Capitol Alert

California Senate’s liberal agenda faces uphill climb in Assembly

State Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, is behind bills to increase the minimum wage and regulate e-cigarettes as tobacco products.
State Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, is behind bills to increase the minimum wage and regulate e-cigarettes as tobacco products. The Associated Press

It’s been a year for high-profile liberal legislation in the California Senate, which earlier this month passed a sweep of politically ambitious proposals around poverty, tobacco use and the environment.

Several appear headed for approval, including a set of aggressive renewable energy and greenhouse gas reduction goals shared by Gov. Jerry Brown, and an expansion of health care for undocumented children that was funded in the budget.

Others await a much tougher slog in the Assembly. While also dominated by the Democratic Party, which traditionally aligns with organized labor, the Legislature’s lower house has a growing “moderate caucus” that is generally more receptive to the concerns of the business community. Those members helped kill or stall a number of union priorities before June’s deadline to pass bills out of their house of origin, including legislation to require two weeks’ notice for workers’ schedules.

“Does the Chamber of Commerce have more influence in the Assembly?” said Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, who has authored measures this year to raise the minimum wage and regulate e-cigarettes. “At times, it appears that way.”

“Bills always face additional challenges in the other house. There’s less hands-on control,” he added. “The complexities multiply.”

A look at the prospects for some of the Senate’s major bills:

Minimum wage

A top target on the California Chamber of Commerce’s “job killer” list, Senate Bill 3 would raise the state minimum wage to $13 per hour by 2017 and then index it to inflation beginning in 2019. It will be difficult to get to the governor’s desk unscathed: A similar proposal last year died in its first Assembly committee, and the cost-of-living adjustment was stripped out of a successful effort to raise the minimum wage two years ago. Brown, a fiscal moderate, may not want to sign another one so soon, especially when the last increase is not set to take effect until next year.


The Senate advanced two major anti-tobacco measures: Senate Bill 151, raising the legal purchase age to 21, and Senate Bill 140, which would regulate e-cigarettes as a tobacco product. Four Republican senators joined in support of SB 151, and Hawaii last week became the first state to increases its smoking age to 21. Meanwhile, the tobacco industry is eager to protect booming adoption of e-cigarettes, which would be prohibited from the same “smoke-free” areas as traditional cigarettes under SB 140. But both could be on the chopping block in the Assembly Governmental Organization Committee, whose members received $145,000 in contributions from tobacco companies during the last two-year cycle. In April, the committee scaled back a bill to ban tobacco from baseball parks.


In conjunction with a push to bolster child care in California, Senate Bill 548 would allow tens of thousands of providers to unionize, the largest expansion of collective bargaining in a state-funded service since 1999. While Democrats secured a budget deal with Brown adding thousands of new child care slots, unionization was left out. Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León plans to move forward anyway, but he will have to convince Assembly colleagues to support the bill over the governor’s objections.


Senate Bill 23 seeks to repeal the increasingly unpopular “maximum family grant,” a law barring families on welfare from receiving additional money if they have another child. The cap was kept in place in the budget, handing another setback to legislative Democrats and potentially killing the measure for the year. Supporters could still send the bill to the governor’s desk, however, setting up a confrontation with Brown, who liberals argue has not done enough to help the poor recover from the recession.

Assisted death

The path for Senate Bill 128, which would allow doctors to prescribe lethal drugs to terminally ill patients, seemed to open up this spring when the California Medical Association dropped its longstanding opposition to assisted death. Despite objections by Catholic groups, Brown also may be receptive to the measure; he called Brittany Maynard, who became a national face for the campaign, before her death last fall. But the bill hit a stumbling block this week when its first Assembly hearing was delayed; securing legislative support for the controversial and deeply personal decision could still be a heavy lift.

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff