Bills reflect Calif. Democrats' ambitious agenda

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 23, 2013 at 1:00 pm •  Published: February 23, 2013
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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Emboldened by their supermajorities in the Legislature, Democrats have begun to chart an ambitious agenda outlined in the hundreds of bills they introduced before last week's deadline.

From gun control to revenue increases, voting rights to environmental protections, their proposals would make significant changes to California law if they pass and win support from Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown.

Outnumbered Republicans said they can only hope to have a say in shaping that agenda as they introduced their own bills, many of which are intended to modify or repeal measures adopted by majority Democrats in recent years.

The two-thirds majorities in the Assembly and Senate won by Democrats during November's election give them the power to unilaterally increase taxes, pass emergency legislation, override gubernatorial vetoes and put constitutional amendments before voters. While their supermajorities are being undermined temporarily as some lawmakers resign to take new offices or jobs outside government, Democratic leaders are confident they ultimately will maintain the two-thirds threshold in both houses.

A Field Poll released last week found that 55 percent of voters think the Democrats' supermajorities are good for California.

By Friday's deadline, lawmakers had introduced 2,189 bills for this year's session — 1,376 in the Assembly and 813 in the Senate. That is actually 8 percent less than in 2011, the start of the previous two-year session, when lawmakers introduced 2,381 bills.

Democratic leaders have pledged to tread carefully on tax issues and in other areas for fear of alienating voters, yet the majority party is moving aggressively on several fronts.

In the Senate, Democrats declared that they wanted to enact even tougher gun and ammunition laws than those signed into law last month in New York, announcing their intentions just 10 days after promising a cautious approach on gun control legislation.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg of Sacramento said he was confident Democrats could use their supermajorities to "once again make California's gun laws the very toughest in the nation."

He also is supporting proposals that would tinker with Proposition 13, the landmark 1978 voter initiative that rolled back property taxes and strictly limited how much they could rise each year. It also increased the percentage of votes required to pass local tax hikes.

Democratic Sens. Mark Leno of San Francisco and Lois Wolk of Davis are proposing constitutional amendments to lower the vote threshold to raise taxes for school districts and some other local governments from the current two-thirds to 55 percent.

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano of San Francisco is seeking a change that would eliminate Proposition 13 provisions that let corporations avoid reassessments after property sales. No changes are proposed for the rules governing residential property tax assessments.

Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, has introduced a bill with Leno that would impose a new tax on oil produced in California, which Republicans say would inevitably be passed on to motorists. The measure would raise a projected $2 billion annually to help fund the state's higher education and state parks systems.

California is among the nation's top oil-producing states but does not tax oil extraction as other states do, including Texas. In 2011, California wells produced 196.8 million barrels of oil.

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