Legislature sprints to finish line with plenty of issues up in the air 

The California Legislature begins its sprint to adjournment with hundreds of bills still pending, with lawmakers maneuvering for positions to campaign on in much-changed districts next year, with lobbyists for moneyed interests packing Capitol hallways, and with dozens of fundraising events on tap to extract campaign cash from those interests.

It’s a yeasty mélange for the final two weeks, to say the least.

We know what the big conflicts are likely to be. The biggest may be over a bill that would impose rate regulation on the multibillion-dollar health insurance industry, a full-employment act for lobbyists if there ever was one. Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones and consumer activists want Assembly Bill 52 to, they say, protect Californians from being gouged.

But the industry has some heavyweight allies, including state and local government agencies that purchase health insurance for their employees.

AB 52 was one of the more than two dozen measures labeled “job killers” by the California Chamber of Commerce. But as the session winds down, three-quarters of them have died, leaving AB 52 and six others still alive.

One high-profile “job killer” that stalled was Senate Bill 432, which would have required hotels to use fitted bedsheets.

The bill was sidetracked last week in the Assembly Appropriations Committee for reasons that had to do with a nasty squabble over another bill that would disincorporate the city of Vernon, a tiny industrial enclave near downtown Los Angeles.

Assembly Speaker John A. Perez claims that it’s a cesspool of corruption and should be erased from the municipal ledger. Vernon’s state senator, Kevin de Leon, was supportive, but last week did a 180-degree flip as Vernon embraced his reform plan. De Leon’s opposition makes Senate approval dicey, perhaps impossible.

That turnabout angered Perez, it appears, and all of de Leon’s bills pending in the Assembly Appropriations Committee were either held or made irrelevant. It was clearly political punishment, and one of the casualties was de Leon’s bedsheet bill.

The rupture among Los Angeles’ Latino politicians could affect another local issue — whether a proposed professional football stadium in downtown Los Angeles should receive an expedited environmental review.

Developers of the downtown stadium say it would allow them to compete for a team with a proposed stadium in a smaller city nearby that has already obtained an environmental review exemption.

As the world turns.

Dan Walters’ Sacramento Bee columns on state politics are syndicated by the Scripps Howard News Service.

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Dan Walters

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