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In the Capitol, it rains bills: 139 a day to be exact

February 18 is the 49th day of the year. It’s also the day, in 1930, Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto which, he’d be sad to learn, is no longer considered a planet. In 1861, Jefferson Davis was sworn in as the first president of the Confederate States of America. It’s Wendell Wilkie and Dr. Dre’s birthday and the day Michelangelo, Harry Carey and Robert Oppenheimer died.

It was also the deadline for state lawmakers to introduce bills for the first year of the two-year legislative session.

Committee bills can be put across the desk later – as can resolutions – but for an individual bill authored by a senator or an Assembly member, Yoko Ono’s birthday is the last day to introduce it.

State lawmakers are aware of the deadline. They introduced 2,023 bills during the shortest month of the year – up from 248 in January and 177 in December.  

During the month, the 40-member Senate introduced 792 new pieces of the legislation, 14 concurrent resolutions, two constitutional amendments and two Senate resolutions.

The 80-member Assembly created 1,183 new bills, three constitutional amendments, 19 concurrent resolutions, four joint resolutions and three house resolutions.

Measures introduced on or before Feb. 18 totaled 1,950. There were 14 working days through the 18th, which means bills were introduced at an average rate of 139.3 per day.

All told, there’s at least 2,440 individual pieces of legislation – including resolutions, which are just dandified letters, awaiting the attention of the state’s 120 lawmakers.

Apparently they are able to multi-task far more effectively than Gov. Jerry Brown, who is focused almost exclusively on resolving the state’s $25.4 billion budget mess.

Among the hundreds of topics covered by the legislation are: apiaries, rabies, fire-fighting, nurse-to-patient ratios, nuclear fission thermal power plants, cruelty to animals, strangulation, tax conformity, energy efficiency, satellite wagering, restraining orders, shark fins, retired public accountants, the Mendocino Woodlands Outdoor Center, rural health, a “sweetened beverage tax,” speed limits, elections, bleeding disorders, ski or toboggan safety, possessory interests, poaching, debt collection, healing arts, audiology, treated wood waste, ammunition, horse racing, pregnant inmates, automated traffic enforcement systems, plastic bags, cemetery districts, sex offenders and expungement.

To name only a few.

While not necessarily edifying, it can be educational examining some of February’s legislative offerings.

For example, freshman Assemblyman Mike Gatto, a Glendale Democrat, wants the Energy Commission to research the feasibility of generating electricity by placing “piezoelectric transducers” under state highways.

The commission, Gatto’s bill says, must collaborate with Caltrans to “establish a pilot project that would employ piezo-based energy harvesting technology.”

Piezoelectric transducers are devices that create an electric field when pressure is put on them. In-car cigarette lighters are an example of piezoelectricity: Push in the lighter, it heats up.

So, in theory, transducers could be buried under roadways and as vehicles drive over them electricity would be generated, which, in turn, using Gatto’s word, would somehow be “harvested.”

Sen. Tom Berryhill, a Modesto Republican, introduced SB 605 relating to “implements of husbandry.”

The two-paragraph measure’s principle purpose appears to change “which” to “that” in the definition of “implements of husbandry” which are not tools but vehicles used solely for agricultural purposes.

A reader also learns –kind of – what constitutes “cyber bullying.”

Five bills and one resolution deal with physical bullying. One – AB 746 by Assemblywoman Nora Campos, a San Jose Democrat – addresses cyber bullying.

It is defined as bullying done “by means of an electronic act, which includes the posting of messages on a social network Internet website.”

An “electronic act” is defined as the “transmission of a communication, including, but not necessarily limited to, a message, text, sound or image or a post on a social network Internet website by means of an electronic device, including, but not limited to, a telephone, wireless telephone or other wireless communication device, computer or pager.”

Also of interest is a bill by Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, a Berkeley Democrat, which wishes to regulate the “reflectivity (albedo) of pavement to reduce the urban heat island effect.”

Albedo is the ratio between the amount of light reflected from a material to the amount of light that is shone on it. In the case of pavement, the higher the albedo, the better. A low albedo means heat is being absorbed by the pavement, making it hotter.

This, in turn, contributes to the “urban heat island effect,” which basically means that cities are hotter than rural areas because what were once permeable surfaces – like dirt – are now covered with concrete, asphalt and roofs.

That elevates the temperature in cities and suburbs relative to their less developed surroundings.

Like dozens and dozens of other measures in the legislative hopper, Skinner’s bill doesn’t actually do anything. Yet.    

All her bill does at the moment is express a desire to combat this “urban heat island effect.”

This desire is expressed in her bill – and countless others – by the phrase “Would declare the intent of the Legislature to” do this-that-or-the-other.

One bill, AB 961, declares the intent to “enact legislation that would reform public pension systems.” No definition is offered as to what constitutes “reform.”

In AB 913, Assemblyman Mike Feuer, a Los Angeles Democrat, declares the Legislature’s intent to “establish a program to provide for the voluntary certification of businesses that adopt environmentally preferable business practices.”

Other “intent” bills wish to pass laws relating to education finance, enterprise zones, bicycle lanes, streamlining the public notification process for the release of prison inmates and improving the “health and safety of elementary and secondary school pupils.”

What right-thinking Republican or Democrat could vote against AB 234 whose intent is “to ensure that all Californians have access to fresh produce and healthy food options?”
The most common type of bill, however, is one that makes “technical, nonsubstantive changes.”

From AB 825 through AB 850, for example, nine bills make only “technical, nonsubstantive changes” to existing law.

One makes a “nonsubstantive, technical change.”

It’s unclear if there is a distinction between a “nonsubstantive, technical change” and a “technical, nonsubstantive change.”

Another measure, AB 836, merely would make ”nonsubstantive changes.”

And, AB 844, says it is “declaratory of existing law,” meaning it repeats something that is already in the code books.

Mike Alpert, former state Sen. Dede Alpert’s husband and a long-time member of the Little Hoover Commission, routinely urged his wife to convince her colleagues in the state Legislature they should switch to the federal legislative model.

That way, he argued, the thousands of
bills – many inconsequential given their nonsubstantive or technical nature – would be replaced with omnibus bills the size of New York’s Yellow Pages.

Madam senator would laugh good-naturedly and reply:
“We’d just make the same mischief in the big bills.”

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