Capitol Alert

New bills on tax deductions, hotel maid ‘panic buttons’ as Legislature returns

House Speaker Paul Ryan touts a tax overhaul plan endorsed by President Donald Trump at the U.S. Capitol on Sept. 2, 2017.
House Speaker Paul Ryan touts a tax overhaul plan endorsed by President Donald Trump at the U.S. Capitol on Sept. 2, 2017. Abaca Press

It has been unexpectedly busy around the Capitol since lawmakers went on recess three-and-a-half months ago, so the Senate and Assembly have plenty to grapple with when they reconvene today for the new legislative session.

Since October, allegations of sexual misconduct have rocked the Legislature, among many other institutions of American society. Two lawmakers – former Assemblymen Raul Bocanegra and Matt Dababnehresigned this fall amid accusations of harassment and assault. At least two more are currently under investigation for improper behavior. Efforts are underway to push out Sen. Tony Mendoza, D-Artesia, who refused to take a leave of absence while the Senate looks into complaints that he pursued subordinates.

While the Legislature overhauls its processes for investigating and disciplining sexual harassment at the Capitol, proposals are cropping up to tackle the issue in other sectors. Assemblymen Al Muratsuchi, D-Torrance, and Bill Quirk, D-Hayward, will introduce a bill today requiring hotels to provide a “panic button” for employees, such as maids, who work alone in guest rooms.

Labor advocates argue the button, which employees can wear and use to summon help if they are threatened by a guest, is crucial to protect a particularly vulnerable class of workers, many of whom are immigrant women. Cities across the country have considered similar ordinances – Long Beach officials narrowly rejected one in September – but the hotel industry has aggressively fought the regulation, dismissing it as a “solution in search of a problem.”

The measure by Muratsuchi and Quirk would also mandate that hotels provide paid time off for workers to contact the police or an attorney after they have been assaulted, and maintain a list of guests who have allegedly harassed or committed an act of violence against an employee. Hotels would be required to deny service for three years to any guest on the list, if the claim has been substantiated by a statement made under penalty of perjury or some other evidence.

Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, meanwhile, is preparing legislation to offset the potential fiscal impact for Californians of the new federal tax plan approved by Congress late last month. That law generated controversy in high-tax states like California because it capped state and local tax deductions, which were previously unlimited, at $10,000. The average deduction by a California taxpayer is nearly twice that amount, according to de León’s office.

His bill, which he plans to introduce this week, would create a workaround, allowing resident to “donate” what they owe in state taxes to a special fund. Though the money would still go toward California’s budget revenues, it would be treated like a charitable contribution, which is fully deductible on a federal tax return.

The Assembly also welcomes a new member: Wendy Carrillo, a Los Angeles Democrat who won a special election last month to replace Jimmy Gomez after he was elected to Congress. The chamber will still have three vacancies; in addition to Bocanegra and Dababneh, Sebastian Ridley-Thomas stepped down from his Los Angeles seat last week citing health issues.

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WORTH REPEATING: “You didn’t always want to hear it, but he was the guy who would give it to you straight.” – Former state Democratic Party Chairman John Burton, on the death of veteran party pollster Jim Moore

CHEMICAL CONCERNS: Is glyphosate safe? The chemical, which is the primary ingredient in weed killer Roundup, is considered a possible carcinogen by California regulators. The federal Environmental Protection Agency, on the other hand, says it likely does not cause cancer. As the EPA considers whether to extend next year the chemical’s registration for use, environmental activists are trying to persuade Gov. Jerry Brown to ban spraying near public schools, recreation areas, parks and waterways. They plan to hold a rally at 1 p.m. on the north steps of the Capitol.

MUST READ: The Trump administration is considering a major change to the H-1B foreign tech worker visa program.

PACK IT IN : After drought-busting record rain last year, it’s been an awfully dry season so far, and the result is some of the largest fires California has ever seen. How are things looking for the months ahead? The Department of Water Resources will conduct the first of five snow surveys scheduled for 2018, to assess the water content of the state’s snowpack, 11 a.m. at Phillips Station on Highway 50.

CELEBRATIONS: Happy birthday to Assembly members Dante Acosta, R-Santa Clarita, who turns 55 today, and Jacqui Irwin, D-Thousands Oaks, who is 56.

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff