SACRAMENTO — With the clock ticking down on California’s 2017 legislative session, and a logjam on Thursday still holding up major votes on affordable housing and energy, environmentalists were fighting to push loose a signature climate-change bill that appeared to be hopelessly stuck in committee.
Senate Bill 100, a groundbreaking measure that would commit the state to producing 100 percent of its electricity from fossil-free sources by 2045, was essentially pronounced dead for the year by Assemblyman Chris Holden, a Pasadena Democrat who is chairman of the utilities and energy committee where the bill is stalled.
But the proposal’s champions, knowing the topsy-turvy, never-say-no world of the California Capitol, weren’t giving up.
“The people of California deserve clean energy, and we want a vote on the bill,” said the author, Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles.
As de León and his staff worked behind the scenes to advance the bill among a jumble of competing priorities, environmentalists on Thursday rallied outside of Holden’s district office in Southern California. The Sierra Club said that as the Legislature’s midnight Friday deadline approached, thousands of people around the country had joined its national campaign to pressure state lawmakers on SB 100, mostly through phone calls and social media posts.
Actor Mark Ruffalo and Bill Nye the Science Guy were among them. “Let’s pass #SB100 & get CA to 100% clean energy,” Nye tweeted Wednesday. “We can do this, people(s).”
Let’s pass #SB100 & get CA to 100% clean energy. We can do this, people(s). @Rendon63rd @lorenaSGonzalez @AsmRocky @AsmJimCooper pic.twitter.com/DdjIVQm4Ji
— Bill Nye (@BillNye) September 13, 2017
SB 100 had sailed through the Senate and cleared numerous committees before Holden balked at calling a vote on the proposal, saying the votes simply weren’t there to move it to the floor. The California Chamber of Commerce and other business groups have opposed it, and the bill received last-minute opposition from the union representing electrical workers concerned about the prospect of job losses.
“What’s the rush?” read a bulletin to lawmakers sent by the union.
The bill’s progress was also complicated by negotiations with the governor’s office and others over the future of the state’s power grid. Holden announced Wednesday that the bills he introduced last Friday night with major implications for the grid — proposals backed by Gov. Jerry Brown but denounced by some environmental groups — also would not advance. The proposal, however, may be reconsidered next year, the second half of a two-year legislative session, he said.
In a statement Thursday, Holden said he supported the legislation’s goals and was “100 percent committed” to California’s climate change leadership. But because of a new, voter-approved requirement that amendments be published at least 72 hours before a vote, Holden said, he had run out of time to address opponents’ concerns about the bill.
“Therefore,” he said in a statement Thursday, “we look forward to resolving those issues and moving this important legislation forward next year.”
Among the lobbyists and advocates swarming the Capitol on Thursday was Sierra Club California director Kathryn Phillips, who offered some historical perspective as she stood under the rotunda between the two chambers.
“Renewable energy bills tend to get stuck,” she said, “but they also tend to get unstuck before the stroke of midnight on the last day of session. This is not the first time we’ve sat around biting our nails about whether something will get out.”
A package of bills to address California’s affordable-housing crisis was still on the Assembly’s to-do list Thursday evening, though lawmakers were planning to reconvene after dinner. The bills include a proposed new fee on some real estate transactions and a $4 billion affordable-housing bond, both of which require two-thirds votes, along with laws to encourage local governments to build more housing.
While lawmakers didn’t vote before dinnertime Thursday on some of the session’s biggest bills, they did pass these measures:
- Senate Bill 149: presidential candidate tax returns. In a jab at President Donald Trump, the Assembly approved a bill requiring presidential candidates to publicly release their tax returns in order to get on California’s ballot. Trump was the first major presidential candidate in four decades who did not release his tax returns during his campaign. Under the bill, candidates who don’t file copies of their tax returns with the Secretary of State’s Office would be banned from appearing on the state’s ballot. “The recent election exposed a flaw in our system and we have an opportunity to fix it,” said Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Oakland. The bill, which passed 42-18, now goes back to the Senate for approval of amendments.
- Senate Bill 595: Bay Area vote on bridge toll hikes. Residents of the nine Bay Area counties would vote on a toll increase under a bill passed by the Senate. It voted 26-11 Thursday to authorize a regional ballot initiative aimed at hiking bridge tolls around the Bay Area by up to $3. The measure is expected to raise up to $4.2 billion over a 25-year period — funding that would be used to lengthen BART trains, provide more ferries and speedy buses, and create about 30 other transportation projects. “Traffic congestion in our freeways in the Bay Area and overcrowding on our transit systems … is eroding the Bay Area’s quality of life and undermining our job creation and retention,” said Sen. Jim Beall, D-Campbell, the bill’s author.
- Assembly Bill 569: ban on “morality clauses” in California. It would be illegal for an employer to fire or discipline a woman for being pregnant, taking birth control medication or making other decisions about her reproductive health if the governor signs the measure from Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, D-San Diego. The bill, which prevents employers from requiring employees to sign codes of conduct about their sexuality and reproductive health — like the “morality clause” the archbishop of San Francisco attempted to implement for Catholic school teachers — won final approval from the Assembly Thursday morning. “Women in this country have been fired for getting pregnant while unmarried, for using in-vitro fertilization and for other personal reasons related to their own reproductive health,” Gonzalez Fletcher said in a statement Thursday.
- Assembly Bill 168, equal pay for women. The measure, carried by Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman, would prevent employers from asking job applicants for their salary history, a practice known to perpetuate the pay gap between men and women. “The practice of seeking or requiring the salary history of job applicants helps perpetuate wage inequality that has spanned generations of women in the workforce,” Eggman said in a statement. “AB 168 empowers women to determine for themselves where they start negotiating.”