SACRAMENTO, California — A year marked by the worst drought in a generation, the arrest of two state senators on federal corruption charges and a deadly rampage in a Santa Barbara college community drove support for legislation sent to Gov. Jerry Brown in the final weeks of the legislative session.
State lawmakers adjourned early Saturday morning after acting on a flurry of bills that might not have advanced without heightened public pressure.
Among the most hotly debated items was a legislative package that would regulate California's groundwater supply for the first time. As government water allocations plunge, fields go fallow and farmworkers lose jobs, farmers have become increasingly reliant on pumping from wells.
Groundwater is not managed and regulated as closely as surface water from reservoirs and rivers despite constituting 60 percent of California's water use in drought years. As a result, excessive pumping causes land to start sinking and billions of dollars in infrastructure damage, supporters of regulation say.
"This third year of historic drought makes us painfully aware of groundwater's importance to the environmental, social and economic fabric," said Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento.
SB 1168, SB 1319 and AB 1739 by Dickinson and Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, would require some local governments to develop groundwater-management plans and allow the state to intervene if necessary.
Such legislation has been an elusive goal for lawmakers for decades in the face of opposition from agricultural interests dependent on groundwater. Republican lawmakers and Democrats who represent farming regions in the Central Valley said the bills, which overhaul longstanding water policy, were being rushed and called for the governor to veto the legislation and instead call a special session of the Legislature.
Another major push by lawmakers followed a deadly rampage in May by 22-year-old Elliot Rodger. He killed six and wounded 13 near the University of California, Santa Barbara, before killing himself — even after family members had warned law enforcement of his erratic behavior.
AB 1014 by Democratic Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner of Berkeley would make California the first state to let family members and law enforcement officers petition a judge for a temporary restraining order to prevent someone from possessing a firearm when they appear to pose a threat.
"When (police) encountered Mr. Rodger, he was calm, he was rational, he was coherent, and without other evidence, there was really nothing they could do," Skinner said.
Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, a Republican from the San Bernardino mountain community of Twin Peaks and a vocal supporter of gun rights, cautioned lawmakers against reactionary legislation.
"How do we prevent one of these mass shootings? And I'm afraid the answer is that we cannot do it with laws, that we cannot legislate that darkness, that evil that lurks in the hearts of men," he said.
Another big focus this legislative session has been on ethics in the wake of criminal cases against senators. Three seats have been vacant for months after Democratic Sens. Leland Yee of San Francisco and Ron Calderon of Montebello were arrested on separate federal corruption cases. Earlier this year, Democratic Sen. Rod Wright was convicted for lying about his Los Angeles-area residence.
The Yee and Calderon cases provided an impetus for ethics reforms to restore the Legislature's tarnished image, although lawmakers set aside more ambitious proposals such as whistleblower protections for legislative staff and a partial fundraising blackout.
SB 831 by Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, would ban elected officials from requesting payments on their behalf to nonprofits run by family members. It also places limits on spending campaign cash for personal purposes, such as on vacations and utility bills.
SB 1442, pushed by Democratic Senate leaders, increases detailed campaign spending reporting from twice a year to quarterly. Other bills approved in the final days of the session would place new restrictions on gift-giving to lawmakers and prohibit lobbyists from hosting fundraisers for elected officials.
California often takes the lead in responding to national debates with new policies, and did so this week with the perceived failure of universities to prevent and properly investigate campus sexual assault.
SB 967 by Sen. Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, requires schools investigating assault cases to use an "affirmative consent standard," meaning both parties gave unambiguous, clear approval for sexual activity. It's meant as a change that will provide consistency across campuses and challenge the notion that victims must have resisted assault to have valid complaints.
Another bill would make California the first state to ban single-use plastic grocery bags as a way to combat a buildup of waste in oceans and waterways. SB 270 by Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, cleared both bodies narrowly, as some lawmakers criticized a provision allowing grocers to charge consumers 10 cents for paper bags often provided for free.
In its final hours, the Legislature also approved AB 1522 by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, which would require most employers to provide temporary and part-time workers with up to three paid sick days a year. The legislation hit a last-minute snag when key unions and some Democrats pulled their support because of an exemption sought by Brown for home aides for the elderly and people with disabilities.
The governor has until the end of September to sign or veto the legislation.
Associated Press writers Judy Lin, Don Thompson and Juliet Williams contributed to this story.
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