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State Sen. Pat Bates scored a victory on her measure to increase penalties for large-scale dealers of potent painkiller fentanyl this week, with her SB 1323 clearing the public safety committee on a unanimous vote.

Bates said she was “excited,” that the measure will move forward to the appropriations committee, where she is vice chair, but knows that because it includes sentencing enhancements that it faces long odds of making it into law. Gov. Jerry Brown has vetoed most sentence-enhancement measures that cross his desk in an effort to reduce prison overcrowding and streamline the criminal justice system.

But with the recent overdoses of the drug in Sacramento, where 48 people have been hospitalized and 10 died of counterfeit fentanyl, Bates hopes to bring more attention to the drug that has quickly become a nationwide problem over the past few years.

Bates said her bill came out of the overdose deaths of four people last year in Orange County, where the drug is also a growing problem.

One of Bates’ former staffers is now the government relations director for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and stays in contact with the senator. Out of those conversations, the fentanyl legislation was suggested.

Bates said she’s hopeful the bill will clear appropriations because despite the increased jail time, she thinks the legislative analysis may find it doesn’t have a large cost tied to it. Based on input from national and state law enforcement, who have a task force on the fentanyl problem in the state, she thinks there are probably only “five to 10” people who would face the increased penalties if they became law – the major illegal distributors controlling the trade.

This “will help (law enforcement) in their current investigation and if they do capture the kingpin,” said Bates.

SB 1323 would add fentanyl to the list of drugs, including heroin and cocaine, that are subject to criminal penalty enhancements by weight – the larger the amount a person is caught with, the longer the prison sentence.

But even if the bill does end up trapped in the Senate’s suspense file, as she fears it might, Bates said it will have served a purpose.

“Maybe it doesn’t get as far as we’d like it to, but it raises awareness,” she said. “It’s brought a lot of attention to the fact that this is a killer drug, get high and die.”

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Sen. Ben Hueso took on the Uber and Lyft again with a new bill, SB 1035, which would require the California Pubic Utilities Communications to provide greater oversight of that industry, including pricing regulations and background checks for drivers. His bill would directly challenge Uber’s model of charging more for rides when demand is high.

The bill passed its first committee this week. News reports were quick to draw attention to Hueso’s family ties to the taxi industry, which have received ongoing scrutiny.

Tech companies lined up against the measure, while unions and the limousine industry support it.

“It is my goal to create rules and regulations that are fair and balanced, while ensuring safe transportation choices for consumers,” Hueso said in a statement. “I strongly believe Senate Bill 1035 addresses the need for more information regarding appropriate criminal background checks, adequate insurance, data access to support local transportation planning and accessibility for the disabled population. In addition to strengthening the regulatory oversight, the bill addresses a major gap in the current regulatory scheme, which is the need for enforcement.”

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Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez also had a key bill clear committee this week.

Her AB 2757, also called the “Phase-In Overtime for Agricultural Workers Act of 2016” passed the labor and employment committee on a 5-2 vote and now advances to the appropriations committee, which she chairs.

The measure would give farmworkers similar protections for overtime pay that other workers in California currently have. The changes would be phased in during a four-year period, lowering the current 10-hour day to eight hours and establishing a 40-hour workweek. Currently, farmworkers have a 60-hour standard workweek.

The changes would happen with annual half-hour-per-day increments, and annual five-hour-per-week reductions until reaching 40 hours, according to a release, and would be in full effect by 2020.

“We have to open our eyes and realize that everybody deserves the same protection at work,” said Gonzalez. Gonzalez said her father was a farmworker, giving her insight into the issue.

“It was hard for me to listen to the opposition,” she said of testimony during the committee meeting. “I have to be honest. It was very personal.”

Agricultural interests opposing the measure say farmers cannot withstand the economic impact of increased labor costs.

But Gonzalez said the same concern was raised in 1976, when then-Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation creating the current 10-hour days and 60-hour workweek.

“Since then, we’ve had record profits in California in agriculture,” said Gonzalez, adding that the current conditions are “inhumane.”

Gonzalez also had AB 2159 pass a floor vote of the Assembly this week. That measure, brought to her by Consumer Attorneys of California, addresses a quirk in the law that takes into account immigration status in determining damages in civil cases, a practice Gonzalez says is “bizarre and unfair.”

Based on a 30-year-old precedent, current law can limit the damages a plaintiff receives to what their earnings and care costs would be in their country of origin if they are undocumented immigrants in the United States.

“Somebody who had been here 20 or 30 years, worked here, paid taxes, (if) they become a paraplegic … the cost associated with their care as well as their future earnings is attributed to their home country,” said Gonzalez.

Her bill would remove immigration status from the compensation debate.

The bill passed the Assembly on a vote of 53-20, with four Republicans, including Assemblyman Brian Maienschein, voting in favor. Gonzalez said his vote was not a surprise.

Maienschein is a “good friend,” and “we had talked about it … so I wasn’t shocked he voted for it,” Gonzalez said.

The Coming Voter Surge

Secretary of State Alex Padilla warned that the state is primed to experience a huge surge of voters for the June 7 primary. He warned county registrars throughout the state to make ample preparations, including having plenty of ballots in array of different languages.

The latest episode of VOSD’s San Diego Decides podcast is all about the mechanics of voting. On the show, Rep. Susan Davis discusses a bill that would let more people across the country vote by mail, and Vince Hall, executive director of Future of California Elections, talks about what steps folks need to take to make sure they’re squared away to vote on June 7.

Golden State News

California State University schools won’t have to deal with a strike after all: CSU faculty will receive a 10.5 percent raise over next two years. (Sacramento Bee)

Gov. Jerry Brown talked with CalMatters about what the government can and can’t do when it comes to improving classroom learning.

Hillary Clinton is still leading in California, but the gap is shrinking. (Sacramento Bee)

Assemblyman Rocky Chavez is still mad about the minimum wage increase. (Vista Press)

Liam Dillon explains how CEQA has been used to stop new bike lanes from being installed all over the state. (L.A. Times)

The San Diego Union-Tribune editorial board praised a state bill that would rein in so-called civil asset seizures.

Anita Chabria

Anita Chabria is a freelance writer in Sacramento covering politics and culture. Follow her at @chabriaa or reach...

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