price of thousands of dollars to get out of jail leaves society’s most vulnerable in a bind with only bad options: go into debt to pay a bail bonds company or plead guilty to a crime they may not have committed to get through the system faster. The growing chorus of voices now includes even California Chief Justice Tani-Cantil Sakauye. Among the first bills of the new session will be a pair of measures from Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Alameda, and Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Los Angeles, that aim to overhaul California’s bail system. They will unveil the proposal at 10:30 a.m. in Room 1190 of the Capitol.

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff