Dan Walters: Many issues unresolved as legislative session enters final month

08/04/2014 12:00 AM

08/06/2014 10:22 PM

Among some fans, the rap on professional basketball is that players run up and down the court for 45 minutes, exchanging buckets, but games are often decided in the final three minutes of intense physicality.

The same could be said for the California Legislature, which spends months in session but typically delays big, difficult issues until the frantic final few days.

Some of that tendency is merely human nature – the reluctance to make difficult decisions until they absolutely must be made.

Some of it is by design. It’s easier to hide something if procedures are bypassed and everyone is preoccupied.

This “low-balling” happens every year, and it may take weeks before the public and even lawmakers learn what was wrought in the dead of night.

Whether done publicly or clandestinely, as the Legislature reconvenes this week for the final four weeks of the 2012-14 session, there are many pending issues:

• The size and details of a water bond to replace an $11.1 billion proposal already on the Nov. 4 ballot. The prevailing assumption is that it must be changed because it’s likely to be rejected, but a recent poll is inconclusive.
• Regulation of groundwater, which farmers have been tapping heavily as drought dries up surface supplies.
• Legislation to more or less ban plastic grocery bags.
• A promise to give Northrop Grumman the same tax break already enacted for Lockheed Martin, its competitor for a Pentagon bomber contract.
• A bill pushed by some Democrats to delay placing auto fuel under the cap-and-trade greenhouse gas program because it could substantially boost fuel prices, already among the nation’s highest.
• A measure asking voters to press Congress for immigration reform, even though Gov. Jerry Brown says he doesn’t want more advisory propositions on the ballot.
• A boost in college financing being pushed by Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins.
• A school bond that educators and business groups back but that Brown evidently doesn’t want.
• Whether the Legislature will streamline executions of murderers in the wake of a federal court ruling that delays make them unconstitutional.
• The four bills still alive from the state Chamber of Commerce’s 27-bill “job killer” list, since all others have died or been stalled or neutralized.

In terms of importance, the water bond looms the largest, given the severe drought. Brown wants a small bond, most legislators want a larger one, and there is much angst over its effect, if any, on Brown’s “twin tunnels” project in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The groundwater regulation issue complicates the picture even more.

In terms of election-year impact, however, the bills that would affect consumers – gasoline prices and plastic bags – could be the biggies.

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