There still is no word on anything looking like a final resolution on the California state budget as the new fiscal year is about to begin on July 1. But perhaps the biggest event of the week will be taking place, not in the Capitol building but in a Sacramento Courthouse.
U.S. District Court Hearing on Multiple Cases on California Prison Overcrowding
On Wednesday as two Federal Court Judges will hold a combined hearing on whether to place a cap on the numbers of those incarcerated in California’s overcrowded prison system notwithstanding a massive construction program approved earlier this year by the legislature and signed into law by the Governor. 171,000 prisoners are crammed into space designed for about 100,000. While there are allowances in the new law for transfers of some prisoners out of state, it will take time to construct new cells and bring the prisons into compliance with Federal constitutional standards. We may know after the hearing if time has run out and the courts are going to step in.
The legislature has other bills making their way through the process. One would create a sentencing commission to rationalize the hodge podge of penal laws that have been enacted since California adopted a determinate sentencing law in 1976. Sentence creep has definitely added to overcrowding as elected officials have vied with each other to show how tough they can be on crime. Other measures include AB 1539 that would allow for the resentencing and release of nonviolent low-risk offenders who are about to die due to terminal illnesses.
Major Legislation–Hearings and Floor Votes
Many of the bills the legislature is considering have already passed their house of origin and are getting closer to final passage and the Governor’s desk.
Today: The Ports Investment Bill, SB 974 (Lowenthal), which creates an ongoing funding stream to clean up air pollution and relieve congestion caused by freight traffic, which haspassed the California Senate will be considered this afternoon in the Assembly Natural Resources Committee. It has faced strong opposition from industry but is needed to respond to severe health problems caused by ports and the freight transport system. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) reports that 2,500 people a year die prematurely due to this pollution which is linked to asthma, cancer and other respiratory diseases.
Also this afternoon the Assembly Transportation Committee will take up a hot issue–SB 60 (Cedillo)–which would allow the Department of Motor Vehicles to issue drivers’ licenses and identification cards that are in compliance with the Federal Real ID Act of 2005. California has a population of approximately 2 million undocumented immigrants who live and work in our state. In 1993, California stopped issuing driver’s licenses to drivers that could not prove legal residency. Persons who can not show proof of legal residency currently drive on our roadways without being tested, licensed, or insured.
The Senate Public Employment Committee will consider AB 221 (Anderson) which prohibits the CalPERS and CalSTRS boards from investing public employee retirement funds in companies with business operations in the defense or nuclear sector of Iran or that are involved in the development of Iranian petroleum resource.
As early as today, the Assembly may vote on AB 10 (De La Torre) the Children’s Hospital Bond Act of 2008 that would place on the ballot a $980 million bond for the construction, expansion, remodeling, renovation, furnishing and equipping of children’s hospitals. It requires a two-thirds vote and must also pass the Senate.
The Assembly Utilities and Commerce will take up late in the day SB 411 (Simitian) which authorizes state energy agencies to order utilities to buy or build more renewable energy up to one-third of their overall energy need in order to ensure the state meets its greenhouse gas emission goals under last year’s landmark AB 32 on global warming.
Tomorrow: All eyes will be on the special election to fill the Congresional seat in parts of South Los Angeles and Long Beach due to the death of Juanita Millender-McDonald. Assembly Member Laura Richardson and Senator Jenny Oropeza are the leading contenders.
There will be lots of action in the Senate Public Safety Committee which will consider:
• AB 1471 (Feuer) which requires ssemiautomatic pistols to be equipped with microscopic identifying markings which are transferred to each cartridge case when the firearm is fired. Microstamping the cartridge would transfer crucial data, including the serial number of the gun, to the shell casings on two different locations of the bullet to maximize law enforcement’s ability to track down the weapon used in a crime. It is supported by police chiefs and departments across the state and opposed by some vocal gun advocates.
• AB 1539 (Krekorian.) which modifies the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations’ compassionate release process to include medically incapacitated inmates.
• AB 76 (Lieber) which requires requires the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to develop and implement a Female Offender Reform Master Plan. The plan will detail all the steps necessary to meet the needs of women offenders in order to reduce the likelihood of future incarceration
The Senate Natural Resources Committee will take up a number of bills important to flood control and the Delta:
• AB 5 (Wolk) to establish notice and insurance requirements for developments in floodplains, provide for the adoption of local flood protection plans, and require the creation of a Central Valley Flood Protection Plan (CVFPP).
• AB 70 (Jones) to allow for a city or county to be required to contribute its fair and reasonable share for property damage caused by a flood on projects they approve.
• AB 156 (Laird) requiring the Department of Water Resources to adopt a schedule for mapping areas at risk of flooding in the Sacramento and San Joaquin River drainage, prepare a status report on the Central Valley’s State Plan of Flood Control, prepare maps of Central Valley floodplains protected by State levees.
• AB 224 (Wolk) to incorporate the effects of climate change into current water planning and require a report on the greenhouse gas effects of different water supply options.
• AB 1452 (Wolk) which sets priorities for state funding of Central Valley flood activities and establishes criteria for “early implementation” of flood projects.
The Assembly Parks Committee will also be considering bills that are part of a water and flood package that is of priority for the Senate Democratic Caucus, including:
• SB 5 (Machado) which clarifies the roles and responsibilities of the state and local flood management agencies, cities and counties, developers, and other property owners for managing flood risk.
• SB 732 (Steinberg) which provides a framework for Prop. 84 bond money on parks and water.
The Senate Judiciary committee will take up AB 102 (Ma) making it easier for any couples marrying or in a civil union to change last names.
Senator Cedillo’s SB 1 to create a state Office of Immigrant Affairs will be considered by the Assembly Business and Professions Committee.
The Assembly Public Safety Committee will take up SB 1019 (Romero) to restore public access to meetings and hearings regarding peace officer discipline. This was the subject of some controversy over threats of political reprisals against those who voted for it in the Senate http://www.californiaprogressreport.com/2007/06/threats_of_poli.html that backfired.
Wednesday: The Senate Labor Committee will take up AB 1212 (Nunez) and important bill on workers’ compensation that will require permanent disability ratings for workers with lifetime injuries to be based on empirical studies of wage loss rather than the shockingly low results the current schedule arbitrarily pays out.
The Assembly Agriculture Committee will hear three bills, SB 200, 201, and 202 by Senator Dean Florez on food safety, specifically leafy green vegetables that have been the cause of deaths due to E. coli outbreaks. This package of bills has been hotly contested and opposed by some agricultural forces in the state and has been the subject of many articles on these pages.
The Assembly Elections Committee will hear SB 924 (Perata) to place an advisory ballot measure on the Februry 5, 2008 Presidential Primary calling for President Bush to immediately and safely withdraw all U.S. forces from Iraq.
The Assembly Governmental Organization Committee will pass on SB 190 (Yee), the Higher Education Governance Accountability Act, to require open meetings by UC and the CSU boards.
Thursday: Will round out the legislative week with floor sessions, a Little Hoover Commission hearing on Proposition 36 (treatment rather than incarceration of drug offenders), and a Senate floor vote on AB 845 (Bass) to appropriate money for transitional housing for foster children.
Hopefully there will be a budget vote before the start on Sunday of a new fiscal year for the state. The “big four” leaders of both parties in the Senate and Assembly have been and will be meeting. Failing action by them the Budget Conference Committee will probably put a budget bill up for a vote which may not have the necessary two-thirds vote to pass.
These are just a few items that have caught our attention.