Capitol Alert

At end of session, ‘mushroom bills’ emerge in dead of night

Among the slew of bills lawmakers sent to Gov. Jerry Brown as the legislative session ended Saturday morning was one that was not even printed when it got its first hearing at 2:09 a.m.

“This bill, it’s a mock-up, is it not? Is this bill even in print?” Sen. Tom Berryhill, R-Twain Harte, asked during the brief hearing on Senate Bill 792.

“It’s a mock-up,” Sen. Kevin de León, the incoming Senate leader, said with a nod.

The scene that played out is an annual one: as the year’s lawmaking closes in the dark of night, legislators race to push through last-minute, changes with no public notice. They’re sometimes called “mushroom bills.”

On Saturday morning, some of Sacramento’s most influential lobbyists pushing SB 792 crowded into the small hearing room after 2 a.m. Lobbyists from the Lang Hansen O’Malley firm represented the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, and said the measure would assure the painters on public works projects are appropriately trained in safety techniques for applying toxic materials. Also pushing for the bill was the California Labor Federation, a union umbrella group with a lot of sway in the Capitol.

The bill requires the state to set regulations for “corrosion prevention work” on public infrastructure projects. Supporters said the idea had come up during talks planning the water bond, but a separate bill needed to spell out the details.

A version drafted a few days ago could not get enough votes to move ahead, so legislators gutted the contents of a bill that was further along in the legislative process and moved the idea there late Friday night.

“If this is a critical issue, it should come back and have a thorough hearing with a normal process next year when you reconvene,” said Richard Markuson, a lobbyist for the Associated Builders and Contractors of San Diego and the Western Electrical Contractors Association.

David Ackerman, a lobbyist for the Associated General Contractors of California, said the bill was hard to assess with so little time.

“We’re concerned because the bill is limiting,” he said, adding that it may “force us to use contractors who have relationships with the union sponsoring the bill.”

Minutes after the hearing ended, the bill passed off the Senate floor on a party line vote, without a word of debate.

Also emerging after midnight was a measure allocating a $3 million funding lifeline to a struggling Contra Costa County hospital whose patients are almost entirely low-income, according to Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley.

“This is an emergency circumstance,” Skinner said, adding that two patients have died after ambulances were diverted.

In a hastily convened Assembly Budget Committee meeting, and later during floor votes, lawmakers expressed frustration about being asked to vote on a measure they had just learned of.

“You’ve never seen this language?” Assemblywoman Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield, asked a staff member.

The bill passed out of the Senate over the objections of some Republicans.

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