With the beginning of the New Year, the Legislature reconvenes today to tackle California’s projected budget deficit of nearly $13 billion (through June 2013), 2011 legislation that was rolled over to the second year of this two-year legislative session, as well as new bills that will be introduced this session.
For environment protection, this means important 2011 bills like the banning of plastic grocery bags and polystyrene take-out containers, as well as requirements to force oil and gas firms to publicly list chemicals pumped into the ground during a drilling process known as hydraulic fracturing or “fracking”, will get a second chance in 2012.
While balancing the state budget and the potential fiscal impact of new legislation, the Legislature will also face critical decisions whether to repeal, delay or reduce the $11.14 billion water bond currently slated for the November ballot; whether or not more state parks should close and if so, which ones; and whether or not to appropriate more funds for California’s proposed $100 billion high speed rail system.
Complicating matters further, 2012 will be the first election year with independently redrawn and highly competitive district lines, as well as a Top 2 Open Primary System that allows voters to vote for any candidate (regardless of party affiliation) in each race during the primary, with the top two vote-getters then qualifying for the General Election. With so much uncertainty, some fear this may prevent the Legislature from passing meaningful legislation this session. Democratic leadership assures Californians that this is not true. Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez recently stated, “What you’ve seen over the last year is an ability for the Governor and the Legislature to come together and make very tough decisions – and I think you’re going to see more of the same.” With so many critical issues facing our state, it is PCL’s hope that the Speaker is correct in his assessment; and that when tackling these pressing matters, the Legislature acts deliberately, thoughtfully and transparently.