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Postgame Wrap: A Productive 2016 California Legislative Session?

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

Assembly Speaker Emeritus Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) receives a gospel sendoff from the California state Assembly sung by fellow assembly members at the end of session, early Thursday morning, Sept. 1, 2016.

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

On the final night of each year’s legislative session – usually, with the clock well past midnight – it’s tradition for each house’s leader to do a little humblebragging about the year’s accomplishments.

"What we’ve accomplished collectively will go up there with any other legislative period in the history of California," Democratic Senate leader Kevin de León said just before he gaveled his chamber into adjournment very early Thursday morning.

From a minimum wage increase to the battle against climate change, Democratic policies dominated the 2016 California legislative session that wrapped up early Thursday morning. And more often than not, those policies emerged victorious.

"We passed landmark climate change legislation, parental leave, minimum wage, we renewed the California Earned Income Tax Credit, we took on the tobacco industry, we took on the gun industry and we got to hang out with the Dalai Lama – all in one year," Democratic Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon told his colleagues in his session-ending remarks.

Republicans, unsurprisingly, had a different view. Senator Ted Gaines said Democratic policies like raising the minimum wage and setting the state’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction goal for the next decade will hurt lower and middle-class Californians.

"We need to figure out how to create good-paying jobs in the private sector," Gaines told Capital Public Radio. "And when I take a look at some of the policies and legislation moving through the Legislature, I think it’s counter-productive to that."

University of Southern California political analyst Sherry Bebitch Jeffe isn’t quite buying the “most productive legislative session ever” spin, pointing to landmark civil rights and fair housing laws in the 1960s.
She also points out that California is essentially a one-party state.
"The issues that have been broached this session are issues that are easier for the dominant Democratic Party to organize behind, to push and to pass," says Jeffe.

And she expects to see more legislative sessions like this one under the state’s new term limits law, which allows lawmakers – and leaders – to serve up to 12 years in one chamber. 

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