Lawmakers depart, but bills remain for Brown to ponder

The lawmakers are out of town, the Capitol is quiet and the governor is back at his desk after a Vegas trip.

But as the lawmakers fled back to their districts, they deposited scores of bills on the desk of Gov. Brown, who has a month to sign them, veto them or let them become law without his signature. Since he actually reads the bills – not all governors do, believe it or not – and actually writes his own veto messages, he’ll be at his desk quite awhile.

Here are some thumbnail descriptions of what he’s looking at.

There’s SB 397, by Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, that would start to bring civic participation into the digital age, allowing Californians to securely register to vote online. While still necessary to leave the house on Election Day, it’s one less convenient excuse for not voting, especially for those pesky 18- to 24-year-olds who like to talk a big game about participation and engagement but can’t seem to back it up with action outside their Twitter accounts. Who knows: Maybe a text-in-your-vote proposal is just a few sessions away.

There’s more than one way to create a green economy, as suggested by Sen. Mark Leno, D- San Francisco, whose SB 676 allows hemp cultivation for industrial purposes. Not to be mistaken with marijuana, industrial hemp contains no more than 3/10 of 1 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the plant’s psychoactive, munchies-inducing compound. A sustainable crop mired in stigma for years, hemp is already used in plenty of healthy food, textile, and natural body care products on the market. Just ask the nearest hipster on the nutritional benefits of hemp milk. According to the bill, California is already home to 55 percent of the nation’s hemp product companies, part of a $400 million industry growing at a rate of $26 million per year.  

Women make up more than half of California’s labor force, according to the Economic Development Department, and a batch of bills by Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, Assemblymembers Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, and Roger Hernandez, D- West Covina, addresses one of the workplace’s greatest gender challenges: pregnancy. SB 222 by Evans would assure individual health insurance policies provide coverage for maternity services. Hernandez’s AB 210 would do the same for group policies.  SB 299 by Evans prohibits an employer from refusing to maintain and pay for coverage under a group health plan for an employee who takes pregnancy leave. And Lara’s SB 592 closes a gap in California law that failed to define employer “interference” with an employee’s ability to take pregnancy leave as an independent basis for liability. The bill would match California law to the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) standard.

A fair number of bills protecting LGBT rights also managed to survive the end of session. AB 887 Assemblymember Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, clarifies that the existing state protections from gender discrimination also include a person’s “gender identity and gender-related appearance and behavior whether or not stereotypically associated with the person’s assigned sex at birth.”

Another bill by Sen. Christine Kehoe addresses disparities experienced by the LGBT community in medical and mental health care quality due to the industries’ lack of familiarity with LGBT-specific health issues. Though opponents argue that continuing education courses the bill would require should not be handled with legislation, the American Medical Association has made public calls to improve the education of health care personnel regarding best practices for LGBT patients since 1996, with little to no avail. California has previously adopted legislative mandates for continuing medical education for pain management and palliative end-of-life care.

Two-Year Bills
Assemblyman Mike Feuer, D-Los Angeles, has legislation regulating health insurance rates that incited a deluge of lobbying this session, but for now its fate is to be continued. Another hard-fought bill, AB 52 to protect policyholders from excessive rate increases by giving the Department of Managed Health Care and Department of Insurance the authority to deny or approve health care insurance rates, was shelved due to the lack of Senate support, the death knell of many previous attempts at the same.

The bill has some powerful opponents, including the California Medical Association and The California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS), who argue the expensive bureaucracy and interference with HMO rate setting would come at the cost of patients. But, according to the United Health Foundation, 19.3 percent of Californians remain uninsured, which probably has more than a little something to do with our ranking as the 12th most expensive state for health care costs in a study by the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council.

Californian’s right to take home leftovers for the polystyrene graveyard of stale food in the back of the fridge remains secure for now. Alan Lowenthal’s controversial Styrofoam ban, SB 568, is nestled away in the Assembly’s inactive file. If passed it would be the first of its kind in the nation, forbidding vendors and school districts from serving food in polystyrene containers. The ban was labeled a “job killer” by the California Chamber of Commerce for threatening manufacturing jobs and “ignoring the numerous environmental benefits associated with polystyrene products.” Are those listed in the chapter following, “The Advantages of Plastic Shopping Bags” that recently lobbied its way into California textbooks?

The exciting conclusion to battle of flat versus fitted bed sheets will have to wait for another session. Sen. Kevin De Leon, D- Los Angeles, authored AB 432,  which was postponed by committee. It would create new occupational safety and health standards for all hotels, requiring them to provide ergonomic equipment for housekeeping staff. Although opponents expressed willingness to comply with many of the bill’s requirements, the most contentious item was over the use of fitted sheets. And as anyone who’s sat through a 20-minute hearing that boiled down to a debate on the easiest way to make a bed can attest, it’s not a subject to be taken lightly. The strain of lifting dozens of 100- lb, mattresses daily, needed to tuck in flat sheets, can cause severe injury leaving some housekeepers permanently impaired.

Another source of revenue bites the dust with the Public Goods Charge’s expiration, some $350 million collected annually for the state’s energy efficiency and renewable research from 1.5 percent levy on corporate electricity bills. Opponents found the charge’s inefficiencies outweighed Gov. Brown’s endorsement of its job-creating-economy-stimulating potential.

The outcry against Assemblyman Jose Solorio, D-Anaheim, over his  Displace Property Service Employee bill, was followed by a sigh of relief after it failed on the Senate floor. AB 350 would have expanded the existing law requiring contractors to retain janitors employed by the previous property owners of a site, to include the same protection for security guards, landscape, window cleaning, and cafeteria services.

 Opponents saw the bill as an attempt to placate unions, and another unnecessary burden for the California job market.

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