By Rick Orlov and Andrew Edwards, Staff Writers
Posted: 12/03/2012 07:22:16 PM PST
Updated: 12/03/2012 07:26:33 PM PST

Fueled by a Democratic supermajority and a bumper crop of new faces, California lawmakers launched their new two-year session on Monday, planning to turn their immediate attention to health care and the state budget.

Democrats have a two-thirds majority in the Assembly and Senate for the first time since 1883. That means they have the power to approve new taxes and get constitutional amendments on the ballot without a single Republican vote, but they said Monday they will be cautious not to abuse that new authority.

In his remarks to the new Assembly, Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, noted the body has a “sober profound responsibility” facing it this coming year.

“We have a special moment as we begin a new legislative year,” Perez said.

That supermajority may be short-lived because several seats are expected to open up in 2013 for special elections as members seek other elected offices before their legislative terms expire.

The new class is also marked by the highest number of freshman legislators — 39 — since 1966. But that’s not likely to be matched anytime soon, as a new revision to term limits will let incumbents remain in the same office for a longer time.

The previous term-limits law restricted legislators to six years in the Assembly and eight in the Senate. This summer, voters decided to allow lawmakers to be re-elected to either or both houses for up to 12 years.

One of the top issues to be tackled by the Legislature this year is preparing for the complex implementation of federal health care reforms in California by 2014, which will require a host of new state laws and regulations. Gov. Jerry Brown is expected to call a special session next month to tackle that issue.

A second big challenge will be once again tackling the state budget, which has faced multibillion-dollar deficits for years. Though with the state’s moderate recovery, that budget gap has now been whittled down substantially.

“The good news is we have dealt with the state’s structural deficit and now are left with about a $2 billion carryover,” said Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield, D-Van Nuys, who is continuing as chairman of the Assembly Budget Committee. “It’s a lot of money, but it’s nowhere near the $50 billion (shortfall) we faced a couple of years ago.”

Blumenfield is one of several Democrats who may be vacating their offices next year before their terms expire. He is seeking the Los Angeles City Council seat now held by Councilman Dennis Zine, who is running for city controller, and if he wins would take the new office on July 1, 2013.

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