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Thursday Capitol Roundup: Housing Package Ekes Through Assembly After Dramatic (And Lengthy) Vote

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

The California Senate on September 12, 2017.

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

California lawmakers are continuing their push through hundreds of bills before the legislative session ends Friday. 

Here are some of the highlights from Thursday:

A new tax and a $4 billion to fund affordable housing in California have passed the state Assembly. They’re two of a package of bills to address the state’s housing affordability crisis. The votes weren’t without last-minute dramatics.

Democratic lawmakers held the voting period open for an hour, as they sought the two-thirds majority required to pass a new $75 document fee on real estate transactions—other than home sales.

Democratic Assemblyman David Chiu says the bill would provide desperately-needed subsidies for affordable housing projects.

“Our children—many of them cannot afford to live in our communities," Chiu said. "We have a chance to do something about this.”

San Diego Republican Brian Maienschein joined 53 Democrats to pass the measure.

"I wish there was something different that could be done, but I am mindful of the political realities that exist here," Maienschein said. "And to do nothing, to me, isn’t an option."

All other Republicans voted against the bill, which needed a two-thirds supermajority. Assemblyman Jay Obernolte said it won’t come close to solving California’s housing crisis.

A non-partisan state analysis finds California creates 90,000 fewer homes than necessary each year.

“This bill, and in a larger sense the other bills we’re considering tonight, are based on the misguided premise that we can spend our way out of this problem with government spending," Obernolte said.

The Senate will take up the measures Friday, along with another half-dozen that comprise a package of housing bills agreed to by legislative Democrats and Gov. Jerry Brown.

Here's a brief look at the bills passed by the Assembly:

SB 2 - Adds a new $75 fee on real estate transaction documents (no more than three per transaction), excluding home sales.

SB 3 - Places a $4 billion general obligation bond on the November 2018 ballot, with $1 billion set aside for a veterans' home loan program.

SB 35 - Forces cities and counties that fail to meet state-mandated housing production goals to approve multi-family, urban development projects that meet certain requirements, such as paying construction workers a prevailing wage.

SB 540 - Allows cities to create priority housing zones with front-loaded planning and environmental reviews, so development projects that meet certain requirements would win expedited approval.

SB 166 - Requires cities and counties to always ensure their general plans include enough potential development sites to meet their unmet housing needs.

SB 167 - Increases the burden of proof a city or county must meet to deny a housing project, awards damages to developers if local governments act in bad faith, and requires courts to fine cities and counties for not complying with the Housing Accountability Act.

-- Ben Adler and Ben Bradford, Capital Public Radio

UPDATE 11:49 p.m.: California Students Won't Start School Later

A push to move back school start times in California has stalled in the state Assembly.

The measure would have generally required that middle schools and high schools start their class days no earlier than 8:30 in the morning starting in 2020.

Democratic Assemblywoman Shirley Weber noted research showing children perform better when school starts later.

"We need to basically make sure that we’re really thinking about what’s going to be beneficial to our children, what will help them to embrace school, and what the research is saying," Weber said.

Democratic Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi argued that local school districts should decide their own hours.

"Each school district has their unique circumstances, and each school district struggles to meet those unique circumstances," Muratsuchi said. "And this is a perfect example where one size should not fit all."

The measure failed to pick up the 41 votes necessary to pass, but could come up for one more try before session ends Friday.

-- Ben Bradford, Capital Public Radio

UPDATE 4:59 p.m.: Could California Force Presidential Candidates To Release Their Tax Returns?
We’ll give you one guess whom this next measure is targeting.
The California Assembly approved a bill Thursday that would require presidential candidates to release their tax returns in order to appear on the state’s primary ballot.
The debate was hardly presidential.
Republican Assemblyman Matthew Harper slammed the bill’s authors for not releasing their own taxes.
“Passing this without applying this to this own body is shameful, it’s hypocritical and completely out of order,” said Asm. Matthew Harper (R-Huntington Beach), slamming the bill's authors for not releasing their own taxes. “You should all be ashamed, every one of you proposing this.”
But Democratic Assemblyman Ian Calderon responded that there’s a clear difference between running for state Legislature and running for president.
“If you wish to seek the office of the presidency, you have to be fully transparent with whom you’ve taken money from, so we can establish that you are not being bought off,” Calderon said.
The bill now returns to the Senate for a final vote.

 -- Ben Adler, Capital Public Radio


Reproductive Health Nondiscrimination Act Passes California Legislature

Democratic Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher is one step closer to protecting reproductive health access in California workplaces.

Her bill, AB 569, is on the governor’s desk. It would prevent employers from firing workers who seek abortions - or any other medical services related to reproductive health.

“This is not a partisan bill, it’s an issue of basic health, privacy, and worker rights,” she said on the assembly floor Thursday.

As it stands, employers can take action against employees for anything that violates internal policies. In 2012, a San Diego teacher was fired from a Christian College for becoming pregnant while unmarried. In 2015, San Francisco’s archbishop pushed to ban abortion, in-vitro fertilization and more in the employee handbook.

The California bill adds fire to an ongoing national debate about women’s health rights in a pro-life workplace. In California, all health plans are required to cover abortions - a rule that religious groups fought unsuccessfully in federal court.

Some employers see Gonzalez Fletcher’s bill as an affront to their first amendment rights. Greg Burt of the Christian-affiliated California Family Council puts it this way:

“How can you tell a pro-life organization or a church or a school that they can’t hire people that agree with their views on abortion or sex before marriage? I don’t understand how this is not going to cause huge lawsuits.”

If the bill gets signed, it will take effect in 2018.

  -- Sammy Caiola, Capital Public Radio



UPDATE 3:57 p.m.: Telecoms Overpower Cities, Counties As 5G Antenna Bill Moves To Governor

Despite fierce opposition from cities and counties, an effort from wireless carriers to ease approval of new 5G antennas has cleared the California Legislature.
Companies such as AT&T and Verizon want to install millions of “small cell” antennas on structures in the public right-of-way – like utility poles, and street and traffic lights.
SB 649 by Sen. Ben Hueso (D-San Diego) would restrict the fees and permitting requirements that California local governments could place on 5G antennas.
“This is a bill that will create lots of jobs, but most importantly, it will have an impact of lowering the rates of service to ratepayers, and it will increase connectivity in our state,” Hueso said during Senate floor debate Thursday.
Cities and counties call the bill a “power grab” that would shift money from police and fire departments to telecom company profits.
The state Senate gave the measure final approval Thursday after the Assembly backed it Wednesday. The bill now moves to Gov. Jerry Brown.

 -- Ben Adler, Capital Public Radio


UPDATE 2:55 p.m.: Nonbinary Gender Bill Passes California Legislature
Transgender Californians could soon be able to identify their gender as “nonbinary” on official state documents under a law now headed for Governor Jerry Brown’s desk.
It would make California the first state in the nation to allow a third gender marker on birth certificates … and the second, following Oregon, to allow it on driver’s licenses.
The measure passed the Senate Thursday on a mostly party line vote, after winning Assembly approval Wednesday.
Lawmakers also sent the governor a bill that would allow transgender inmates in state prisons and county jails to petition courts for name changes.

 -- Ben Adler, Capital Public Radio


UPDATE 12:46 p.m.: Should Pet Stores Only Sell Shelter Animals?

Starting in 2019, California pet stores may be forbidden from selling dogs, cats and rabbits from mass commercial breeders.

AB485 passed with a near-unanimous vote Thursday. If Gov. Jerry Brown signs it, pet stores will only be allowed to sell animals from shelters and non-profit rescue groups. Sixteen other states have similar laws.

"Given the number of very adoptable, very lovable, very cute, very noble dogs and cats that we have in shelters all across the state," says Democratic Assemblywoman Laura Friedman, the bill's co-author. "Let’s focus on finding homes for those animals and not on encouraging the horrible trade in dogs and cats that come out of puppy mills.”

Breeders and consumer groups opposed the bill. They said it was unfair to responsible breeders, and severely restricted customer choice. There’s also concern that the prohibition will just lead to more unregulated sales.

In 2015, California banned the sale of animals at flea markets and swap meets.

 -- Sammy Caiola, Capital Public Radio

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 

Ben Bradford

Former State Government Reporter

As the State Government Reporter, Ben covered California politics, policy and the interaction between the two. He previously reported on local and state politics, business, energy, and environment for WFAE in Charlotte, North Carolina.  Read Full Bio 

Sammy Caiola

Healthcare Reporter

Sammy Caiola has been covering medical breakthroughs, fitness fads and health policy in California since 2014. Before joining CapRadio, Sammy was a health reporter at The Sacramento Bee.  Read Full Bio 

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