The California state legislature passed an array of legislation during the 2012 session. Three major issues dominated the session: health care, immigration, and campaign and election reform. The legislature convened from January 4th to August 31st, excluding two holiday recesses. Of the 40 senators and 80 assembly members in the California state legislature, 77 are Democrats, 41 are Republicans, and 1 is an Independent (1 seat remains vacant). The Senate introduced a total of 632 bills during the session, and 63 of these made it through the legislative process and were signed into law by the Governor. The Assembly introduced 632 bills, and 62 of these were signed by the Governor.
A variety of health care issues were addressed during the session. Assembly Bill 2348 authorizes registered nurses to dispense hormonal contraceptives. Before AB 2348 passed, registered nurses were only allowed to dispense prescriptions under the order of a licensed physician. AB 472 prohibits the criminal prosecution of an individual that is has a drug overdose or is reporting a drug overdose. The bill encourages individuals to seek medical attention instead of leaving drug overdoses untreated. The legislature also implemented new restrictions on mental health treatment. The state set a nation-wide precedent by passing SB 1172, a bill that prohibits mental health providers from engaging in efforts to change the sexual orientation of patients under the age of 18. This bill was the first proposed by any state to ban this practice.
California voters passed Proposition 28 during the state’s primary election on June 5, 2012. This ballot measure decreases the term limit for state legislators from 14 to 12 years. The limit applies to any time the candidate spends in the Assembly, the Senate, or a combination of the two. Several other propositions will be on the ballot in November, including Proposition 34, which would repeal the death penalty, and Proposition 37, which requires labels for genetically modified food.
The Assembly introduced a constitutional amendment (ACA 10) that would increase requirements for citizen-led ballot initiatives. Under the current law, any citizen can propose a constitutional amendment by collecting enough signatures to equal or exceed 8% of the number of people that cast votes in the last gubernatorial election. If these signatures are collected, the proposed amendment is put on the ballot and requires a majority of votes to pass and become law. ACA 10 would amend the state’s constitution to require any proposed constitutional amendments to have signatures from each of 27 of the senatorial districts in the state equal in number to 8% of the votes for all candidates for governor cast in that district during the last gubernatorial election. It would also change the number of votes required for passage from a simple majority to at least 55%. The Assembly rejected the amendment 41 to 30 (constitutional amendments require a two-thirds majority for passage in both the Assembly and the Senate).
The legislature focused on several other campaign and election issues. The Assembly passed AB 1436, a bill that establishes a conditional voter registration period beginning 14 days before an election and continuing through Election Day. Previously, voters needed to register at least 15 days prior to the election in order to be eligible to vote in the election. This law would allow voters to both register and vote on the same day.
AB 1148 was intended to increase the transparency of the campaign finance process by requiring political advertisements to disclose their funding sources. The bill was introduced in the Assembly, but failed to pass. It would have required a candidate to approve all advertisements produced by his or her campaign; advertisements not authorized by the candidate’s campaign would be required to disclose the paying committee’s top 3 financial contributors.
Immigration was also a priority during the session. Assemblyman Tom Ammiano introduced AB 1081, which prohibits law enforcement from keeping an individual in detention under an immigration hold once the individual becomes eligible for release from criminal custody. The bill passed the Senate 21-13 and the Assembly 48-26. However, Governor Brown vetoed AB 1081. In his veto message, Governor Brown stated that the bill is “fatally flawed” and needs to include other serious criminal offenses. While the Governor agreed that individuals who “pose no reasonable threat to their community,” should not be detained unnecessarily, he argued that if the bill were to be enacted, law enforcement would be required to release individuals with serious criminal records in certain cases.
Another Assembly bill, AB 2189, authorizes individuals without a Social Security number to obtain a driver’s license, provided they are authorized by the Federal Government to be in the United States. The Assembly approved the bill 55-21, voting mostly along party lines. All 52 Democrats in the Assembly voted in favor of the bill, and all of the 21 dissenting voters were Republicans. The Governor signed the bill into law on September 30, 2012.
Republican Assemblyman Tim Donnelly spoke out against the Governor, and argued that by signing the bill, the Governor had made California “less safe”. Donnelly claimed that this bill, combined with AB 1436 (which allows same-day voter registration), is a “recipe for massive potential voter fraud.” AB 2189’s sponsor, Assemblyman Gilbert Cedillo, argued that the bill helps those who deserve it. “It is a victory for those who were brought here through no fault of their own, played by the rules, and are only asking to be included in and contribute to American society," he said.
The 2012 California legislative session concluded with a flurry of activity, including critical concurrence votes on SB 1172 and AB 2189. Although the session covered wide range policy topics, health-related issues, immigration, and election reform were brought to the forefront. At the end of the session, a bipartisan effort to pass a worker’s compensation bill left Governor Brown hopeful about future legislative sessions. "Again, Republicans have joined Democrats to work together -- perhaps a portent of good things to come," he said.
Charlotte Hockens is a student at the University of Texas at Austin majoring in Government and Core Texts and Ideas. She is currently interning with Project Vote Smart.