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Thursday Capitol Roundup: Single-Payer Healthcare, Cap-and-Trade, Affordable Housing

Ben Adler / Capital Public Radio

Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) brings his bill to create a single-payer health care system in California up for debate in the state Senate on Thursday, June 1, 2017.

Ben Adler / Capital Public Radio

Rival Cap-and-Trade Bills Stall In Assembly

Two very different efforts to extend California’s “cap and trade” greenhouse gas emissions reduction program stalled in the state Assembly late Thursday night.

One bill was backed by environmental justice groups who want to add air quality regulations to the program. The other had the backing of business groups and the oil industry, which support cap-and-trade but are working to shape a new program.

In the end, it appeared that the bill backed by oil, business, moderate Democrats and even some Republicans could have passed. But Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Paramount) refused to allow it to be brought up for debate because the environmental justice bill fell three votes short of passage, despite the vote being held open for more than half an hour. Rendon wanted the two bills to live or die together.

Earlier Thursday, Gov. Jerry Brown told business leaders at a California Chamber of Commerce breakfast that he needs their help.

“It’s gonna take some Republicans here – the Democrats can’t do this alone,“ Brown said. “So Chamber, you’ve got your work cut out for you!”

That acknowledgement – along with Thursday's cap-and-trade vote in the Assembly – reflects the quandary facing the governor: So far, there’s no proposal with broad enough support in the Legislature to reach the two-thirds supermajority Brown is demanding to protect against potential legal challenges.

The governor is urging lawmakers to pass a “cap and trade” extension by the end of this month.

Meanwhile, Brown leaves Friday for China, where he’ll attend meetings on climate change and the Clean Energy Ministerial.

Assembly Backs Bill To Make California "Sanctuary State" For Recreational Marijuana

The California Assembly has passed an effort to create a “sanctuary state” policy for recreational marijuana. It’s in response to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who’s signaled an intention to crack down on marijuana use.

The measure would ban state and local law enforcement from working with federal authorities on activities legalized by Proposition 64 last year.

“It’s important that we honor the will of California’s voters and guard against the misuse of California’s public tax dollars and resources by, absent a court order, not interfering with those involved in lawful cannabis activity,” said Asm. Rob Bonta (D-Oakland).

But Asm. Travis Allen (R-Huntington Beach) called the measure a “complete violation of federal law” that will surely be struck down in court.

“The hubris of California’s Democrats, believing they can flout federal law, be it on immigration or drug policy, is – it’s beyond words,” he said.

The bill passed by just a single vote and now moves to the state Senate.

Divided California Senate Passes Single-Payer Health Care Bill

The California Senate has advanced a bill that would create a statewide single-payer health care system after more than two-and-a-half hours of debate.

Right up until that debate began, it wasn’t clear this bill would even be brought up. But heavy pressure from the California Nurses Association and other grassroots backers overcame the deep unease among many Senate Democrats that a vote would be premature.

And when the measure did come up, there was clear passion from supporters.

“Not only do I feel that a single-payer system would be most efficient way to deliver our health care system, it may be a necessity, because we may be faced with a circumstance where the health care system as we know it is decimated by actions from (Washington,) DC,” said Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley).

Republicans slammed the proposal, which a Senate staff report said would cost $400 billion.

“It assumes money from the feds, and some form of taxes on employers and employees, but none of that is specified,” said Sen. Tom Berryhill (R-Twain Harte). “We’re gonna ask for a couple hundred billion dollars from the feds after we kick the crap out of Trump, day in, day out, on this floor – then we’re gonna go beg him for a couple hundred billion dollars? Should be an interesting ask.”

Nearly every lawmaker who spoke acknowledged the bill’s lack of details. Some felt comfortable keeping the discussion going by moving it forward; others did not.

“First of all, I want to go on the record as saying that I support single-payer,” said Sen. Ben Hueso (D-San Diego), who abstained. “We’re not debating single payer today because we’re not debating a funding source, we’re not debating delivery of service, we’re not debating where the health care savings are gonna come from.”

The measure now moves to the Assembly, where authors have promised to put some flesh on its bare bones.

Affordable Housing Legislation Moves Forward

California lawmakers have begun to tackle what one legislator characterized as "the worst housing crisis that our state has experienced."

The California state Senate passed a bill that would put a $3 billion affordable housing bond before voters in 2018. Democratic Senator Jim Beall says it will help leverage $11 billion dollars in federal funds that he says are badly needed.

“Over the last 8 years, the federal government has reduced the housing funding by 46 percent, that’s an astounding withdrawal of funding from the federal government," says Beall. "It's becoming increasingly difficult for California to address our three and a half million affordable housing unit shortage.”

Several Republican senators say the state can’t afford another bond. But a Senate bill that received bipartisan support would create a streamlined approval process for cities that are struggling to meet affordable housing goals. Those bills now head to the Assembly… where legislators have introduced more than 100 bills that deal with affordable housing.

Democratic Assembly member David Chiu authored one measure that would provide financial incentives for affordable housing.  

“Local governments that rezone more densely near transit with a certain level of affordability, that complete an environmental impact report, will receive an incentive payment from the state,” says Chiu.  

That bill passed and now heads to the Senate

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