Bar on surprise bills makes for a routine end of session

Bar on surprise bills makes for a routine end of session

(Calif.) Lawmakers closed the legislative session on Friday, sending hundreds of bills to the governor including one adjusting the spending cap imposed on school districts, and another that would hike in state support for home-to-school transportation.

Gov. Jerry Brown, who is participating in climate change events this week in New York, has also begun wadding through the cascade of paperwork, signing a budget amendment that adjusts the fee schedule for child care and preschool services, as well as extending the California-Grown Fresh School Meals program another three years through July, 2021.

Prohibited for the first time from utilizing the controversial practice of “gut-and-amend,” lawmakers had a fairly routine final few hours of the session that was void of the typical last-minute surprise. The new restriction was part of Proposition 54, approved overwhelmingly by voters last November, which requires that the final form of a bill must be in print and online at least 72 hours before the Legislature can act on it.

The gut-and-amend practice for years was a common way lawmakers and interest groups would avoid public scrutiny in pushing through policies that might otherwise attract opposition.

In addition to the many bills that were forwarded on to the governor, many also failed.

AB 692, for instance, from Assemblyman David Chu, D-San Francisco, would have required the California Department of Education and the California Highway Patrol to develop a plan for outfitting school buses with seatbelts. The bill is expected to come back next year.

AB 1528 from Assemblyman Dante Acosta, R-Santa Clarita, would have extended by three years the time period that online charters could enroll students without regard to geographic boundaries.

Also shot down was SB 328 from state Sen. Anthony Portantino, D-La Canada Flintridge, which would have prevented middle and high schools to start class before 8:30 a.m.

Perhaps most important to school administrators and board members is SB 751 by Democratic Senators Jerry Hill of San Mateo and Steve Glazer from Orinda.

The bill, which won passage out of both houses last week without opposition, would increase the cap on how much money school districts can keep in reserve as well as adjusting when the cap would be triggered. Both actions are intended to give districts more fiscal flexibility.

The cap was itself a product of a last-minute surprise during the closing hours of the 2014-15 legislative session. It was prompted by concerns from the powerful California Teachers Association that districts were keeping too much money in reserve and out of reach in contract negotiations.

Under the bill, small school districts of less than 2,501 students would be exempt from the cap altogether with the limit on reserves raised to 10 percent of a district’s general fund.

SB 527 by state Sen. Cathleen Galgiani, D-Stockton, would tie state support of school transportation services to a key economic indicator, the Implicit Price Deflator for State and Local Government Purchases of Goods and Services for the United States.

State funding for home-to-school transportation needs, typically limited to students with disabilities, has been frozen since the early 1980s. A 2014 report from the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst found that schools spent more than $1.4 billion on transportation services but received less than $500 million from the state.