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Roundup: Late School Start, Expanded Family Leave, Prescription Drug Price Hike Transparency


California lawmakers kicked off a full week of action by advancing hundreds of bills ahead of a key deadline Friday. That's the final day for Senate and Assembly bills to pass their "House of Origin" and cross over to the other chamber.

The Senate approved three measures intended to keep in place existing federal environmental rules and regulations that the Trump administration might roll back.

Senators also voted to ban state and local elected officials from sending taxpayer-funded mailers to voters within 90 days of an election.

And the Assembly passed a bill that would require that all dogs, cats and rabbits sold by California retailers be obtained from an animal shelter or non-profit rescue organization.

In other action Tuesday...

Food Safety Labeling Bill Wins Assembly Approval

The California Assembly has passed a bill that seeks to set new voluntary standards for food safety labels.

It's intended to clear up consumer confusion and reduce food waste.

There would be two suggested labels:

  • "Best if used by" for foods that lose freshness over time but don't pose a health risk after the date on their label, and
  • "Use by" for foods that must be eaten by a certain date for safety reasons.

The Assembly rejected a bill last year that would have required food for sale to include a quality date and authorized the use of an "elevated risk date" on certain products.

This year's voluntary measure passed without opposition and now moves to the California Senate.

Bill To Keep Aliso Canyon Closed Stalls In State Senate

A bill that would require the Aliso Canyon natural gas facility to remain closed until a root-cause analysis of a major methane gas leak has been completed stalled Tuesday in the California Senate.

Southern California Gas Company says it’s ready to reopen the facility because it has reconstructed the gas wells and passed a state safety review. Researchers estimate the 2015 leak released 100,000 tons of methane, the largest amount in U.S history.

But Democratic Sen. Henry Stern, who authored the bill, says the gas field should remain closed. He says the Los Angeles area has survived without it.

“We’ve been through a summer and a winter, both hot and cold, without any hiccups with the grid,“ Stern says. “There’s a ton of green energy storage coming online.”

Republicans argued the facility is a critical energy supplier for the LA area and leaving it closed could lead to summer brown-outs.

To address concerns about energy supply, Stern amended the bill to give the governor authority to fill the gas field in an emergency.

The urgency bill fell three votes shy of the supermajority needed to pass. Stern hopes to try again later this week.

Bill To Increase Transparency Of Prescription Drug Price Hikes Moves Forward

Significant increases in prescription drug prices would have to be made public under a bill by the California State Senate.

Democratic State Senator Ed Hernandez says consumers deserve to know how drug manufacturers are setting prices.

"We’re not saying that they can’t raise the price, we’re just saying notify us when it has," he says. "And we want to compare that year after year. And if it goes up a significant amount, we should be able to question why."

But Priscilla VanderVeer with Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America says insurance companies are the ones setting d rug prices.

"This legislation doesn’t address any of that," says VanderVeer. "It’s looking at one part of the system that frankly isn’t actually dealing with what patients pay when they get to the pharmacy counter."

Hernandez attempted a similar bill last year, but abandoned the effort after he says it received too many hostile amendments.

The bill passed 26 to 10 Tuesday and now moves to the Assembly.

Late School Start Bill Moves To Assembly

California middle and high school students would get to sleep in under a bill that’s passed the state Senate. The measure would push their school start times back to at least 8:30 a.m. starting in 2020.

Democratic Senator Anthony Portantino says his bill offers lawmakers a chance to do more than just talk about doing what’s best for children.

"Here’s an opportunity to do that in a simple, practical way with valid science behind it and results that match that science," says Portantino. 

Republican Senator Jean Fuller, a former school superintendent, says she appreciates the bill’s intent but disagrees that moving the opening bell back will help students. She says teachers dread classes later in the school day.

"They will do just about anything to avoid teaching 5th or 6th period," says Fuller. "It is because students are tired, they want to go home, and that’s when the discipline curve begins to rise."

Fresh Bid For Expanded Family Leave Clears State Senate

A fresh bid to expand job-protected family leave to Californians who work at small businesses has cleared the state Senate. Governor Jerry Brown vetoed a similar proposal last year, citing concerns from business groups.

Democratic Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson is the bill’s author. She says new parents who take time off to care for their children are more likely to value their employers.

"They're more productive, they're more loyal, it's a win-win," she says. "It's just that we need to change from an old paradigm."

Republican Senator Jeff Stone says instead of expanding a state mandate, new parents should work collaboratively with their employers to schedule time off.

"To force that responsibility on small businesses that don’t have the backup and the capacity to accommodate those wishes, you’re jeopardizing the very jobs that those people are depending on," says Stone. 

The measure would extend the existing job-protection mandate for large employers to workers at companies with 20 or more employees. It passed on a party-line vote and now moves to the California Assembly.

 family leavelate school start

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 

Sally Schilling

Reporter/Podcast Producer

Sally Schilling is a Davis native and a graduate of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. She has reported on redwood poachers robbing national forests in Humboldt County and the dangers of melting tropical glaciers in the Peruvian Andes.  Read Full Bio 

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