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California’s historic minimum wage increase consumed the Capitol this week, as a deal brokered between Gov. Jerry Brown and labor leaders rocketed through the legislature in record time, taking even some Democratic legislators by surprise.
Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, who moved the measure, SB 3, quickly through the appropriations committee in her first major show of power as its new chair, on the Assembly floor said she hadn’t had a “seat at the table” during the negotiations but strongly supported the measure anyway.
Republicans weren’t swayed, voting against the bill unanimously. Assemblyman Rocky Chavez acknowledged that, “it’s clear that we do have inequality in the state of California,” but said it isn’t the government’s role to mandate wage increases.
Despite that dissent, the bill passed both houses easily and largely along party lines, and Brown is expected to sign it Monday.
A flurry of press releases followed the votes, including one from Speaker Emeritus Toni Akins, who used it as an opportunity to support San Diego’s local minimum wage increase facing voters on the June ballot.
“Today’s vote doesn’t change my stance on this year’s ballot referendum to raise the minimum wage in San Diego, which is more aggressive than the state proposal, at least in the early years,” she said.
North County Senator Wades into Opioid Crisis
Senator Patricia Bates, whose district covers coastal North County and southern Orange County, made news of her own this week after a wave of overdoses of the powerful painkiller fentanyl killed seven and sickened more than two dozen in Sacramento.
Bates has a bill currently in play that would enhance criminal penalties on fentanyl, which was also responsible for four deaths last year in San Diego and is part of the country’s opioid epidemic. Often, the drug is sold illicitly on the street and sometimes counterfeited to look like less-strong painkillers Norco, Oxycontin or Vicodin. The fentanyl pills in the Sacramento cases were so powerful they caused death in about 20 minutes for some of those who took them.
Bates’ Senate Bill 1323 to enhance criminal penalties for illegal distributors has generated media attention as its the only bill in the legislature directly addressing the crisis.
“The illicit use of fentanyl and its equivalents poses a serious threat to every community’s health and safety,” said Bates in a Februrary statement introducing the measure. “Given the 100 percent increase of those who drive under the influence of fentanyl over the past two years, it is imperative that we do what we can to limit its distribution to save lives.”
The bill would add fentanyl to the list of drugs such as heroin and cocaine that carry longer sentences based on the amount carried by distributors. The bigger the amount, the longer the jail term, with 10 kilograms or more resulting in 10 additional years on the sentence.
But Bates has acknowledged that bills increasing jail times are a tough sell in the legislature and especially for Governor Jerry Brown. So the measure is far from certain to become law.
Bates also saw her bill to expand a pilot program that requires ignition-locking devices for drivers convicted of DUIs pass out of the Senate Public Safety Committee. Those devices require a driver to pass a breath test before the car will start, and are currently used in Alameda, LA, Sacramento and Tulare counties.
“Suspending driver licenses alone will not protect the public from repeat drunk drivers,” Bates said in a statement. “While we cannot prevent every tragedy, we can and must take sensible steps to make our roads safer.”
The bill will next head to the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Gonzalez Moves Health Care, Immigrant Injury Compenstation Bills
Gonzalez also had two bills advance, including one that will help San Diego’s Family Health Centers in it’s long-planned expansion.
Her AB 2053 would allow community health centers to add an additional facility to its existing license under certain circumstances, rather than having to start “from scratch,” according to a statement on the measure.
“California has made tremendous strides to make health care more affordable for all, and now we have the responsibility to make sure it’s accessible to people in their communities,” Gonzalez said in a statement. “AB 2053 will speed up the expansion of health services in communities like many in my district that have been underserved for too long.”
Gonzalez also had AB2159 approved by the Assembly Judiciary Committee. That bill addresses changes how illegal immigrants are compensated for injury and future income loss.
Currently, their losses are based on income in their country of origin, not the U.S. Gonzalez’s bill would remove a plaintiff’s immigration status from the equation.
“People living, working, and contributing here in California have earned the right to the value of their work here instead of being penalized for where they come from,” Gonzalez said. “California has established a clear commitment to treating all people equally under the law regardless of immigration status, and this bill is an important step to achieving that goal.”
The bill moves to a full Assembly vote in coming weeks.
• Can lawmakers decide who is an adult? Conservative columnist Dan Walters considers the question in light of Gonzalez’s measure to extend limited voting rights to 16-year-olds (Sacramento Bee)
• Economists can’t agree on how minimum wage increases affect the economy (Sacramento Bee)
• Bill to curb for-profit detention centers gets push today in LA (Sacramento Bee)
• What contested Presidential primaries might mean for down-ticket California races (Los Angeles Times)
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