State Capitol

By John Myers
August 31, 2016

California’s 120 legislators took the oath of office in December 2014 with pledges to tackle issues like the cost of a college education, the state’s minimum wage and beyond.

So how did they do?

On Wednesday, the final gavel fell on the two-year session of the California Legislature, which saw the introduction of more than 5,000 proposed laws, resolutions and constitutional amendments.

Legislative leaders have praised efforts on a variety of important issues, while admitting that a few big items were left unfinished.

Big battles over climate change end with wins — and scars — for Democrats

Some of the biggest headlines were made by new efforts to combat climate change, all building on the 2006 law to shrink California’s carbon footprint. But it came at a price, as Democrats backed by labor and environmental groups clashed with Democrats aligned with business interests.

The flash point came in 2015 as the business-backed Democrats balked at a plan to slash gasoline use in California, leading more liberal party loyalists to accuse those legislators of being in the pocket of the oil industry.

Those same skeptical Democrats demanded this summer’s climate change proposal include new legislative oversight of the state’s powerful Air Resources Board, insisting that environmental protection efforts focus more on the impact to poor communities. Even though compromises were inked, the schism inside Democratic ranks caused by these two years of fights are unlikely to heal anytime soon.

Emotional votes on aid-in-dying, new vaccine mandates for school kids

Lawmakers struggled at the start of the session with the medical and moral issues surrounding the rights of the terminally ill to end their own lives. After rejecting an aid-in-dying bill in the early summer of 2015, Democrats brought the issue back for a second try and Gov. Jerry Brown signed the new law, which took effect this past June.

No less controversial was Senate Bill 277, which limited the allowable exemptions to California’s vaccination requirements for public school children. Vaccine critics first tried to overturn the law, seen as one of the nation’s most aggressive vaccination efforts, through a statewide ballot referendum. When that failed, a lawsuit was filed. It remains pending.

Few failures of the legislative session were as prominent as the failed negotiations on a broad, long-lasting fix to the state’s transportation woes. In June 2015, Brown called a special legislative session on transportation, which ran concurrently with the regular work at the Capitol. But even after several proposals were floated and then reworked, the discussion struck out when it came to raising the state’s gasoline tax to help pay for a portion of the plan.

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