California Legislature Rushes to Complete Bills Before the Session Ends
By Patrick McGreevy and Melanie Mason
California community colleges could offer four-year degrees for the first time, and suspension of defiant schoolchildren would be curtailed, under proposals sent to Gov. Jerry Brown by the Legislature on Thursday.
Bids to reduce sentences for some drug crimes and to expunge from state law all remnants of Proposition 187 also were headed to Brown.
The proposition, passed by voters in 1994 to bar state services to immigrants in the country illegally, was ultimately ruled unconstitutional by the courts but was never struck from the books. Lawmakers also sent the governor a measure to outlaw the image of the Confederate flag on most items displayed or sold by the state.
Tempers began to flare in the Senate on Thursday as lawmakers rushed to sort scores of bills 11 days before their session ends. Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) chastised Republicans as "disruptive" for repeated attempts to revive GOP priorities that had withered in the Democratic-dominated Capitol.
Such moves included an attempt to derail a provision of California's cap-and-trade emissions program that may affect gas prices.
The legislation on community colleges was a response to escalating costs at UC and Cal State universities, said the bill's author, Sen. Marty Block (D-San Diego), plus a need for more workforce skills in some parts of the state.
"By 2025, our state will need 1 million more adults with four-year degrees," Block said. "We need to use all of California's resources -- including our community colleges -- to close that gap."
The bill, SB 850, would allow 15 community college districts to temporarily offer one baccalaureate degree program each, as soon as next year and ending in 2023. Block said he thinks the community colleges can provide a four-year degree for $10,000 per student, much less than the cost at UC and Cal State schools.
On the other end of the academic spectrum, lawmakers want to limit suspensions for students who "willfully defy" teachers and administrators. Supporters of the measure say schools too often suspend or expel students for "willful defiance," a catch-all term that includes refusal to complete assignments or disruption of school activities.
"Rather than kicking students out of school, we need to take every step possible to keep kids in school to ensure they have the best chance of success in school and in life," said the bill's author, Assemblyman Roger Dickinson (D-Sacramento).
The proposal, AB 420, would ban expulsions for such offenses in all grade levels and bar suspensions for students in kindergarten through third grade.
A bill that would reduce penalties for the sale of crack cocaine to the same levels as those for powder cocaine also won final legislative approval. SB 1010, by Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), was a top priority of the Legislature's black caucus, which said crack convictions in low-income and minority communities are more common because crack is cheaper than powder.
A separate measure, AB 2492, by Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles) would eliminate mandatory 90-day jail sentences for some first-time drug crimes; lawmakers hope to divert those offenders into drug treatment.
Supporters of the effort to strip Proposition 187 from state books said that would help cleanse California of the last stains of a law that inflamed anti-immigrant sentiment.
Sen. Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) introduced the bill, SB 396, "so we can move forward collectively as a state," he told his colleagues, denouncing Proposition 187's "polemic language."
"We have come a long way, a very long way, since Proposition 187," De León said before the measure cleared the Legislature and headed to Brown.
Assemblyman Isadore Hall III (D-Compton) introduced the proposed ban on images of the Confederate flag after his mother saw a replica of Confederate money sold in the Capitol gift shop bearing a picture of the flag. His bill, AB 2444, would not apply to such images in books, digital media or state museums if displayed for educational or historical purposes.
Lawmakers also sent Brown legislation to give the public access to Martin's Beach near Half Moon Bay, by directing the state Lands Commission to negotiate with billionaire landowner Vinod Khosla for a right-of-way to the beach.
Meanwhile, Brown signed into law SB 1422 by Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), requiring that sexual assault allegations within the California National Guard, State Military Reserve and Naval Militia be investigated and prosecuted by civilian authorities.
And he legalized what is already a popular practice by pet owners: taking canine companions to outdoor restaurants. Under AB 1965 by Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada (D-Davis), restaurants may still opt not to welcome pooches, and local governments can pass their own bans.
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