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Bills reflect Calif. Democrats' ambitious agenda

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 23, 2013 at 1:00 pm •  Published: February 23, 2013

Democrats also are championing issues that traditionally have been promoted by Republican lawmakers, including changes to environment regulations and promoting job creation.

Steinberg has introduced a bill that would alter the California Environmental Quality Act, among the strictest land-use laws in the nation. He and Brown say the law has been improperly used to delay beneficial projects.

Meanwhile, Assembly Speaker Pro Tem Nora Campos, D-San Jose, proposes to let local governments create "jobs and infrastructure districts." They would use tax-increment financing to provide incentives to businesses as a way to hire and train more employees.

The measure fits into what Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, said will be his top priority: putting Californians back to work.

Changes to the ballot will be another topic of debate this year, with Democrats proposing legislation that, if passed, could work to their advantage in the future.

Steinberg is promoting limits on the state's initiative process, which critics said has been hijacked by wealthy special interests. He wants to require initiative proponents to work with legislators to fine-tune their proposals, let initiatives expire after a certain number of years unless they are renewed and require proponents to show grassroots support by collecting small donations and using unpaid signature-gatherers.

Republicans fear such changes would benefit labor unions and hurt business interests and wealthy individuals, who have funded some major recent ballot campaigns.

Democrats also have introduced at least three bills to extend their reach to young voters.

Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, wants to let 15-year-olds pre-register to vote as they sign up for their instructional permits or driver's licenses. Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, D-San Mateo, is proposing a constitutional amendment permitting 17-year-olds to vote in primaries if they will be 18 by the next general election. And Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, would require polling places on each University of California and California State University campus.

Republicans, meanwhile, are fighting against several Democratic priorities, including a fee imposed on rural property owners to fund wildfire-prevention efforts.

Bills by Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, and Assemblyman Jeff Gorell, R-Camarillo, would freeze college tuition as long as the governor's tax increases remain in place — four years for the state sales tax and seven years for the higher income taxes on those making $250,000 a year or more.

Assembly Republicans are focusing on areas where they can agree with majority Democrats. While they object to most of most of the Democrats' gun control proposals, for example, they are joining in efforts to take guns away from mentally ill people, felons and others who own weapons in violation of existing laws.

"I think Californians want and expect us to find areas of importance where we can work together," said Assembly Minority Leader Connie Conway, R-Tulare.