Sacramento picks up the pieces the day after marathon lawmaking session

09.01.2010 | Bay Area News Group | Dana Hull and Josh Richman

Two major environmental bills went down in flames Tuesday as California’s legislative session came to a frantic halt at midnight.

A bill to ban plastic carry-out bags was soundly defeated after heavy lobbying from the oil and chemical industries.

Also, a bill that would have given California the nation’s most aggressive renewable energy mandate failed as the clock ran out before it could be called for a vote.

The energy-mandate bill, SB 722, would have required the state’s utilities to draw at least 33 percent of their electricity from renewable resources by 2020. The bill went through several last-minute amendments and had managed to gather support from unions, environmentalists and at least one of the state’s investor-owned utilities.

However, by the time it made its way from the Assembly to the Senate, there were scant minutes left in the session.

The bill’s author, Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, pledged to reintroduce the measure. “The good news is we’re not starting from scratch. We put a bill together that had a good coalition of support.”

The Capitol buzz Wednesday centered at least as much on the state’s unfinished budget as on the end-of-session rush to pass legislation.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger ruled out the idea of a special session to cobble together a budget, even though one legislative leader predicted the current stalemate could drag until the November election.

The governor also shot down an idea for a special session to reconsider the Simitian bill. Environmental groups were still reeling Wednesday from its defeat.

“Renewable energy is one of the bright spots in our economy, and we can’t abandon it now,” Laura Wisland, energy analyst for the Union of Concerned Scientists, said in a statement.

Labor groups echoed the sentiment.

“The unions I represent have 40 percent unemployment. This would have been a huge job creator,” said Scott Wetch, a lobbyist who represents the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, along with plumbers, pipefitters and utilities workers unions.

Also Tuesday, bills to ban the “open carry” of unloaded handguns and to change how teachers are laid off died in the acrimonious final minutes of the session.

Bills that passed and now go to the governor’s desk include proposals to reform public officials’ salaries, give Californians with health insurance access to smoking-cessation programs, impose harsher penalties on paparazzi photographers who drive recklessly or block sidewalks and boost rental car fees at airports.

Another bill by Simitian, which would raise the minimum age for kindergarten, also passed.

Currently, children must turn 5 years old by Dec. 2 of the year they start kindergarten; the new bill would require children to be 5 by Sept. 1. The changes would be phased in over three years.

The bill had support from child-development and education advocates, who have long argued that many children who start kindergarten at age 4 struggle to keep pace with older classmates.

Lawmakers on Tuesday also debated competing Democratic and Republican proposals to balance the budget; both plans failed as the parties remain far apart on how to solve the $19 billion deficit.

As the 63rd day of the latest stalemate dragged on, ripples spread across California. The state is deferring payments to schools and counties while leaving some health clinics struggling to pay their bills and community college students unable to get Cal Grants.

Democrats want a combination of spending cuts, new taxes and fees and a delay of corporate tax breaks. Republicans have refused to accept any tax or fee increases.

Schwarzenegger, meanwhile, has said he will not sign any budget unless lawmakers agree to long-term changes to the tax, budget and pension systems.

After Tuesday’s budget proposals failed in the Legislature, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said an agreement may not be reached until the fall election. That almost certainly would mean state contractors would be issued IOUs instead of checks.

No budget negotiations between the governor and legislative leaders are scheduled. But on Wednesday, Schwarzenegger asserted “there’s still plenty of time” to reach an agreement.

“Yesterday’s budget kabuki didn’t bring us any closer to a solution,” he said.

The Associated Press and the Ventura County Star contributed to this report. Contact Dana Hull at 408-920-2706.

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