Taxes, toxics, ballot shift, circumcision, Palin, fins, and more

“California nearing ban of toxic chemical in baby products,” reads the headline of the press release issued Tuesday evening by Assemblywoman Betsy Butler’s office.
Well, maybe.

The freshman Democrat from Marina Del Rey did manage to get her AB 1319 to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk. The bill — which would ban the chemical bisphenol A (BPA) from bottles, “sippy cups” and some other children’s products — made it out of the Assembly a second time, when the body approved amendments added by the Senate.

It’s something a pair of well-known veteran Senators failed to do in the past. A similar bill carried by then-Sen. Carole Migden narrowly failed to pass in 2008, as did a bill last year by Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Santa Monica. Pavley was the original author of AB 32, the landmark global warming law Arnold Schwarzenegger signed in 2006.

“Despite intense lobbying by the chemical industry, protecting the health of our children has prevailed,” Butler said in a statement. “With the governor’s signature, California will finally join numerous other states and countries in banning this toxic chemical and protecting our most vulnerable citizens.”

But some environmentalists, Capitol sources say, are holding their breath over this bill and some other pieces of legislation as the legislative year draws to a close. They say signals from the Brown administration indicate that the recycled governor is sceptical of some of the environmental causes being pushed by Democrats in the Legislature.

Butler’s office, meanwhile, pointed to a pair of support letters sent to Brown — one from U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the other from Deborah Raphael, the director of the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC). Under Schwarzenegger, the DTSC often opposed so-called “chemical by chemical” bans, saying they conflicted with the Green Chemistry effort. In her letter, Raphael endorsed that ongoing project but took a different view, saying “DTSC does not believe that the regulations should ever be viewed as excluding action the Legislature might take to address specific product related concerns.”

Shark fins

Another big piece of environmental legislation to get out is AB 376, a ban on shark fin soup, which passed the Senate on a 25-9 vote on Tuesday. The bill was carried by Assemblymen Paul Fong, D-Mountain View, and Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael.

The legislation comes in response to dramatic declines in shark populations around the world, which many say is driven by the appetite among older, affluent Chinese for the delicacy, traditionally served at weddings and other special occasions. Celebrities like recently-retired Chinese basketball star Yao Ming have led a highly-publicized campaign against shark fin soup.

The loss of sharks and other top predators actually hurts commercial fish stocks, and sharks help control voracious populations of mid-sized predators. Hawaii, Oregon and Washington have all passed similar bills in recent months.

Sacramento water

The governor did sign a piece of environmental legislation of regional importance on Tuesday.

That was AB 134 by Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, which could increase water recycling in the Capitol area. According to Dickinson’s office, it allows “the Sacramento Regional County Sanitation District to apply to the State Water Resources Control Board for a water rights permit,” the major legal hurdle to large-scale water recycling.

An L.A. Stadium, redux

Another noted piece of legislation in the environmental arena is SB 292 by Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles.

This is the latest in a long line of “L.A. stadium” bills intended to draw an NFL team back to the nation’s second-largest media market. The bill would speed any California Environmental Quality Act challenges involving the proposed Convention and Events Center project in downtown Los Angeles, and also provides for public participation during the CEGA process. The bill got some key support this week from the Natural Resources Defense Council and the League of Conservation Voters, but, as of press time, remained stalled in a pair of Assembly committees.

It also could apply to other projects around California – an apparent move to get other lawmakers on board.

SB 8, UC Transparency

Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, got one of his key bills signed by Brown this week. SB 8 requires that “auxiliary organizations” working with the state’s colleges and universities be subject to the California Public Records Act.

The bill came out of a speech by Sarah Palin at a $500-a-plate school fundraiser at CSU Stanislaus in June of last year. The fees and expenses paid to Palin for that speech were negotiated by the CSU Stanislaus Foundation, which functioned as an outside entity “despite being fully staffed by taxpayer-funded employees,” as Yee put it in a press release at the time. Along the way, there were the fun cloak-and-dagger details of school officials shredding documents related to the Palin appearance, and a pair of students finding some unshredded documents in a dumpster.

The school ultimately said they’d paid Palin $75,000. Yee criticized this amount, noting that not long before she’s spoken to an Oregon Republican club for only $35,000. The school said it made a $207,000 profit on the evening. Schwarzenegger vetoed a very similar Yee bill, SB 330, a year ago.

AB 768, local circumcision ban ban

Reacting directly to a local effort in San Francisco, the Assembly gave final approval and sent to the governor AB 768, adopting Senate Amendments on the bill to ban local laws banning male circumcision.

The bill, by Assemblymembers Fiona Ma and Mike Gatto, D-Los Angeles, came in a response to measure which would go to San Francisco voters in November. That initiative would ban circumcisions on anyone under 18 (and really, who is going to get one as an adult?).

Proponents of a ban on circumcisions say the experience is traumatic for young boys and results in less sensation in adulthood. Supporters of male circumcision note studies showing that circumcised men are less apt to pass on venereal diseases. In fact, some people who work on AIDS in Africa say increasing circumcision rates would be the single most cost-effective thing they could do.

But most of that didn’t really come into play here. Instead, the bill got tied up into charges of who is and isn’t anti-Semitic.
Gatto, incidentally, is not Jewish. But the Jewish members of the Legislature have formed a key lobbying block for the bill. In June, Rep. Mike Sherman, D-San Fernando Valley, who is Jewish, introduced a bill similar to AB 768 in Congress.

Fire tax/fee

If you were looking for a bill that neatly encapsulates the differences between Democrats and Republicans in California, you could do worse than the proposed rise in firefighting fees on rural (read: Republican) Californians.

The new fees are contained in a pair of majority vote trailer bills. Fighting forest fires near homes costs the state hundreds of millions a year, with the cost offset by a fee (or tax) paid by rural homeowners. Presently, that fee was set at a flat $90 by the state fire board. The Democratic proposal would raise that a minimum of $175, with additional fees for multi-structure properties. The fee/tax affects nearly a quarter-million rural structures.

Democrats argue that the current system unfairly subsidizes rural property owners. Republicans say the bill violates last year’s Proposition 26 and should be subject to a two-thirds vote, which would allow them to reject it. Stay tuned for lawsuits.

Other bills:

AB 101: Unionizing home care workers. The Democratic leaders in the Legislature are still pushing a bill that would allow 40,000 homecare workers paid by the state to unionize. While some of the more controversial portions have been taken out, Republicans oppose efforts to interfere with the hiring of these workers, who often include family members of the people being cared for.

Amazon tax: After replying to a bill that would force them to collect sales tax from customers, the giant Internet retailer started pushing its own initiative campaign, then sought a compromise and delay measure. But Democrats appear to have hardened their position, apparently sensing public support. At a Capitol press conference on Tuesday, Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, scoffed at Amazon’s promised numbers for new jobs: “Is it Amazon’s intention to double their workforce? I don’t think so.”

SB 202: This bill would push all initiatives to the November ballot. Who likes high turnout elections? Democrats — especially when it comes to initiatives, which represent just about the only place left where California Republicans can push their ideas. The bill by Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Oakland, actually doesn’t say that as of press time; instead, it relates to filing fees. But there’s fevered talk of a gut-and-amend, which has the GOP scared. Pushing initiatives during low-turnout primaries — when voters tend to be older, whiter and fewer — has been a favorite strategy.

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