This is the month that state legislators' many proposals are shaped, molded and chopped. For a bill to progress, it must be approved by its house of origin the Senate or Assembly by the end of May.
We offer you a recap on what has happened to some of the bills introduced by our area's legislators.
Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, could be successful in lowering future power bills for customers in the Merced Irrigation District. His Senate Bill 591 would change the requirements of the state's Renewable Portfolio Standard to include Merced Irrigation District's New Exchequer Dam, built in 1967, as an qualified renewable energy source. The bill, co-sponsored by Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced, passed the Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee last week on an 8 to 1 vote.
The committee approval is a milestone given that a previous broader proposal by Cannella didn't advance. His 2011 and 2012 bills also would have applied to the Modesto and Turlock Irrigation Districts to count electricity produced at their jointly owned Don Pedro powerhouse as renewable.
Cannella has argued and we agree that hydro is very much a clean and renewable power source, but the environmentalists have fought to have large hydro projects not count as a renewable source.
Cannella limited his proposal this year to the Merced district because it is a smaller electricity provider that gets a larger percentage of its power from hydro. If Merced has to buy a third of its power from other renewable sources, such as wind and solar, it will inevitably raise rates for the district's customers, as has happened for electricity customers around the state.
SB 591 will be considered next by the Senate Appropriations Committee. It has a long way to go, requiring the OK of the full Senate and then the Assembly and a signature by the governor, who is a strong advocate for the 33 percent renewable power mandate.
Cannella is a co-sponsor of Senate Joint Resolution 8, which urges Congress and the president to pass comprehensive immigration reform legislation. Up for a vote today, SJR 8 wouldn't change any state or federal laws but would represent another voice in the chorus calling for action in Washington, D.C.
Assembly Bill 909, by Gray, is scheduled for a hearing Tuesday in the Assembly Public Safety Committee. It would create a Metal Theft Task Force program and fund, to provide money to local law enforcement to try to stop metal theft. What isn't clear from the language is the source of the money and whether it makes sense to establish a state program for this problem, but there's no doubt the pervasive problem of metal theft is costly to farmers, businesses, public agencies and individual property owners.
Senate Bill 504, by Tom Berryhill, R-Twain Harte, was approved by the Senate Agriculture Committee. It would give authority to county agricultural commissioners to obtain court judgments against those who have failed to pay fines levied for violating standards on quality and maturity for fruits, nuts and vegetables.
Three bills by Kristin Olsen, R-Modesto, have passed their first committee hurdles. Assuming the availability of federal money to pay for it, AB 1076 would equip schools with panic buttons to help law enforcement respond quickly in the event of a campus emergency. When a panic button is pressed, a direct link would dispatch law enforcement and alarms would sound, alerting others on the school campus of an emergency all in one step. It passed the Assembly Education Committee on a 7 to 0 vote and now goes to Assembly Appropriations.
AB 150 and 151 benefit military veterans. AB 150 would give honorably discharged and active duty members of the military free admission to state parks on the Memorial Day and Veterans Day holidays. It passed the Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee without opposition.
AB 151 would allow local jurisdictions the option of waiving building and inspection permit fees for ADA-type modifications to homes owned by veterans with service-related disabilities. It was passed unanimously by the Local Government Committee.
Senate Bill 194, by Cathleen Galgiani, D-Stockton, would ban those under 18 from using any kind of wireless phone or equipment, even a hands-free device, behind the wheel. It passed the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee on a unanimous vote and is scheduled for an April 15 hearing in the Senate Appropriations Committee.