Capitol Alert Breaking

Budget package includes changes to driver’s license law and welfare for drug felons

California’s budget agreement would make it easier for undocumented immigrants to get driver’s licenses, lift a lifetime ban on public assistance for people convicted of felony drug offenses, and impose a fee on “safe and sane” fireworks, according to parts of the legislation that began emerging Friday.

Lawmakers are scheduled to vote on the $156.4 billion package Sunday, the constitutional deadline for them to pass a state budget without losing any pay. On Friday, Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders made it clear that they had a deal.

“The leaders of the Legislature have worked very hard to build a solid and sustainable budget that pays down debt, brings stability to the teachers’ pension system and builds at long last a reliable Rainy Day Fund,” Brown said in a statement.

The package adds thousands of child care and preschool slots for low-income children, allows overtime for home caregivers, and includes a 5 percent increase in welfare-to-work payments. It also makes the first payment on a 30-year plan to eliminate an estimated $74.4 billion shortfall in the teachers pension fund. It contains a $459.5 million reserve and sets aside $1.6 billion for a rainy-day fund.

Hundreds of pages of other budget legislation now becoming public, however, include major provisions that had not been in Brown’s spending proposal and had no lengthy public discussion during weeks of budget hearings.

The plan’s transportation bill, for example, would remove a requirement in last year’s landmark law granting driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants that they submit affidavits acknowledging their lack of Social Security numbers.

Immigrant advocates and lawmakers backing the long-sought new program have aired concerns about the unintended consequences of immigrants publicly identifying themselves in an affidavit. Rather than signing affidavits saying they are ineligible for Social Security numbers – an indicator that they lack legal status – Assembly Bill 1458 and Senate Bill 853 would allow immigrant applicants to simply state their ineligibility on the license application when they become available next year.

“There was a lot of concern from immigrant communities that this (affidavit) could be put out there and have adverse consequences,” said Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville, the author of last year’s bill. “So rather than having to come up with a complex program to gather and protect information, we concluded it would be better to delete that provision, that it wasn’t essential or necessary.”

The budget’s public safety bill, meanwhile, would end a lifetime ban on public assistance for felons convicted of drug offenses. Under Assembly Bill 1468 and Senate Bill 863, people with felony convictions and who have children would be eligible for CalFresh and CalWORKs assistance, with an estimated cost of $11 million in 2014-15 and $32 million annually thereafter. Supporters say the change would help felons rebuild their lives and become contributing members of society.

Another late-arriving measure would impose a 10-cent-per-pound assessment on the distribution of “safe-and-sane” fireworks in California. The money would be used to pay for the disposal of hundreds of thousands of pounds of fireworks that are illegal in the state. Unlike most budget bills, the measure needs a two-thirds vote because it creates a new fee.

Assembly Bill 1471 and Senate Bill 866 follow the Legislature’s rejection last year of a Brown administration proposal to allocate general fund money for illegal fireworks disposal. Lawmakers also blocked a measure that would have allowed cities and counties to sell back unopened boxes of fireworks to manufacturers.

But representatives of nonprofit groups and legal fireworks manufacturers criticized the latest legislation as unfair and said it would hurt about 3,000 nonprofit groups that depend on pre-July 4 fireworks sales to raise money. Sacramento lobbyist Dennis C. Revell, whose clients include TNT Fireworks, said he only learned of the proposed fee Wednesday night.

“The problem is that the state is not stopping (illegal fireworks) from coming across the border,” Revell said. “If you expect local government to be the first line of defense, it’s not fair. And it’s not fair to nonprofits and the fireworks community.”

The budget plan would also allocate an estimated $870 million in cap-and-trade fees paid by carbon producers in 2014-15, including $250 million for the high-speed rail project championed by Brown.

As of Friday evening, however, the cap-and-trade legislation had yet to emerge, possibly delaying a Sunday vote on that measure. Some Democrats, particularly in the Senate, have balked at giving so much money to the bullet train, and to appropriate it continuously.

Also remaining to be seen was a budget-related measure that will contain various tax incentives for the solar industry.

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