Capitol Alert

Drug pricing bill amended, legislative whistleblower bill halted in key California committee

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, talks with Sen. Ricardo Lara, chair of the two Appropriations Committees, on August 30, 2014.
Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, talks with Sen. Ricardo Lara, chair of the two Appropriations Committees, on August 30, 2014.

A drug pricing transparency measure underwent broad amendments while bills to protect legislative whistleblowers and declare Uber and Lyft cars noncommercial vehicles failed in a key legislative winnowing on Thursday.

The measures stalled or were amended during a twice-a-year bill culling ceremony in which more contentious bills are halted before they can reach floor votes. Any bill that’s designated as having a cost to California ends up on the Appropriations Committee’s suspense file. Many go no further.

Some bills advanced in heavily amended form. One intensely lobbied measure aimed to increase transparency on the rapidly rising cost of prescription medications. The original iteration of Senate Bill 1010 mandated that manufacturers notify the state, health insurers and others if they raise the wholesale price of a drug by more than 10 percent in a 12-month period.

Things happen fast when appropriations committees churn through their "suspense files." In this video, Chairwoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, goes through four bills in a minute on Aug. 11, 2016. The fates of the bills were decided privately in

In the Assembly, where a significant group of business-friendly Democrats have had success altering legislation born in the more liberal Senate, amendments bumped that threshold to 25 percent, removed requirements for notifying the Legislature and justifying the price increase, would keep pricing information confidential until it is revealed by manufacturers and sunset the disclosure in 2022.

Another bill altered in the Assembly, SB 1190, sprouted up in the wake of the controversial firing earlier this year of the California Coastal Commission’s longtime executive director. The bill intended to ban private, off-the-record contact – or “ex parte” communications – between commissioners and those with business before the board after critics charged that the panel had become too cozy with developers.

But the Assembly Appropriations Committee added several exemptions to the measure, including for site visits. Another amendment urged the commission to adopt a policy prohibiting “undue influence” on staff. Some commissioners have defended their use of ex parte communications as necessary to offset reports and recommendations from staff biased in favor of environmentalists.

Other bills were held and, barring some procedural jujitsu, are finished for the year. The Senate decided to hold:

▪ Assembly Bill 828, which would have declared cars used by drivers for ride-for-hire services such as Uber and Lyft are not commercial vehicles. It was the latest skirmish in a years-long feud over regulating tech companies, and the ride-sharing companies came up short.

▪ Assembly Bill 1788, which would have shielded employees of the Legislature from intimidation or reprisals if they report malfeasance to their house’s ethics committee.

▪ Assembly Bill 1869, which would have called a special election allowing voters to amend Proposition 47, which reduced sentencing for some crimes, to make stealing a firearm punishable by a state prison sentence.

▪ Assembly Bill 1944, which would have exempted Olympic medals from California income taxes.

▪ Assembly Bill 1903, which would have directed the state to launch a long-term study of the health effects of the massive Aliso Canyon methane leak. A companion bill mandating a study of natural gas leak hazards, AB 1904, was also held.

The Assembly committee held:

▪ Senate Bill 816, imposing a lower limit for conflict of interest disclosures for campaign contributions to Board of Equalization members.

▪ Senate Bill 1014, allowing schools to provide leave to pregnant and parenting students without it being counted as an absence in the daily average attendance used to calculate funding.

▪ Senate Bill 1202, prohibiting courts from using aggravating facts to impose a maximum sentence unless those facts were tried before a jury and found true beyond a reasonable doubt.

Jeremy B. White: 916-326-5543, @CapitolAlert