California lawmakers tackle climate, marijuana, aid in dying

AP News
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Posted: Sep 12, 2015 4:32 AM

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California lawmakers counted far-reaching but less-ambitious climate change legislation, statewide medical marijuana regulation and a deeply emotional measure to allow aid in dying among the hundreds of bills they passed before closing out the 2015 legislative session early Saturday.

But they also left unfinished many of the thorniest challenges of the year.

The Legislature failed to reach compromise on how to address a $59 billion backlog in highway, bridge and road repairs; did not come up with a solution for how to fund Medi-Cal, the state's health care program for the poor; did not address how to divvy up billions of dollars coming in from the state's fee on polluters; and left several bills dealing with tobacco regulations untouched.

"We didn't achieve everything we wanted. But that's the great thing about two-year sessions — this is only halftime," Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, said after the Assembly and Senate plowed through dozens of bills late Friday and worked into Saturday morning.

Democrats who control both houses of the Legislature focused their praise on a historic vote for SB350, a bill sought by Gov. Jerry Brown at the start of the year to set the most aggressive greenhouse-gas emissions benchmark in North America.

The bill, which was carried by de Leon, a Los Angeles Democrat, aims to increase California's renewable electricity use to 50 percent and double energy efficiency in existing buildings by 2030.

Brown said the bill ratchets up California's commitment to fight climate change. "We have the technological means and now we have the legal mandate to reduce carbon pollution," he said in a statement after lawmakers approved the bill.

That piece of legislation was watered down after oil companies flexed their muscle in a well-funded campaign that targeted Assembly Democrats. Without adequate support, Brown and de Leon were forced to remove a provision to cut oil use in the state by 50 percent within 15 years.

The governor said this week that the setback has only strengthened his resolve to clean up the environment for future generations.

Lawmakers also pushed through AB1288, last-minute legislation by Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, giving the Legislature two appointments to the California Air Resources Board, the unelected regulatory body in charge of implementing the state's climate laws.

Republicans and moderate Democrats in the Assembly had pushed for more legislative oversight, but Brown and legislative leaders were resistant.

And nearly 20 years after California voters approved the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, lawmakers finally agreed on a package of bills to create the first statewide licensing and operating rules for pot growers and retail weed outlets. They did so in the face of a likely ballot initiative next year to legalize recreational pot.

The framework seeks to manage medical marijuana from seed to smoke, calling for 17 separate license categories, detailed labeling requirements and a product tracking system complete with bar codes and shipping manifests.

"California has fallen behind the rest of the nation and failed to ensure a comprehensive regulatory structure," said Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer, D-Los Angeles. "This industry is the wild, wild west, and we must take steps to address it."

If enacted as drafted, the legislation would impose strict controls on an industry that never has had to comply with any and provide a template for how recreational marijuana might be treated if it is legalized. The Brown administration helped craft the package, and he was expected to sign it.

Other legislation approved in the waning hours of session included:

— AB1461 by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, which would automatically enroll eligible voters when they obtain or renew drivers' licenses. It is backed by Democratic Secretary of State Alex Padilla.

— SB168 by Sen. Ted Gaines, R-Roseville, that would offer immunity to firefighters and other emergency workers for disabling hobbyist drones flying over wildfires or interfering in emergency situations.

— Bills crafted in response to a pipeline break that spilled more than 100,000 gallons of crude near Santa Barbara in May. SB414 by Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, would require regulators to study how local fishing vessels and crews can help with a more rapid response. Lawmakers earlier approved bills requiring annual inspections of pipelines and requiring pipeline operators to use technology like remote-controlled valves and automatic leak detection to control spills.

— SB406, also by Jackson, would guarantee California workers the right to take unpaid leave to care for grandparents, grandchildren, siblings and parents-in-law.