California lawmakers, many elected by razor-thin margins in districts where the turnout was historically low, were formally sworn in Monday for the two-year session.
The Senate is poised to run light in the New Year – with three members heading to Congress. A fourth seat will be filled later this month when former Sen. Rod Wright is replaced in an election for the 35th District. The others will be filled in the spring after Gov. Brown calls special elections to determine the replacements.
Even on the first day, the battle lines were being drawn for the 2015-16 session: Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, demanded “zero-based budgeting with a thorough public discussion ” for the University of California, which recently approved a new round of tuition increases.
Scores crossed the desks of both houses as new legislation was introduced.
Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, introduced legislation to boost the minimum wage to $11 in two years, while Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, introduced a bill to direct most of the money from a $1.4 billion fine against Pacific Gas and Electric Co. to go to pipeline safety. The fine was levied in the wake of the 2010 San Bruno gas pipeline explosion.
Within hours of the opening of session, Atkins’ call for zero-based budgeting — in which expenditures must be justified anew in each fiscal period — met with a positive response from Assembly Republicans. “We have long been champions of zero-based budgeting … I really think it’s going to be a great year working together on those priorities,” said newly named Assembly GOP Leader Kristin Olsen, R-Modesto.
Republicans renewed their push to exempt transportation fuels — including gasoline and diesel — from long-scheduled rules that take effect Jan. 1.
Under California’s laws curbing greenhouse gases, the makers of transportation fuels can continue to operate if they obtain emission credits at state-sanctioned auctions, a process that starts in January. The law, AB 32, requires carbon emissions to be cut to 1990 levels by 2020. Other industrial sectors have obtained the emission allowances at the cap-and-trade auctions, but some Republicans said Monday that including the transportation fuels would lead to gas tax increases.
The Leader of the Moderate Democratic Caucus Assemblymember Henry Perea, D-Fresno, who introduced his own transportation fuel exemption bill last session, is now pushing the Assembly to require California’s Air Resources Board to recommend specific statewide emissions reduction targets post-2020. Perea’s earlier, unsuccessful legislation was similar to what the Republicans proposed today
Voter-approved term limits, allowing a lawmaker to serve up to 12 years in a single house of the Legislature, appeared to take hold.
“We expect that there will be a more deliberate pace with respect to policy making. The makeup of the Senate has changed. We have 10 newly elected senators, and on top of that there will be four special elections between now and the Spring….the makeup is in flux,” said Peter DeMarco, a spokesman for the Senate Republicans.