Dozens of bills die in California Legislature committees

08/31/2013 12:00 AM

08/31/2013 11:02 AM

With California's legislative session in its final days, state lawmakers pared dozens of bills from consideration Friday, including a measure to expand the independence of nurse practitioners.

They also halted the progress of a bill that would allow mothers who get pregnant while enrolled in CalWORKs to claim benefits for the child.

The appropriations committees in both houses considered their "suspense files," the holding place for hundreds of bills that would cost the state more than $150,000 each to implement.

In the Assembly, lawmakers moved rapidly through the list of 152 bills, passing 110 with a $17 million price tag.

Among those stalled in committee were Democratic Sen. Loni Hancock's Senate Bill 283, which would allow drug felons to access food stamps, and Senate Bill 38 by Democratic Sen. Kevin de Leon. It would create an amnesty program for people prohibited from possessing guns to surrender them to law enforcement.

Democratic Sen. Ed Hernandez's bill expanding the duties of pharmacists passed, but his Senate Bill 491 to add duties and independence for nurse practitioners – including prescribing drugs and managing treatment plans – was halted.

It lost the support of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners following recent amendments and was opposed by the California Medical Association, which represents doctors.

Hernandez said he will push forward with the bill next year.

"Despite numerous studies showing the safety of expanded practice for nurse practitioners, and not a single piece of contrary data offered by opponents, politics prevailed over sound public policy," Hernandez said in a statement. "The unfortunate result is that California will fall further behind in its ability to provide quality health care to our neediest population."

There were fewer casualties in the Senate Appropriations Committee, with several contentious or heavily lobbied Democratic measures advancing to the Senate floor.

But lawmakers blocked Assembly Bill 271, by Assemblywoman Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles.

De Leon, D-Los Angeles and chairman of the committee, cited the cost in holding the bill but still paused in a rapid-fire hearing to voice his "unequivocal" support for the measure and decry the current so-called "family cap" policy, which bars women who become pregnant while on welfare from drawing more money.

In an interview, Mitchell compared a late-session push to expand California's prison capacity to her bill's failure, suggesting that a ragged social safety net contributes to prison overcrowding by pushing impoverished Californians toward crime.

"Deep poverty has a direct correlation to criminal activity," Mitchell said, "and children born into these families, whose household incomes and payments from CalWORKs are not adjusted, leads them into deep poverty."

In the Senate, bills that survived and will next face Senate floor votes included legislation to raise the state's minimum wage, to offer drivers' licenses to undocumented immigrants, to prohibit lead ammunition, to allow medical translators to acquire union representation and collectively bargain, and to provide labor protections to domestic workers.

Among the bills moving on to the Assembly for a floor vote are Senate Bill 4, the sole piece of legislation remaining that would regulate fracking.

Also advancing was SB 731, Senate leader Darrell Steinberg's bill calling for changes to the California Environmental Quality Act. "It continues to be a work in progress at this late date and I think that reflects the delicacy of the issue," said Assembly Appropriations Chairman Mike Gatto, D-Los Angeles. "It's a very difficult issue. I hope he gets consensus and a product that we would be happy to vote for on the floor."

Call Melody Gutierrez, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5521. Follow her on Twitter @melodygutierrez.

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