Capitol Alert

AM Alert: Senate takes up bills to regulate e-cigarettes, raise smoking age

Kari Hess, left, co-owner of Nor Cal Vape, in Redding, celebrates with Jackie Voisione, center, and Michael Ventura, right, an e-liquid manufacturer from San Diego, after a bill to regulate e-cigarettes stalled in an Assembly committee on July 8, 2015.
Kari Hess, left, co-owner of Nor Cal Vape, in Redding, celebrates with Jackie Voisione, center, and Michael Ventura, right, an e-liquid manufacturer from San Diego, after a bill to regulate e-cigarettes stalled in an Assembly committee on July 8, 2015. The Associated Press

Have we finally reached the end of the special legislative session on health care?

A week after the Assembly passed a pair of tobacco bills that spent months stranded without a vote, the state Senate will take up those measures to raise the smoking age to 21 and regulate e-cigarettes as a tobacco product during its morning floor session. Both are expected to pass and will head to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk, where their fate is less certain.

The tobacco bills are the last major business in the special session, which was called last June to deal with a Medi-Cal funding shortfall and will now likely be closed. Lawmakers approved an extension of a tax on health plans last month to close the $1 billion gap.

But advocates for California’s controversial new assisted death law have been agitating for months for legislators to wrap things up. Revived and passed through the special session last fall, the law cannot take effect until 90 days after the session concludes.

VIDEO OF THE DAY: What would ‘Vaping Jezus” do? Definitely not treat electronic cigarettes like tobacco, that’s for sure.

HOUSE OF MCCARDS: House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy is making the most of a week back in his old stomping grounds. On Monday, the former Assembly Republican Leader joined House Speaker Paul Ryan for a closed fundraising reception at the Sutter Club to benefit congressional Republicans. Those who want to hear him speak will get the opportunity today as McCarthy joins Public Policy Institute of California President and CEO Mark Baldassare for a discussion about “the critical issues facing the state and the nation,” 11:45 a.m. at the Sheraton Grand Hotel on J Street. At a similar event last month with U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, she called on Apple to help federal investigators unlock a cell phone used by the San Bernardino terrorist.

CAN I HAVE YOUR NUMBER?: As Brown works his way toward a revised budget proposal in May, the Legislature is combing through all aspects of the $171 billion spending plan. Among those up for review today in the Senate Budget Subcommittee on Resources, Environmental Protection, Energy and Transportation, Room 112 of the Capitol upon adjournment of session, is the Lifeline program, which provides discounted residential telephone service to poor people. When wireless plans became eligible for the assistance two years ago, participation doubled, leaving state utility regulators scrambling to keep up. They’ve approved three increases to telephone bill surcharges in the last year – a fivefold increases in the fees customers pay to support the program – and Lifeline is now expected to receive an additional $260.5 million in the upcoming fiscal year.

DROP YOUR WEAPON: Representatives from the office of Attorney General Kamala Harris will also testify before the Subcommittee on Corrections, Public Safety and the Judiciary, Room 113 upon adjournment of session, about Harris’ request for a permanent funding increase for the Armed Prohibited Persons System. Two years after legislators set aside $24 million to speed the removal of firearms from thousands of people forbidden from owning them, the program has decreased its backlog by only about a third. Expect a grilling from committee member Sen. Joel Anderson, R-Alpine, who has publicly blasted Harris’ office for blowing through the money on training new enforcement agents that subsequently transferred to other departments for promotions, leaving the APPS program continually understaffed.

BET ON IT: Legal gambling has exploded in California since voters approved Indian casinos in 2000, and with it, so has the number of pathological and problem gamblers, now estimated at 1.5 million. Yet groundbreaking state efforts to treat the addiction-like condition – research, training, prevention and rehabilitation funded by some tribes with casinos – are nearly broke, even as less than a fifth of California’s out-of-control gamblers are receiving help. What’s next? Office of Problem Gambling Director Terri Sue Canale will provide an update on the program to the California Gambling Control Commission during its meeting, 10 a.m. at the commission office on Gateway Oaks Drive.

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff

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