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Governor blesses bills as Legislature winds up its work

8:39 PM, Sep 11, 2013   |    comments
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The standard response from governors or their spokespeople about bills pending in the Legislature is 'No comment.'

And that's what made Wednesday so unusual, as Gov. Jerry Brown decided to comment on not one, but two proposals that had yet to make it to his desk.

Brown's full-throated support for a higher minimum wage and new regulations for extra efforts to drill oil likely boosted both of those efforts, while dozens more were sent to his desk to learn their fate sometime next month.

The day before the final day of the Legislature's 2013 session saw a plethora of bills - from a ban on kits to enlarge ammunition magazines to the new crime of 'revenge porn' - clearing their final hurdles en route to the governor's first floor offices in the Capitol.

But it was a new deal between the governor and legislators on a minimum wage increase that caught everyone by surprise, a compromise on Assembly Bill 10 that speeds up the initial boost in pay, a $9 an hour rate, to next July while delaying the eventual $10 an hour pay until January 1, 2016.

"The minimum wage has not kept pace with rising costs," said Governor Brown in a written statement. "This legislation is overdue and will help families that are struggling in this harsh economy."

The bill was roundly opposed by business groups, but they weren't the only ones who were left on the sidelines by the governor's newly found zeal for staking out an opinion on pending legislation.  So, too, were environmental groups.

Just after the Assembly passed -- begrudgingly, it seemed, for some Democrats -- a closely watched bill to impose new regulations on hydraulic fracturing and other ways of stimulating oil wells, the governor's spokesman announced that Brown would be more than happy to sign the bill.

"SB 4 is an important step forward," wrote Brown's press secretary, Evan Westrup, "and the governor looks forward to signing it once it reaches his desk."

Trouble was, the bill's most recent amendments had resulted in it being abandoned by almost the entire environmental community (that didn't already oppose it, as some did).

"Our organizations oppose newly amended provisions in the bill," wrote the California League of Conservation Voters to the bill's author, Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills on behalf of several groups.

The swirl of debate left some Democrats bewildered, and so before SB 4 became the focus of hand wringing in the Senate, Brown's endorsement may have helped soothe some senators' worries about crossing the politically powerful environmental community.

In fact, Brown got a lot of what he no doubt wanted on Wednesday: those two bills plus an almost unanimous legislative approval of the new prison crisis compromise, a quick fix to a fight with the federal government over 2012's pension changes, and the ratification of public employee labor contracts his team negotiated this summer.

He also may have dodged a bullet with news that the latest bill to allow undocumented immigrants the right to a driver's license was being put on hold until 2014.

But the governor has his work cut out for him once the final gavel falls on Thursday night. From the myriad of gun bills likely to end up on his desk to issues like overtime and meal breaks for domestic workers, a ban on lead ammunition for hunters, and reduced penalties for some drug crimes.

The agenda for Thursday, the final day of this session, includes the 2013 end of the fight over changing the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA); a closely watched debate over the tax-exempt status of groups like the Boy Scouts that don't allow gay leaders; and the remainder of the highly publicized gun control bills.

It'll be a long day. Wear some comfortable shoes.

Update 9:55 p.m. It appears the CEQA fight is on hold until 2014, per some late night Capitol news tweets.

John Myers is News10's political editor.  Check out his Twitter feed on California politics, his Facebook page, and the weekly News10 Capitol Connection politics podcast.

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