If you or your career needs CPR, if your electric bill is too high, if fracking frazzles you or if crime concerns you, our locally elected state lawmakers may have just had the legislation for you.
Their legislative session, which ended while you were asleep Friday, includes bills aimed at cheapening electric bills, keeping criminals in prison and bringing hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in training to Kern County.
It also saw passage of the first statewide law dedicated to fracking, the process of hydraulic fracturing subterranean rock to release oil. Now, fracking will require permits beforehand, and comprehensive transparency from producers.
Officially, of course, most bills pertaining to these issues are headed to Gov. Jerry Brown's desk, where the governor will have until Sept. 30 to sign them into law.
Assemblyman Rudy Salas, D-Bakersfield, the then-Ward 1 councilman who was elected to the state Assembly in November, was elated about bringing $15 million in Proposition 39 funds back to Kern and Kings counties, where it will be used to train veterans and young people for jobs in alternative energy.
"We're the only freshman legislator to get $15 million in the budget for job training. That's already a done deal," Salas said of the money, which the counties will divide. "When that money becomes available, that means jobs for our area. People will be trained, they'll get all the skills they need with regard to green jobs."
"We really appreciate that," said Marco Cesar LizÃ¡rraga, executive director of La Cooperativa Campesina, the association of the National Farmworker Jobs Program. "We really felt like some of that money from Prop. 39 should be devoted to employment and training, especially in the rural areas."
The legislature also sent AB 633, which Salas authored, to the governor. It would allow employees to give CPR even if their employer forbids or does not require it -- a direct response to the death in February of 87-year-old Lorraine Bayless at Glenwood Gardens' independent living facility, after an employee refused to do CPR on Bayless or to get someone else to do it.
Salas also succeeded in getting two bills protecting veterans through the legislature. AB 555 helps veterans more easily determine their eligibility for benefits and services by improving communication between veterans agencies and law enforcement. AB 556 adds veterans to the list of people against whom discrimination is prohibited under the Fair Housing and Employment Act.
State Sen. Jean Fuller, R-Bakersfield, said the session, which ended Friday shortly after midnight, yielded fruitful progress on reducing electric bills, citing Assemblyman Henry Perea's AB 327, which is awaiting Brown's signature. It would do away with tiered pricing instituted after the 2001 energy crisis, and would let the California Public Utilities Commission reform electric charges.
"In the end, we did make the first big success at reducing those tiered rates that are so hard on all our inland areas' energy rates," said Fuller, who is vice chair of the Senate's Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee and helped convince the Republican caucus to support the bill. Perea is a Democrat from Fresno. "This is, like, really it's a small incremental step, but it's a huge first-time opening."
"I think there's been a lot of progress made," said Michael Turnipseed, executive director of Kern County Taxpayers Association, of the push to aid Central Valley electric customers, who need the help because they use air conditioning more than their coastal counterparts. "Now, we'll be at the table making sure we get the fairest rates possible."
Allan Krauter, a senior administrative analyst for Kern County, said the county Board of Supervisors supports the bill, and believes it "has the potential to be landmark in setting electricity rates."
Fuller also got Senate Bill 159 approved and signed, allowing Kern River Valley Cemetery District to bury up to 40 non-residents per year -- a financial buoy to the cemetery, and an emotional victory for Kern River Valley residents, who may be contemplating ending their days in convalescent homes outside the cemetery district where they have lived for years.
Fuller and Assemblyman Steve Fox, D-Palmdale, noted the passage of AB 1060, a military fee waiver bill authored by Fox, which if signed by the governor could bring as much as $700,000 to Kern County for renewable energy planning.
"Kern County was in support of the bill because we like to keep our options open," said Kern County Planning Director Lorelei Oviatt, noting that the county has not yet applied for the funding because doing so would require signing a memorandum of agreement on the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan -- and signing would place restrictions on county desert lands.
Equally momentous for Fox, however, was passage and prompt signage of SB 105, paving the way for the state to lease the prison in California City for at least three years. The bill provides for the transfer out of around 1,000 federal prisoners currently housed there, the transfer in of around 2,300 state prisoners, and the creation of more than new 800 prison jobs.
The bill allows the state to comply with realignment, also known as AB 109, a mandate to reduce prison overcrowding by sentencing inmates convicted of non-violent, non-serious and non-sexual crimes to county supervision instead of state prison.
Leasing the California City prison, effectively increasing the capacity of the state prison system, is another way for the state to accomplish its goal without actually releasing prisoners before they have served their sentences.
SB 105 also keeps open the California Rehabilitation Center in Norco, which had been slated to close by the end of 2016, and provides for the housing of some inmates out-of-state.
"To me, this is a win-win," Fox said of the bill, funded by a $315 million General Fund appropriation to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. "I got to keep prisoners in the system, and I get to bring additional jobs to my district."
Assemblywoman Connie Conway, R-Tulare, the Assembly Republican leader, agreed.
"We worked with the governor and our friends across the aisle, and we feel like we've really protected Californians," said Conway, a Bakersfield native who represents the Kern River Valley. "It keeps the criminals off the street, but it keeps those they are local jobs."
Conway's other contribution to the session was sending AB 1428 to the governor's desk. It ensures workers signing up Californians for insurance, under the federal health care reform program, are given background checks.
The session proved frustrating for Assemblywoman Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield, when bills she introduced giving members of the military more time to mail in ballots, opposing a federal bailout of the state pension system, promoting transparency in opening meetings, and regulating terms under which retired lawmakers may join the state Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board were killed.
Grove did give a resounding thumbs-down to SB 4, authored by state Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, and the first comprehensive statewide fracking law.
The assemblywoman, who voted against the bill, said revisions to it are better than nothing for the Kern County oil industry.
Revisions include allowing county Environmental Impact Reports on oil fields to supercede state EIRs.
Also included is the stipulation that in most cases, the state will require just one EIR per group of what are called "cluster oil wells."
"That would be really great if we got the recognition for Kern County's EIR," said Grove, who when she spoke wasn't sure if the bill had actually been revised. (It had.) "It would eliminate frivolous lawsuits."
Kern County Board of Supervisors sent letters to Brown and Pavley on Monday opposing SB 4.
"The board was worried that the regulations, while more reasonable than a moratorium (on fracking), they still offer a lot of hoops for the oil industry to jump through," Krauter said.