In many years, the Legislature’s approval of a $4 billion housing bond and a $75 tax on homeowners who refinance to help solve California’s housing crisis would be a signature achievement.
In other years, approval of a $5.2 billion a year tax on gasoline to repair and maintain California’s rutted freeways would be a big deal. The gas tax hadn’t been touched in decades.
Add to that the extension of a cap-and-trade program, which will generate north of $2 billion a year through 2030, and bills to require transparency from the pharmaceutical industry, and protect law-abiding undocumented immigrants from federal overreach and deportation, and you have the remarkable 2017 legislative session.
Just as legislators are quick to pat themselves on the backs, editorial writers are happy to offer jaundiced perspective. Certainly, there were underhanded deals, petty rivalries and goofy bills. Yes, there was bipartisan agreement to name the duck-billed Augustynolophus morrisi California’s official dinosaur.
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But legislators, led by Speaker Anthony Rendon and Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, who is in the final year before he is termed out of the Legislature, did some thoughtful work on bills that will affect Californians’ lives. Congress ought to take note, not that it will.
In some instances, legislators cast votes that placed their political futures at risk, to their credit. Sen. Josh Newman, a Democrat who won a Fullerton-area seat that had been held by Republicans, faces a Republican-fueled recall, purportedly for his vote in favor of the gasoline tax.
Assemblyman Chad Mayes, R-Yucca Valley, incurred the wrath of Republican Party bosses and lost his position as Assembly GOP leader after voting for the measure to extend the cap-and-trade program. All voters should want all legislators to vote their consciences, regardless of political consequences.
Although most major bills passed on party line votes, Republicans joined Democratic majorities on noteworthy measures. Assemblyman Brian Maienschein of San Diego County and Contra Costa County Assemblywoman Catharine Baker voted for the housing bond, to be placed before voters in November 2018.
Republicans Baker and Maienschein broke from their caucus to vote for Senate Bill 63 which would extend job protection for new parents who work for employers with as few as 20 employees. Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, one of the most liberal legislators, carried SB 63.
The California Chamber of Commerce calls Jackson’s bill a job killer and is urging Gov. Jerry Brown to veto it. We hope he signs it. New parents ought to be able to spend 12 weeks, at least, bonding with their child without worrying they will be fired.
There was bipartisan support for several lesser noticed but significant measures. Take, for example, Senate Bill 384 by Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco. Wiener, one of the most liberal members of the Legislature, carried legislation endorsed by the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office to whittle down the registry of sex offenders, which numbers an unwieldy 100,000 names.
The bill would create a tiered system for sex offenders, and result in some lower risk offenders being removed from the registry. Sens. Joel Anderson of San Diego County, John Moorlach of Orange County and Andy Vidak of Visalia, three of the most conservative Republicans, crossed party lines to vote for it.
Sen. Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica, brokered a deal that won near unanimous support to allow off-road aficionados to continue to pursue their hobby in California. If only Congress could work out such compromises.
In Washington and in many states controlled by Republicans, organized labor is under assault. Not here. In California, labor led the fight for the drug transparency measure, SB 17 by Sen. Ed Hernandez, D-Azusa. In too many other instances, however, labor fought for bills that were in their organizations’ narrow self-interest. Democrats, many of whom owe their seats to labor, went along. There was a notable exception.
Rendon defied the California Nurses Association by spiking half-baked legislation by Sens. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, and Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, to create a single-payer, universal health care system. Rendon has called for study that will go on in the interim. That makes sense. Sweeping measures require thought.
Legislators have their work cut out between now and the Legislature’s return in January. Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Los Angeles, and Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Oakland, will be studying an overhaul of the bail system.
Brown, who will be a lame duck for the last time next year, hopes to join with neighboring states in a Western regional electricity grid. But whatever legislators produce in 2018, it probably won’t match what they accomplished in 2017.
Correction: An earlier version cited an earlier bill number for SB 384.