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Things To Know: Update on Senator Jerry Hill Bills

Our California Senator Jerry Hill has been working hard for us.

Below is an update on bills he has introduced and or co-sponsored.

Wide-Ranging Legislation by Senator Hill to Protect Consumers, Voters, Peninsula Communities in the High-Speed Rail Project, and Mountain Lions
Signed by Governor
Hill's Measures Also Help Reform State's Runaway Enterprise Zone Program and Rein In California Public Utilities Commission's Use of Ratepayer Money without Oversight

SACRAMENTO - A wide-ranging list of bills by Senator Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, has been signed by the governor and more await the governor's action as the 2013 legislative session wound to a close today.

In his first year in the state Senate, Hill has also played a leading role in budget provisions that closed loopholes in the state's runaway enterprise zone program and reined in the California Public Utilities Commission's use of ratepayer money to create independent foundations.

Hill Bills Signed by the Governor

SB 557 - High-Speed Rail Protections on the Peninsula
Limits the high-speed rail project on the Peninsula to a blended, primarily two-track system that minimizes impacts to communities along the Caltrain right-of-way. Puts to rest concerns on the Peninsula that the California High-Speed Rail Authority could revisit a four-track option that disrupts communities. Gives  local agencies like Caltrain veto-authority if a four-track option is ever revisited. The bill also closes a potential loophole by ensuring that funds cannot be transferred from the Peninsula segment to other segments of the project.

SB 132 - Mountain Lion Protections
Resolves dilemma that led to the fatal shooting of two starving cubs in Half Moon Bay on Nov. 30, 2012.  Requires that non-lethal procedures be used when the Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) is called to deal with a mountain lion that has wandered into a residential area and does not pose an imminent threat to the public. Authorizes the DFW to partner with wildlife groups and nonprofits in these cases.  Non-lethal options that may be considered include capturing, pursuing, anesthetizing, marking, transporting, hazing, relocating, providing veterinary care to and rehabilitating mountain lions.

SB 589 - Vote-By-Mail Verification
Allows voters to confirm their mail-in ballot was counted. Requires county election officials to establish a system allowing vote-by-mail voters to learn if their ballot was counted and, if it was not, why it wasn't. The 2012 general election was the first time a majority of voters in California cast their ballots by mail. This legislation was suggested by the winner of Hill's annual "Oughta Be a Law, or Not" contest, who wrote that he has voted by mail for more than a decade, but is not sure that his votes have been counted because he could not obtain confirmation from the registrar.

Hill Bills Awaiting Action by the Governor

SB 338 - Limousine Safety Inspections
Addresses safety and regulatory gaps that came to light after a limousine caught fire May 5 on the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge, killing a bride and four of her friends en route to a bridal party in San Carlos.  A California Highway Patrol investigation concluded the accident was caused by the failure of an air suspension system in the rear of the vehicle. There are an estimated 4,200 converted stretch limos in California like this one. SB 338 will require an owner of a limo that has been modified to increase passenger capacity to certify to the CHP that the vehicle meets all applicable federal and state motor vehicle standards. The measure will also require that limos with a seating capacity of less than 10 passengers be inspected every 13 months by the CHP and be equipped with two readily accessible and fully charged fire extinguishers.
        
SB 291 - CPUC Electric Safety Enforcement
Requires the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to develop a safety enforcement program for gas and electric violations.  Following National Transportation Safety Board and Independent Review Panel recommendations, the CPUC has allowed staff to cite utilities for gas safety violations, but the CPUC has not developed a program to improve safety using this increased staff authority.  This bill also requires the CPUC to extend this staff authority to electric safety violations. Roughly 10 people a year are killed at high-voltage electric facilities, but the CPUC has not opened enforcement actions against utilities for electrical violations of anything short of a massive wildfire.

SB 598 - Access to Biosimilar Medications
Reduces state costs by millions of dollars a year by allowing pharmacists to automatically substitute lower-cost biosimilar medications for costly brand-name biologic medications.  Biologics, and their cheaper counterparts biosimilars, are created from living cells rather than by mixing chemicals and are used to treat life-threatening illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, HIV and Alzheimer's Disease.  The provisions of the bill will take effect when the federal Food and Drug Administration deems biosimilars interchangeable with biologics.  While the majority of biologic medicines are dispensed and administered by physicians in a hospital or clinic setting, a small percentage of patients receive them through pharmacies.  When the drugs are dispensed in a pharmacy, the pharmacist would be required to notify the physician within five days so the doctor knows what drug the patient is taking since the automatic substitution would provide a drug to the patient that is different from what the doctor prescribed.  This ensures that a patient's record is accurate and allows the doctor to monitor a patients' immune reaction to these sensitive medications.

SB 594 - Nonprofit Campaign Activity Disclosure
Ensures that taxpayer-financed organizations are held to the same standards of accountability and transparency as any other political action committee. Improves the transparency of campaign activity by nonprofit organizations that receive at least 20 percent of their gross revenue from taxpayer dollars and that engage in political or campaign spending. The bill requires these organizations to deposit into a separate bank account and disclose on their website and to the Franchise Tax Board all sources of non-public funds that the organizations receive and spend on electioneering.  SB 594 clarifies that nonprofits cannot use public resources they receive for campaign activities. Public resources include funds generated from activities related to tax-exempt bond financing.  Finally, the bill requires the Franchise Tax Board to perform an audit when campaign activity by a nonprofit organizations amounts to $500,000 or more in a year.

SB 318 - Payday Loan Alternatives
Provides an alternative to payday loans by increasing access to loans for people who are unable to obtain affordable credit from banks and credit unions.  Californians who lack credit scores or have very thin credit files currently have few options when they need to borrow money; credit cards and low-interest rate installment loans are commonly unavailable to them.  Californians with subprime credit scores also have few options, and typically go to payday lenders when their incomes fail to match their spending needs.  SB 318 would establish a four-year pilot program to increase the availability of affordable, credit-building loans with principal amounts between $300 and $2,500.  The bill builds on a small-dollar loan pilot program enacted during 2010, which has failed to significantly increase the availability of responsible, small-dollar loans in California.  SB 318 continues the successful aspects of the earlier pilot, modifies components that have not worked as intended, and adds consumer protections that were not included in the earlier pilot.  The goal is to increase the number of lenders offering responsible, credit-building loans between $300 and $2,500 and expand access to these loans.

SB 538 - Investment Adviser Oversight
Increases consumer protections by empowering the Department of Business Oversight (DBO) to better regulate investment advisers and broker-dealers.  California does not perform regular examinations of its broker-dealers, their agents, or its investment advisers or their representatives, averaging a license review and examination frequency of once every 28 years compared to the suggested time frame of once every four years.  Licensed broker-dealers and investment advisers are reviewed once, upon their initial application for a license, and often never again.  SB 538 makes several changes to the state's Corporate Securities Law of 1968 to improve the state's ability to protect California investors.  The bill's provisions augment the securities law enforcement resources of the DBO and streamline the process by which DBO may collect judgments from securities licensees that violate the securities laws.  SB 538 will reverse the historic under-funding of securities enforcement with fees paid by the regulated community, which allows California's securities regulators to better protect California investors. California is home to 3,100 licensed broker-dealer firms, which employ 285,000 agents, and to 3,600 licensed investment adviser firms, which employ just over 50,000 representatives. 

SB 269 - Preventing Rental Scams
Increases the consumer protections available to people who obtain prepaid rental listing services (PRLS) from people licensed to provide those services and includes changes intended to make it more difficult for unlicensed PRLS providers to engage in business.  The high demand for rental properties has created a market ripe for prepaid rental listing service scams.  In recent months, there have been news reports in various regions of the state, documenting abuses, and the Bureau of Real Estate has issued a Consumer Fraud Alert and Warning to encourage consumers to check out their rental list providers before paying for services. 

Hill's Budget Reforms

Enterprise Zones
Senator Hill helped overhaul California's economic development program in an effort to encourage manufacturing and job growth in the state.  Changes spurred by Hill's SB 434 redirected about $750 million in business tax breaks that had been awarded for creation of low-wage jobs by employers that included temporary worker agencies, strip clubs, bars, retailers and restaurants.

Thanks to provisions that are now in place as a result of budget legislation this summer, the geographic boundaries of existing enterprise zones remain largely in place, but eligibility for hiring credits and other benefits has been limited to employers with higher-wage jobs. The new provisions also enable companies throughout the state that meet qualifications to receive hiring tax credits, which ends the incentive for companies to fire employees in one part of the state and hire replacement workers in an enterprise zone in another part of the state.

New incentive programs include a sales tax exemption for manufacturing and bioresearch companies. Also, the Governor's Office now has the ability to provide incentives in recruiting companies to come to California.  Further reforms end the practice of allowing contingency fees for tax consultants, which drove up the program costs with excessive claims. Finally, the reform increases transparency so taxpayers know where their money is going.  The old enterprise zone program was not required to disclose the companies that received tax breaks; investigative news reports revealed that strip clubs had received thousands of dollars in state funds thanks to the old program.

California Public Utilities Commission
At Hill's urging, the Legislature passed reforms to rein in the CPUC's runaway power, including:

Limiting the creation of off-book nonprofits - The CPUC has created and attempted to create nonprofits to funnel hundreds of millions of dollars to them so that commissioners could expend that money without any accountability to the governor or the Legislature.  This year's budget reforms prevent the CPUC from doing so without the Legislature's approval.

Curtailing conflicts of interest with nonprofits - In creating CPUC nonprofits, CPUC commissioners have appointed themselves to run those nonprofits, even though their positions with the nonprofits are in conflict with their duties as commissioners.  These reforms prevent CPUC commissioners from serving on nonprofits they help create.

Limiting non-competitive research grants - Last December, the CPUC awarded a $150-million research grant to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory - a staggering amount for a single project - without a competitive process or peer review.  In a compromise with the Governor's Office, the Legislature has reduced the grant to $35 million.  A long-term solution to ensure competition and peer review in research grants is currently being developed in Hill's SB 48.

Enhancing ratepayer advocacy - The Division of Ratepayer Advocates is the state's in-house advocacy group responsible for keeping electric, gas, water, and telephone rates low.  The division's ability to fulfill its mission has been hampered as the CPUC has control of the division's funds.  Budget reforms have given the division the financial independence it needs to advocate for consumers.

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Nate Solov

Office of Senator Jerry Hill

916-651-4013

www.senate.ca.gov/hill

Contact: Aurelio Rojas 916-651-4013 / 916-747-3199 cell
Hutch September 14, 2013 at 01:07 AM
I wish Jerry hadn't said he supported the City of Pacifica's attempt to levy a hefty tax on all citizens phones. I wish he would rethink saddling struggling families with hundreds of dollars in extra taxes each year. It's not too late to be on the right side of this Jerry. Join us www.facebook.com/groups/DefeatPhoneTax/

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