Capitol Alert

Five issues to watch in the California Legislature’s final month

The dome of the state Capitol glows in the early evening Aug. 31, 2016, in Sacramento. State lawmakers return Monday as a solar eclipse will darken the mid-morning sky.
The dome of the state Capitol glows in the early evening Aug. 31, 2016, in Sacramento. State lawmakers return Monday as a solar eclipse will darken the mid-morning sky. Associated Press file

State lawmakers return from summer break today to a once-in-a-lifetime solar eclipse and tens of thousands of people crowding into Capitol Mall for a free concert to urge passage of a trio of criminal justice bills.

Monday also marks the beginning of the end of session. Legislators have one month to get their bills to the governor’s desk before the Senate and Assembly call it quits for the year. It’ll be a busy time with plenty of action. Here’s our take on issues to watch as the session resumes:

▪ Housing: This tops the Legislature’s agenda this month, with Democrats hoping to reach a deal that includes long-term funding for affordable housing construction and regulatory changes to speed the development process. Democratic lawmakers say a housing package could be announced as soon as this week. At the core of the debate is financing: Can Democrats muster a two-thirds vote for a real estate fee and persuade Gov. Jerry Brown to sign off on a multibillion-dollar housing bond measure?

▪ Sanctuary status: Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, is leading the effort to make California a “sanctuary state” by limiting the ability of local law enforcement to cooperate with the federal government on immigration enforcement. His Senate Bill 54 has prompted emotional testimony and pits the state against the Trump administration. The bill sailed through the Senate and appears likely to pass the Assembly with a majority vote. But it’s unclear where Brown stands on the measure. Earlier this month he mentioned “changes” that “would be very important” in an interview, but offered no more. The Governor’s Office is in talks with de Leon’s staff, yet both camps declined to discuss Brown’s demands. The bill is next up in Assembly Appropriations on Wednesday.

▪ Money bail: Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Los Angeles, wants to do away with the money bail system as we know it. Proponents argue that releasing only defendants who can post the allotted bail discriminates against the poor. The proposal instead bases pre-trial release on an assessment of the offender’s flight risk and danger to public safety. Bail agents, law enforcement and others argue that posting bail is imperative to ensuring that defendants show up in court. The Senate passed the bill in May, but a twin version of the measure died in the Assembly the next day. Now bail reform is back in the Assembly and must clear the Appropriations Committee before it gets a second shot on the floor.

▪ Drug pricing: Americans say they are fed up with the rising cost of prescription drugs, and California legislators are attempting to tackle the issue with a series of bills that would require drug companies to notify purchasers before prices rise, establish more accountability for cost increases and limit gifts from pharmaceutical companies to doctors. Lawmakers face heavy opposition from drug companies, who have a record of killing legislation in the Golden State.

▪ Marijuana: Once Californians legalized pot in November, the clock began ticking for the state to come up with regulations to draw the industry out from the shadows and establish a system to capture tax dollars from a multibillion-dollar market by Jan. 1, 2018. Brown already signed the heaviest lift, a budget trailer bill that established a single regulatory system for medical and recreational pot sales, in June. But lawmakers also want a say, and collectively introduced nearly 50 additional bills that ban pot businesses from advertising on branded clothing (SB 162), prohibit companies from falsely advertising the county in which marijuana is grown (SB 175), require drivers to submit to chemical tests to determine intoxication (AB 702) and allow cannabis businesses to deduct business expenses from their state income taxes (AB 420) among countless other topics that will continue to shape the budding industry.

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MUST READ: How California’s housing crisis happened.

WORTH REPEATING: “The time has come for Senator Newman to stand before the voters.” – Jim Brulte, California Republican Party chairman, noting that enough signatures have been verified to set a recall election for Sen. Josh Newman, D-Fullerton.

IMAGINE JUSTICE CONCERT: The rapper and activist Common is performing a free concert in Capitol Mall today to draw attention to bills that require minors to have legal counsel before waiving their Miranda Rights, give minors sentenced to life in prison the opportunity to seek parole after serving 25 years and overhaul the criminal bail system. Some 25,000 people are expected to flood Downtown Sacramento for the 5 p.m. concert. Expect road closures on Capitol Mall and Sixth through Ninth streets through early Tuesday. Here’s a map and listing. Parking will be next to impossible in the afternoon and some state offices plan to let workers go home early.

SOLAR ECLIPSE: It’s been 99 years since the last total solar eclipse crossed the entire United States. In California, the maximum eclipse will take place at 10:17 a.m. and the partial eclipse will end at 11:45 a.m. If you’re allowed to leave work and observe the phenomena, there’s a solar eclipse watch party on the west side of the Capitol from 9 to 11 a.m. Here’s a rundown of everything you need to know about the eclipse.

LEADERSHIP BATTLE: Assembly Republican Leader Chad Mayes has been the target of intense backlash from the right after he rallied some of his fellow GOP lawmakers last month to renew the state’s cap-and-trade program. Since the vote, angry Republicans have called for him to step down, most recently on Friday when the California Republican Party approved a resolution for him to leave the leadership post. Late last week Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez, R-Lake Elsinore, announced that she would run to replace Mayes. Melendez resigned as Mayes’ assistant Republican leader after the vote. Assemblymen Vince Fong, R-Bakersfield, and Jay Obernotle, R-Big Bear Lake, are also said to be in the mix. Mayes responded with an op-ed in the Orange County Register over the weekend. “Going forward, Republicans simply can’t wait another decade to do things differently,” he wrote. “We must step out of our comfort zones.”

Angela Hart of The Bee Capitol Bureau contributed to this report.

Taryn Luna: 916-326-5545, @TarynLuna

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