Dan Walters: Many bills remaining for California Legislature

dwalters@sacbee.comJune 18, 2013 

Dan Walters

With the state budget behind them and three months remaining in the 2013 legislative session, do lawmakers have much left to do?

Well, yes – and no.

Hundreds of bills remain to be processed in the few weeks remaining before the midsummer vacation recess and the month after the recess, but while several are controversial and at least semi-important, there's nothing of cosmic importance.

As they completed action on the budget and associated trailer bills late last week, members of the Assembly also voted for a constitutional amendment that would lower the vote requirement for local government bond issues from two-thirds to 55 percent.

It's not a massive change, since school bonds already are at 55 percent, but it is a symbolic exercise of the Assembly's 55-seat Democratic supermajority, allowing it to pass measures, such as constitutional amendments, that require two-thirds legislative votes.

The Senate also has a Democratic supermajority, but its leaders have decided to postpone action on the bond issue measure, as well as a raft of other constitutional amendments making it easier to approve new bonds and taxes, until at least next year.

One thing the budget package didn't include was Gov. Jerry Brown's proposal to eliminate enterprise zones – locally designated areas in which employers can receive hefty tax breaks for hiring new workers – and replace them with more specific business tax breaks.

That means enterprise zones and their $700-plus million cost remain on the summer's agenda with the outcome uncertain. While the campaign against enterprise zones spreads its propaganda about businesses such as strip clubs receiving such benefits, the pro-zone forces are countering with propaganda about the program's supposed benefits.

An odd-bedfellows alliance of labor unions and free-enterprise Republicans wants to do away with enterprise zones while Republicans and Democrats with zones in their districts tend to support them, which makes assembling votes for the governor's alternative plan uncertain.

Other issues on the summer agenda include:

• A raft of bills aimed at restoring California's position as having the nation's most restrictive gun laws.

• Bids by several medical subgroups, such as nurses, to gain "scope of practice" authority now held exclusively by physicians.

• Reforming Proposition 65, the 1986-vintage ballot measure that requires businesses to tell consumers about the presence of cancer-causing chemicals.

• A measure that would hike the state's minimum wage from $8 to $9.25 per hour in stages, and then make increases keyed to inflation thereafter.

• A union-backed bill that would require businesses whose employees receive Medi-Cal health care benefits to pay fees to offset taxpayers' costs – a measure clearly aimed at Wal-Mart.

Call The Bee's Dan Walters, (916) 321-1195. Back columns, www.sacbee.com/walters. Follow him on Twitter @WaltersBee.

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