SACRAMENTO — After months of emotionally wrenching debate, state lawmakers on Friday sent a landmark bill to Gov. Jerry Brown that would allow doctors to prescribe life-ending drugs to terminally ill Californians who request them.
“By an overwhelming majority across all groups — religious, ethnic, geographic, no matter what age or gender — Californians want us to act to eliminate the needless pain and prolonged suffering of those who are dying,” Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, said shortly before the state Senate voted 23 to 14 to pass the bill, largely along party lines. Brown has not indicated whether he will sign it.
The bill was among dozens of measures voted on Friday during the final day of the 2015 legislative session. Other measures that lawmakers sent to the governor dealt with global warming, the drought and voter registration.
SB350, the landmark climate change bill sought by Gov. Jerry Brown, passed the Assembly on a 51-26 vote, two days after the governor and Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, removed a key provision that would have required California to cut oil use in half by 2030.
Republicans, almost all of whom voted against the bill, warned that SB350 would raise energy costs and that would disproportionately hurt poor people. But Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, argued that greater efficiency would drive down power costs. The Senate, which had already passed a stronger version of the bill, passed the amended measure 26 to 14 before the Legislature’s midnight deadline.
The bill gives California some of the most far-reaching renewable-energy rules in the country. It requires utilities like PG&E to provide 50 percent of their electricity from solar, wind, geothermal and other renewable sources by 2030 — up from the 33 percent by 2020 required under current law.
“I’m elated,” said Kathryn Phillips, executive director of Sierra Club California. “If you would have asked me last year at this time, ‘Can a bill get passed that would make it so that in 15 years half the electricity we generate in California was going to be from renewable energy?’ I would say no way, we can’t do it. But we have done it.”
Overall, the session’s final week was a bumpy one for Brown and Democratic leaders, who hold sizeable majorities in both the Senate and the Assembly. Numerous attempts to raise taxes — on gasoline to pay for road repairs, on tobacco to pay for health programs, and on managed care organizations to pay for the state’s rapidly expanding Medi-Cal health care program for the poor — all failed when supporters could not find enough Republican votes to achieve the needed two-thirds margins for passage.
The tax structure California now uses to tax health plans must be phased out by July 1, 2016, because it doesn’t comply with new Obama administration rules that dictate how health care plans may be taxed by the states.
If there is no compromise struck with Republicans, more than a billion dollars the state now gets from the federal government for Medi-Cal funding will have to be cut from next year’s budget to make up for the loss of taxes on managed care plans.
Among the bills passed Friday were:
The assisted-death bill passed after Wolk and its other author, Sen. Bill Monning, D-Monterey, saw an earlier version of the measure stall in the Assembly Health Committee this summer.
At that point, the legislation was assumed to be dead. But last month Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman, D-Stockton, resurrected the issue when she introduced Assembly Bill X2-15 as part of Brown’s special session on health care funding for the poor.
The bill passed the Assembly by a vote of 43 to 34 on Wednesday before the Senate took it up Friday.
“Let’s call this what it is. It’s not death with dignity,” said state Sen. Bob Huff, R-Brea. “It’s assisted killing.”
Supporters of the bill included Dan Diaz, the widower of Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old UC Berkeley graduate diagnosed with aggressive terminal brain cancer who moved to Portland, Oregon, to receive physician-prescribed medication to end her life last year.
“It’s a sense of accomplishment and happiness and pride in the legislators who voted for this. They are representing the will of California people,” said Diaz, a 43-year-old Alamo resident.
The measure — similar to laws in Oregon, Washington, Montana and Vermont — would allow doctors to prescribe lethal doses of drugs to mentally competent, terminally ill patients. Disability rights advocates and oncologists opposed the legislation, saying it takes advantage of the poor and vulnerable.
This year has been a tumultuous one in the Capitol.
In addition to the “right to die” measure — the subject of hearings and floor debates that brought legislators to tears — the Legislature passed a bill to remove loopholes in California’s vaccine laws. It ended the “personal belief exemption” and required nearly all children to be vaccinated to attend school. Hundreds of parents who opposed the legislation, SB277, by Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, swarmed the Capitol, holding rallies each day the bill came up for votes in hopes of persuading lawmakers to vote against it because they said it violates their parental rights.
In the end, Brown signed the bill, saying “the science is clear that vaccines dramatically protect children against a number of infectious and dangerous diseases.”
Pan, however, is now the target of a recall.
Staff writer Jessica Calefati contributed to this report.
BILLS SENT TO GOVERNOR
The California Legislature is considering hundreds of bills ahead of its Friday deadline for passage. Here are some bills sent to Gov. Jerry Brown as the session wound down:
SB 350, a landmark climate change bill that gives California some of the most far-reaching renewable-energy rules in the country. It requires utilities like PG&E to provide 50 percent of their electricity from solar, wind, geothermal and other renewable sources by 2030 — up from the 33 percent by 2020 required under current law.
Assembly Bill X2-15, by Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman, D-Stockton, which would allow doctors to prescribe life-ending drugs to mentally competent, terminally ill Californians.
SB 643, by Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg; AB 243, by Assemblyman Jim Wood, D-Healdsburg, and AB 266, by Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Oakland. The bills would regulate the commercial medical marijuana industry, subjecting it to licensing both by the state and local authorities.
AB 1461, by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego. It would automatically register to vote any eligible California resident who is a U.S. citizen when he or she receives a driver’s license, unless the driver chooses to opt out.
AB 1164, a drought measure by Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Burbank, which prohibits any city or county from banning artificial lawns, synthetic turf or other drought-tolerant landscaping as a way to save water.
Senate Bill 660, by state Sens. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, and Ben Hueso, D-San Diego. It tightens rules on private communications between utility employees and commissioners or top staff of the California Public Utilities Commission. The measure followed the disclosure of 65,000 PG&E emails that showed a cozy relationship between the company and top PUC officials.
AB 339, by Assemblyman Rich Gordon, D-Los Altos, would limit to $250 a month the amount that any health insurer could charge a California resident for out-of-pocket costs for a 30-day supply of a single prescription drug.
Senate Bills 319, 484 (by Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose) and 238 (by Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles). The legislation would provide training on safe use of psychotropics to all professionals in the lives of foster children, as well as channel more information to juvenile court judges who approve the drugs. Public health nurses would be newly empowered to monitor the health of medicated children, and residential group homes where prescribing is the highest would be investigated and required to reduce any inappropriate reliance on psychotropics.
SB 21, by Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, which is aimed at revealing who is paying for government officials’ travel.
AB 953, by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, which changes the state’s definition of “racial profiling” and requires local law enforcement agencies to collect demographic data on the people they stop.
SB 530, by Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, which would let so-called beer bikes operate on streets –though it’s up to cities to decide if alcohol can be consumed as passengers peddle away.
AB 30, by Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville, which bars California public schools from using the name “Redskins” for sports teams and mascots.