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End of session: Stakes high, bills abound, time short

GOP Assembly members, from left, James Gallagher, Shannon Grove, Ling Ling Chang and Marie Waldron confer prior to a recent budget vote. (Photo: Rich Pedroncelli/AP)

The California Legislature faces a lengthy to-do list for the final days of this year’s session and little time to get it done.

In what promises to be one of the busiest sessions in recent memory, lawmakers convene Monday and face a midnight Sept. 11 deadline to finish their work on hundreds of bills.  In addition, Gov. Jerry Brown has called two special sessions to deal with transportation and health care costs. To see a rundown of  major bills, click here.

A long list of opponents is lined up to try to kill Pavley’s measure, SB 32. Heading the list is the California Chamber of Commerce.

When Brown signed the state budget in June he called for the sessions, which allow lawmakers to accelerate actions on legislation.

“This is a sound, well thought-out budget,” Brown said in June “Yet, the work never ends and in the coming months we’ll have to manage our resources with the utmost prudence and find more adequate funding for our roads and health care programs.”

Beyond the special sessions, hundreds of regular session measures, ranging from climate change to sex education, await action. More than 600 bills await action in the two appropriations committees.

Priorities for Senate Leader Kevin de León  (D-Los Angeles) include a package of bills dealing with climate change.Perhaps most contentious is written by by Sen. Fran Pavley (D–Agoura Hills), would requires the Air Resources Board to reduce statewide greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below the 1990 level by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050.

A long list of opponents is lined up to try to kill the measure, SB 32, in the Assembly Appropriations Committee. Heading the list is the California Chamber of Commerce, which has targeted the measure as a “job killer”—its designation for legislation that it claims will make the state less economically competitive.

One bill would require “all students to receive comprehensive sexual health education twice between grades 7 through 12 and expand existing HIV prevention education.

Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) has a measure, AB 1335, that would impose higher fees on real estate transactions to shell support housing for low-income individuals and families.

The bill will require a fee of $75 per real estate documents, excluding sales.

County recorders are opposed to bill, arguing that exempting documents recorded in connection with a real estate purchase would unfairly burden lower income people. They are also concerned that the $75 fee may deter individuals from recording documents, which would weaken the land record system.

But Atkins insists the money is needed to help fill the state’s housing shortage. “It’s absolutely necessary that we act now to create a permanent source of funding for affordable housing. Increasing the construction, building, and availability of affordable housing is good for the economy and jobs, the budget, and families,” Atkins said in a press release.

Provoking interest nationwide is a sex education bill, AB 329, by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber (D-San Diego). The bill would require “all students to receive comprehensive sexual health education twice between grades 7 through 12 and modify and expand the existing HIV prevention instruction mandate.” The Senate Appropriations Committee reported receiving both international and out of state phone calls with concerns regarding the bill, including calls from Canada and Florida.

Awaiting action in the Senate Education Committee is a bill, AB 573, that would assist students with unfinished degrees and student loans at the bankrupt Corinthian Colleges: Heald, Wyotech and Everest. Ten of the campuses were in California, affecting some 13,000 students.

Pending is AB 187, which would extend the managed-care program, California Children’s Services, for about 195,000 children with severe and rare diseases.

Existing law states that loan forgiveness is available to students in cases where they cannot transfer credits to new schools. The Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education offers the California Tuition Recovery Fund, which is only available to students who attended WyoTech and Everest colleges only.

The bill by Assemblyman Jose Medina (D-Riverside) would waive the California community college fee of $46 per unit and provide legal assistance to low-income students wishing to not owe any more money on their loans.

It will also restore the years of Cal Grant eligibility for students harmed by the year limits as well as increase the Student Loan Recovery Fund from $25 million to $50 million.

“An estimated 13,000 individuals were affected by the Corinthian Colleges closure, this bill will provide important economic relief and educational opportunity to these students,” Medina said.

Pending in Senate Appropriations Committee is a bill, AB 187, that would extend the existing managed-care program, California Children’s Services, for about 195,000 children with severe and rare diseases. The program is scheduled to end in January 2016, and the bill, introduced by Assemblymember Rob Bonta (D-Oakland), would extend it for another year.

The Brown administration wants Legislature to restructure it into a Medi-Cal program named Whole Child Model. The Department of Health Care Services released the plan earlier this year, and it would begin to move one third of CCS children in 19 counties into managed care by 2017. Currently, there is no bill or legislative author, but that could change when Legislature reconvenes on August 17.

Four children’s advocacy groups have expressed concerns that the changes are too soon and that it’s unnecessary to abandon an effective program for a new one.

“This transportation crisis requires that we look at everything,” said Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff (R-San Dimas).

“It’s important to take more time to decide the future of the CCS program,” said Kelly Hardy, Director of Health Policy with Children Now. “There is no urgency to change the program. There are many ways CCS can be improved, but the proper protections and a process needs to be in place so that the child care is not disrupted because they are vulnerable.”

The special session on transportation will cover issues on funding state highways, local streets, roads and bridges. Current tax revenues are only sufficient to fund $2.3 billion in annual highway repairs, leaving $5.7 billion in unfunded repairs each year based on the latest estimate of the state’s deferred maintenance.

“This transportation crisis requires that we look at everything,” said Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff (R-San Dimas). “That includes reforming how we build and improve our roads, ensuring that process is more transparent.”

One of the bills in this package is SB 1X-12 by Senator Sharon Runner (R-Antelope Valley).

“We don’t need more money, we need to direct the money.”

Runner said her bill would increase transparency by creating “an opportunity to audit” Caltrans’ operations. She argued, “There’s all kinds of things they can do to regulate things better,” and added, “I’m frustrated every time I drive.”

“Caltrans is trying to be more efficient but they don’t really know how, it’s a monster of a bureaucracy,” she said. She said by redirecting funds rather than collecting additional funds, more progress could be made.

“We don’t need more money, we need to direct the money.” She added, “[Gas tax] doesn’t necessarily need to be increased, but used more efficiently.

To returning taxing authority to local authorities, Senator Pat Bates’ (R-Laguna Niguel) bill, SB 10, would give “more local control to the process by converting the State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) into a grant program.” This would give local agencies the ability to use federal grants and streamline project approval to expedite projects.

The second special session will address healthcare funding. The state will be forced to make more than $1 billion in program cuts beginning next year if the managed care organization tax is not extended. A number of bills would increase tobacco tax to help pay for Medi-Cal, the state’s version of Medicare.

Legislators expect a lot of work with the upcoming sessions, yet are optimistic for what they will accomplish.

“[We] remain committed to supporting legislation that will lead to new job and business creation, and remain ready to work with our counterparts on the other side of the aisle to accomplish these goals,” said Senate Minority Leader Huff.

Ed’s Note: Shannon Flaherty,  Jessica Hice, Vanessa Magee and Sawson Morrar are reporters with Capitol News, a project of the University of California Center Public-Affairs Journalism Program.

 


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