Golden State Follies - Fun and Games in California's Capitol

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California is one of only ten states that has a full time legislature and its two-year sessions wind up during the hottest time of the year when temperatures regularly exceed 100 degrees. The end of August was no exception. Our legislative session still tracks the agricultural calendar, ending in time for harvest, reflecting the agrarian economy of 19th century California. The calendar is not the only thing that needs to be modernized to reflect the way we live today.  Public concern about public health and the environment is too often lost amid the lobbying forces in the halls of our State Capitol. Corporate dollars still compete to crowd out the public interest. When the clock struck twelve on the last night of session last month, there was still a lot of unfinished business. And of course there’s the matter of the State Budget that has yet to be acted on. 

While there was progress on some fronts, the next governor and legislature have several important policies to get right, including:

Renewable Energy (SB 722, Simitian) - Remarkably broad agreement was reached on the last day of session, then the clock ran out. California is ready to set the most ambitious renewable energy target in the country – 33% by 2020, but a series of last minute demands eating up what little time was left, conspired to leave this major initiative incomplete for the year. Getting this law on the books is a critical building block for California’s growing clean energy economy.

What’s next: There’s talk of a special session, budget linkage and administrative action at the Air Resources Board and Public Utilities Commission, but the most enduring way to send a clear message to the market for clean energy is a law. With all the progress made, early action is quite possible. 

Toxic Baby Bottles (SB 797, Pavley) – Chemical manufacturers used scare tactics and campaign dollars to keep this bill from moving to the governor’s desk. It would have banned the use of bisphenol A (BPA), which is known to cause harmful health effects, especially in children, from products like baby bottles, sippy cups, infant food and formula containers. 

What’s next: The State is proceeding to list BPA on the Prop 65 list. We still need a law, possible federal action.

Plastic Bags (AB 1998, Brownley) – The American Chemistry Council invested heavily to stop a broadly supported ban on single-use plastic bags. Grocers, the public, the media, the entertainment community, public interests groups and more, along with a traveling giant turtle, agreed to a phase out of plastic bags, but corporate dollars said no.

What’s next: Local communities concerned about the waste, litter and cost of bags that get used and thrown away after just one use, too often ending up in the ocean and neighborhoods, are already taking matters in to their own hands with their own municipal regulations. Faced with a crazy quilt of local regulations, expect to see retailers back in Sacramento seeking consistent State regulation.

Water Rights Enforcement (SB 565, Pavley) – Following up on the historic package of water policy reforms enacted last fall, this bill would have given the State Water Board the authority it needs to effectively enforce existing water rights and stop illegal diversions that are alarmingly common in California, sucking water away from farms and rivers that need reliable flows.  Perhaps it was “water fatigue” that led to this one getting stuck on the Assembly floor, but just making existing rules work better should not be so controversial.  

What’s next: We’re evaluating how to proceed, whether that’s an administrative fix or another try on legislation, is not clear yet.

When the legislative session started, the environmental community girded to play defense against a slew of bills that would have done everything from derailing AB 32, California’s landmark clean energy bill, to gutting some of the key transparency provisions from the California Environmental Quality Act. It’s good news that none of these damaging proposals made it to the governor’s desk. At the end of session there were a few threats to do end runs around agency environmental requirements, for example, Los Angeles Department of Water & Power wanted special treatment for a coastal power plants, and there was a last minute effort to exempt new big box stores from environmental review, but heads-up work by public interest advocates stopped these cold.

Some worthy bills improving environmental management did make it to the governor’s desk and await his signature. He has until the end of September to sign them. We hope he does.

Community Investments (AB 1405, De Leon) – This is a creative approach to directing resources to neighborhoods most harmed by the pollution that contributes to global warming. It sets a community benefits fund from revenues generated by California’s climate program to mitigate health impacts in disadvantaged communities.

Clean Jobs Education (SB 675, Steinberg) – Establishes California Partnership Academies where students can learn skills for the new energy economy.

Copper Brake Pads (SB 346, Kehoe) – Residue from cars’ brake pads is a persistent pollutant in California’s bays and waters. It’s time to phase out copper from brake pads.

Smog Check (AB 2289, Eng) – Updates California Smog Check program to keep up with the times.

Increase Recycling (AB 737, Chesbro) – Broadens recycling to businesses and multi-family homes.

Carpet Recycling (AB 2398, J Perez) – Decreases waste and increases carpet recycling.

Clean Schools (SB 1157, DeSaulnier) – Integrated Pest Management at schools and childcare centers.

Fish and Game Reform (AB 2376, Huffman) – Begins the road to reform the state’s Fish and Game Department and Commission.

Better Ocean Science and Marine Spatial Planning (AB 2125, Ruskin) – Improves information available to decision makers about our oceans’ resources.

Oil Spill Prevention and Response (AB 234, Huffman) – Improves California's readiness for an offshore oil spill.

Paint Recycling (AB 1343, Huffman) – Requires paint manufacturers to develop a system to collect and process used paint. 

Strong coalition efforts are needed to pass legislation in California.  There’s a growing level of collaboration among public interest groups, forward thinking businesses, labor, health, faith and other groups fighting to be heard above the corporate din.  We’re making steady progress, but much remains to be done.

Next up: November 2 is election day in California and absentee voters start voting in early October.  Time to turn down two really bad ideas – Prop 23, the Dirty Energy Proposition and Prop 26, the Polluter Protection Act and give a thumbs up to two proposals that deserve a chance – Prop 21 to Save State Parks and Prop 25 the Budget Reform Act. More on those to come.