For Good and Ill the California Legislature Met its Deadline (Almost)

When pushing up against a deadline, do you feel more productive?  There's something about human nature that causes us to submit a work product at 11:59 to meet a midnight deadline.  The California legislature is no different.  After going through the traditional process of committee hearings and floor votes for nine months, many details of final bills are not decided until the last minute and brand new bills spring up days, or even hours, before the legislature is scheduled to adjourn.  As my colleagues wrote about here and here, these last minute bills usually signal trouble or can occasionally represent progress, as in the case of water, where the final language came together on the last day of session, but represented an agreement among stakeholders who are often at odds.

Increasingly though, last minute deals are struck between a few powerful players who hope the public isn't paying attention as they try to jam their bill through with maneuvers like rule waivers, "gut and amend" (Sacramento-speak for completely removing the contents of a bill and putting in new language), and rushed committee hearings late at night where legislators and advocates get their first look at actual bill language.  More and more, late attacks seem to target environmental and public health protection laws.  There were plenty of these attacks in the final hours of this year's legislative session and two harmful bills regrettably made it through.  Despite the last minute defense we were forced to play, environmental advocates and our champions in the legislature kept pushing to protect California's public health and natural resources and got some key bills through to the Governor's desk. 

Here's a rundown of some of the top environmental bills that we hope the Governor will sign:   

Renewable Portfolio Standard:  SB 14 and AB 64 would require California utilities to acquire 33 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2020, setting the most ambitious targets in the country. 

State Parks:  The legislature approved two bills to help protect state parks.  SB 372 would prevent "non-park" uses of our parks (like toll roads) and SB 679 would make it more difficult to sell off state parks in difficult economic times.

Global Warming:  AB 1404 would ensure that industries required to reduce their global warming emissions could only use offsets for up to 10 percent of the reductions required by California's Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32). 

AB 828 would bolster the California Green Building Code by ensuring that the state's public health and environmental agencies have a say in designing green building standards.   

SB 406 would help fund public transit operations, which have been zeroed out in the state budget, by allowing regions to add $1 or $2 to vehicle registrations.  The bill would also fund efforts to improve pedestrian and bike access and give people alternatives to driving.    

SB 728 would also increase transportation options by improving implementation of a "parking cash-out" program.  Parking cash-out requires large businesses that provide free parking to employees to also offer those employees the option of receiving the cash value of those parking spaces if they choose to get to work without a car.  

There are two bills that we hope the Governor will veto.  AB 1318 and SB 827 are blatant misuses of the legislative process to undermine pending NRDC and environmental justice groups' litigation against the South Coast Air Quality Management District over its air emission credit scheme which plaintiffs argue (and the court agrees) need to be analyzed under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).  These bills would allow scarce air pollution reduction credits that should be reserved for small businesses and essential public services like hospitals and schools, to be available for power plants that are capable of purchasing the offset credits on the open market.  Senator Alan Lowenthal, a legislative champion who joined in the fight against these bills wrote an Op-Ed about the damage that SB 827 would inflict, not only on air quality in the most polluted region in the country, but to the state's decades-old fundamental environmental protection law. 

Click through to NRDC's Take Action Page to urge the Governor to sign the good bills and veto the two harmful ones. 

Finally, I say the legislature "almost" met its deadline because technically, they should have adjourned before midnight on Friday, September 11.  SB 827 wasn't heard in committee until 11:30pm that day.  The legislature extended its own deadline a bit and didn't officially adjourn until the early morning on September 12.  That's the thing about deadlines.  Sometimes extending them makes sense.  But sometimes a hard and fast deadline is necessary to stop bad ideas from taking hold.