California Counts

A collaboration between Capital Public Radio, KQED, KPCC and KPBS to cover the 2016 elections in California.

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California Legislature Kills Fentanyl, Whistleblower Protection Bills

Ben Adler / Capital Public Radio

Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) and Assembly Appropriations Committee Chair Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) chat in a Capitol hallway Thursday before their committees took up more than 500 bills combined.

Ben Adler / Capital Public Radio

California lawmakers churned through more than 500 bills one-by-one in the blink of an eye Thursday.

The Senate and Assembly appropriations committees froze some measures while advancing and amending others – all without any debate or explanation.

Listen to Capital Public Radio's Ben Bradford and Ben Adler recap the day's events.


Among the noteworthy measures that died:

  • stronger criminal penalties for illegal distribution of fentanyl, a powerful opioid that health officials say is responsible for multiple deaths and hospitalizations in recent months;
  • a bill that would have given whistleblower protection to legislative employees, who unlike other state workers do not have such protection
  • a tax on medical marijuana growers
  • a reduction in the fine for drivers who roll through red lights without stopping before making right turns
  • a bill that would have strengthened rape kit reporting requirements
  • a state tax break on Olympic medals
  • a bill that would have extended the "school district of choice" program, which allows parents to transfer their children to a willing school district without the agreement of the district that child lives in. The program is currently set to expire at the end of the 2016-2017 school year.

More than 350 bills advanced, but even some measures that moved on weren't left untouched.

Take, for example, a bill that seeks to improve drug price transparency, which has drawn strong opposition from the pharmaceutical industry. That measure received so many amendments that its author could not immediately say whether he still liked his own bill.

Nearly four hours later, Sen. Ed Hernandez put out a statement saying he’s concerned about some of the amendments and wants to work with Gonzalez to see a “meaningful” bill move forward.

Another example: A $3 billion bond measure for affordable housing projects was approved - but was amended with language placing it on the 2018 ballot instead of this year's election.

All measures approved Thursday advance to the full Senate or Assembly. Most must pass both chambers before reaching Gov. Jerry Brown's desk.


Legislature Passes Extension Of CEQA Streamlining For Large Projects

California lawmakers have voted to extend a state law that allows faster environmental reviews for major developments, including the planned Golden State Warriors arena.

The law requires a judge to decide environmental lawsuits brought against energy-efficient buildings and clean energy projects within nine months.

A two year extension passed the state Senate without opposition today. Republican Senator Anthony Cannella says California needs to rein in private so-called CEQA lawsuits.

"I supported AB 900 in 2011, which this bill extends, because never-ending CEQA litigation has become a barrier to the economic growth of our state," says Cannella.

Including the Warriors arena and a new campus for Apple, only six projects have qualified for expedited environmental review since the original law passed during the recession.

The bill now heads to the governor’s desk.


Room-Temp Rice Cake Bill Moves Forward

The California state Senate spent a few minutes on a bill concerning the temperature of Vietnamese rice cakes Thursday.

Republican Senator Janet Nguyen says the dish has meaning in Vietnamese culture, but faces obstacles to sale in the U.S.

"Vietnamese rice cake is a traditional cake during the New Year that Vietnamese of held for thousands of years," says Nguyen.

They’re traditionally eaten at room temperature, but—because of the perishable ingredients—stores can't sell them that way, without violating California health standards. When refrigerated, the rice cakes become almost inedible.

Nguyen’s bill creates an exception; it allows stores to keep and sell the cakes at 70 degrees for up to a day, provided they have warning labels.

The legislation now moves to the desk of Governor Jerry Brown.


Elephant Training Bill Moves To Governor's Desk

California Governor Jerry Brown will once again decide whether animal handlers can use bull hooks, pitchforks and baseball bats to train elephants.

The state Senate passed a measure Thursday to prohibit the use of those tools. The governor vetoed a similar measure last year. He said it would further complicate crime laws.

Democratic Senator Ricardo Lara says the new bill will not.

"This bill, however, addresses the governor’s veto by ensuring an administrative fine and relocation of a restricted species permit if a hook is used on an elephant."

The maximum fine would be $10,000.

The Humane Society and animal rights groups say bull hooks are cruel, because they can cause pain. Circus and entertainment organizations, and some veterinarians, say they are important tools for controlling large, potentially dangerous animals.

Brown will have 12 days to decide on the measure once he receives it.


Fentanyl Bill Dies In Legislature

A proposal to treat the drug fentanyl like heroin or cocaine in California has died in the state Legislature.

The bill would have enhanced sentences for people convicted of selling or trafficking fentanyl based on the amount of the drug involved.

It was authored during an increase in fatal overdoses linked to the powerful opiate. That includes 10 people in the Sacramento region, who ingested pills that were marketed on the street as Norco.

A fiscal panel declined to act on the bill Thursday, effectively killing it.

- The Associated Press


Climate Change Bill Moves Through Assembly

A proposal to expand California’s climate change laws has advanced in the state Assembly, although it faces a rocky path to Governor Jerry Brown.

The measure extends the 2006 state law that set a limit on greenhouse gas emissions. The current goal is to reduce emission to 1990 levels by 2020.

The bill would set a new target of 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.

The measure now advances to the full Assembly, where moderate Democrats who blocked similar legislation last year are expected to push back against it.

- The Associated Press