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California Lawmakers Scramble on Final Day of Session (Blog)



Update: 12:45a.m. Friday - Steinberg Says He's Done with CEQA

Democratic Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg says he’s pleased with the California Environmental Quality Act changes he pushed through at the end of this year’s session – and he won’t be carrying a broader CEQA overhaul next year.

“It's always easy to say, oh, it wasn't everything that somebody else thinks it should be,” Steinberg told reporters after his CEQA legislation passed its final vote Thursday night.  “Well, I thought what was presented last year went way too far.  So I think this is an excellent result and represents real, responsible reform.”

Republicans and business groups had hoped for larger changes in each of the last two years, but both times they ended up disappointed.

In addition to streamlining the controversial law governing development projects for a new Sacramento Kings basketball arena, this year’s measure also removes parking and aesthetics from CEQA review.  It’s also intended to encourage infill, transit-oriented development projects.

Late Thursday night, a second CEQA bill surfaced that critics said would have weakened the bill that just passed hours earlier. That legislation passed the Senate but failed in the Assembly after Republicans raised furious objections and many Democrats either voted no or abstained. Steinberg's office insisted that bill came from the governor's office at the request of the United Food and Commercial Workers union. Brown's office denies it was the source.


Update: 9:38 p.m. - Bill Allowing Undocumented Immigrants to Obtain Driver's License Heads to Governor 

A measure that would allow undocumented immigrants in California to obtain driver's licenses is on its way to Gov. Jerry Brown's desk after a tumultuous 48 hours where the bill appeared dead at least twice.

It passed the Assembly 55-19 late Thursday night after passing the Senate 28-8 earlier in the day.

The measure faced opposition from labor unions over a provision in the bill that calls for the undocumented immigrants' licenses to have a mark differentiating them from California citizens' driver's licenses. But Senate Democrats and the Latino Caucus decided to push the bill through, and the unions eventually dropped their opposition.

Gov. Jerry Brown has issued a statement indicating he will sign the measure.  "This bill will enable millions of people to get to work safely and legally."


Update: 9:27 p.m. - CEQA Modification Bill Paving Way for Kings Arena Moves to Governor's Desk

The measure intended to pave the way for the on-time construction of a new Sacramento Kings basketball arena has passed the Senate this evening by a vote of 32-5. The bill also makes some changes to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) that deal with parking and traffic and encourage infill development projects.

The bill's author, Democratic Senate Leader Steinberg, told reporters afterwards he's pleased with the CEQA changes in his late-amended bill, and he's not likely to lead any further efforts to change the law next year.

The measure now moves to the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown, who has called CEQA reforms "the Lord's work" and is expected to sign it.


Update: 8:03 p.m.- Minimum Wages Increase Passes Assembly, Heads to Governor

The Assembly took its final vote on the minmum wage increase following a lengthy debate, approving the measure 51 to 25. The measure now heads to Governor Jerry Brown, who has already said he will sign it. This will be the state's first minimum wage increase in six years. It will gradually increase until it reaches $10 an hour by 2016.

Update: 5:35 p.m. - CEQA Bill To Benefit Kings Arena Passes Assembly

A late-changing bill that would make some changes to the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA, and speed the development of a new Sacramento Kings basketball arena has passed the state Assembly.

The Kings measure was amended late Wednesday night by its author, Democratic Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg, to merge with some provisions from another CEQA bill that Steinberg's been working on throughout the year.

One provision would encourage infill and mixed-use development. The other would change how traffic impacts are measured during the environmental review process.

The bill passed by a vote of 55 to 6. It now goes to the Senate for a final vote.


Update: 5:30 p.m. - $10 Minimum Wage Bill Passes Sentate, Heading Back to Assembly

A bill that would gradually increase the California minimum wage to $10 per hour has passed the State Senate. It would be the first increase in the minimum wage in six years.

Democratic Senator Bill Monning says if you’re a Californian subsisting on the current state minimum wage, you’re living a second class existence.

“You are in a second hand economy, second harvest food bank, second-hand clothing, second-hand hand-me-down everything," Monning says.

The measure would raise the current $8 per hour wage incrementally until 2016 when it will reach $10 per hour. Backers say the bill will stimulate the economy. Opponents have labeled the measure a “job killer.”

Republican Senator Bob Huff says, "You are saddling the job creating sector of our environment with yet more things that makes it difficult for them to create jobs.”

The bill is heading back to the Assembly for a concurrence vote.


Update: 5:08 p.m. - Gov. Brown Signs Prison Overcrowding Bill

Governor Jerry Brown has signed off on a court mandated plan to reduce prison overcrowding in California. Brown and leaders of the Senate and Assembly announced the deal earlier this week. Under the plan, California will ask a federal three-judge panel for more time to reduce prison overcrowding.

The money saved will be put toward programs aimed at reducing recidivism in the state. The plan will now be presented to the three-judge–panel for its approval.


Update: 5:05 p.m. - Fate of Undocumented Driver's License Bill Still Unclear

The fate of a bill that would allow undocumented immigrants in California to get driver's licenses is unclear on this final day of legislative session, as competing political forces have the measure caught in the middle.

On Wednesday, Asm. Luis Alejo (D-Watsonville) told Capital Public Radio he was putting his bill, AB 60, on hold until next year. He said the various stakeholders weren't all on board yet - and added the immigrant rights community is split. The sticky issue is whether to place a special mark or notation on licenses given to non-citizens to distinguish them from citizens' driver's licenses - as is required by the federal Real ID Act.

Yet less than 24 hours later, Senate Democrats brought the bill forward anyway. It passed by a vote of 28 to 8, with a handful of Republicans in support and a dozen senators not voting.

The measure now moves to the Assembly for a final concurrence vote, but Alejo told Capital Public Radio this afternoon he's not sure if he'll bring it up before lawmakers adjourn for the year later tonight.

Here's the story behind the bill's sudden resurrection, according to two legislative sources: Labor unions oppose the distinguishing mark, but Gov. Jerry Brown (whose office declined comment on the measure) insisted on the mark to comply with federal law. Unions told Asm. Alejo to kill the bill Wednesday. This afternoon, the Latino Caucus decided to bring the measure forward in the Senate despite the union opposition.

Alejo says he's meeting with stakeholders this afternoon to decide whether to keep the bill going.


Update: 4:25 p.m. - Bill Streamlining Public School Employee Discipline Heads to Governor's Desk

A bill that would streamline the process for disciplining or firing a public school teacher or other employee charged with child abuse has cleared the California legislature.

Democratic Assembly member Joan Buchanan says her measure is a big improvement over the status quo in the public schools when it comes to getting rid of bad employees.

“We have too many cases that when a certificated employee challenges a dismissal or appeals that dismissal it can take two years, or longer, cost over 100 thousand dollars and nobody wins except the attorneys," says Buchanan.

A similar bill failed last year because of opposition from the California Teachers Association, mainly over the elimination of an appeals panel among other issues.

Republican Senator Ted Gaines says the current version is still not tough enough.“We’re going backward when it comes to looking at the bad actors in our schools that need to be addressed quickly."

The bill is now headed to the Governor’s desk.

Update: 4:17 p.m. - Undocumented Driver's License Bill Revived

A bill that would allow undocumented immigrants to receive driver’s licenses is back from the dead in the California legislature. The Senate approved a version of the measure today that would require that the licenses have distinguishing marks to set them apart from traditional licenses.

Democratic Senator Ricardo Lara says immigrants are going to drive no matter what, so it makes sense to train them. He says the bill is not ideal, but is still worth supporting.

“In a perfect world we would have no mark on our driver’s license and everybody would be treated fairly. That is not the reality that we live in today. All indication is that we need to have this mark to comply with the federal Real ID Act," Lara says.

The measure passed the Senate with some Republican support, 28 to 2. It now goes immediately to the Assembly where it might face a tougher fight.


Katie Orr

Former Health Care Reporter

Katie Orr reported for Capital Public Radio News through December 2015.  Read Full Bio 

Max Pringle

State Government Reporter

Max covers the state capital, bringing more than a decade of experience in print and public radio, including reporting for KPFA, KQED and KALW. He traces his news roots to working on his his high school newspaper.   Read Full Bio 

Ben Adler

Capitol Bureau Chief

Capitol Bureau Chief Ben Adler first became a public radio listener in the car on his way to preschool – though not necessarily by choice. Now, he leads Capital Public Radio’s state Capitol coverage, which airs on NPR stations across California.  Read Full Bio 

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