SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA – California’s lawmakers ended a two-year session on Saturday with a package of bills that reflected deep disagreement over pressing issues including undocumented migrants, the social safety net and measures to cope with a severe drought.
In the final hours, they approved a ban on plastic grocery bags in the most populous U.S. state, a measure allowing guns to be temporarily removed from potentially violent people and campaign finance reforms spurred by a series of ethics scandals.
The session started with bold ambitions on the part of progressive Democrats, whose party controls both houses of the legislature and all statewide elective offices.
More than a dozen gun control bills were introduced in the wake of the 2012 school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, and numerous other measures addressed immigration issues as part of a concerted effort to make the lives of undocumented migrants in California easier, even as comprehensive reform stalled at the national level amid Republican opposition. Progressives also introduced several measures aimed at restoring the state’s tattered safety net after years of recession.
But under pressure from Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, who pushed a centrist and fiscally moderate agenda, and moderate Democrats in the state assembly, several of those measures failed or were modified.
In recent months, pressure to move toward the center intensified, as a series of scandals forced Democratic leaders to suspend three senators, losing the cherished two-thirds majority in that house that had allowed them to pass new taxes, and send proposed constitutional amendments and bond measures to the voters without Republican help.
Nowhere was the resulting tension more evident than in lawmakers efforts to negotiate a plan to sell bonds to shore up the state’s water supply in the face of ongoing drought. California is in the third year of a catastrophic drought that has left reservoirs diminished and threatened billions in crops.
But lawmakers were divided along geographic as well as party lines about what to do, and negotiations continued long passed the initial deadline, coming together only after Brown intervened to pressure for compromise.
The session ended shortly after 3 a.m. The final measure included more money for reservoirs, which environmentalists say are damaging because they involve damming rivers and flooding canyons to make man-made lakes, than progressives had wanted, but less than Republicans and moderate Democrats representing agricultural areas had hoped for.
A series of campaign finance reforms were also considered in the waning days of the session. On Friday, lawmakers passed a bill limiting gifts to members of the legislature and requiring greater disclosure. Other bills barred lawmakers from dipping into election coffers to pay fines for campaign expense violations, increased fines for lawmakers convicted of bribery and tightened rules on fundraising events sponsored by lobbyists.