SANTA CRUZ SENTINEL
For Assemblyman Mark Stone’s agenda, a rocky start
By Jason Hoppin
Santa Cruz Sentinel
Posted: 06/04/2013 06:36:36 PM PDT
SACRAMENTO — Every session, each house of California’s Legislature spends a week in a dead sprint, racing to meet a deadline to vote on its own bills. It is helter-skelter and fickle, with ideas lurching forward or exterminated in the blink of an eye.
On Friday, freshman Assemblyman Mark Stone saw his first such deadline whoosh by. And with it went hope for some of Stone’s key legislative initiatives, including efforts to get plastic producers to cut back on pollution and a bill to add teeth to state Coastal Commission regulations.
“It was what it was. This is the legislative process,” a disappointed Stone of Scotts Valley said this week after seeing some of his ideas go up in smoke and others live to see another day. “Some of these ideas are longer-term ideas, and I knew that going in.”
Part of Stone’s lack of success stems from the fact that one of his central causes — the environment — did not fare well. Several bills backed by environmentalists, including a statewide moratorium on fracking, were chewed up in the legislative grinder.
“Good environmental policy was not very successful in this part of the session,” Stone said, holding out hope for the coming months.
Stone’s bill to require Coastal Act fixes as a condition of new permits was killed, though another, by Majority Leader Toni Atkins, allowing the Coastal Commission to issue fines was approved.
“It doesn’t help to be the new kid on the block,” said Kathryn
Phillips, director of Sierra Club California, who calls the session a “mixed bag” for environmental bills. “But I gotta say, he did a marvelous job getting the (Atkins) bill out.”
Asked whether he thought the Legislature, with Democrats controlling at least two-thirds of the seats in each house, was pro-environment, Stone was blunt.
“No,” he answered.
A former county supervisor, Stone positioned himself as an environmental champion, passing the countywide plastic bag ban. He is a former vice chair of the state Coastal Commission, and won his November election in a landslide.
But bona fides don’t always translate into success, and Stone’s signature plastic polluters bill never made it out of the Assembly’s Appropriations Committee, winding up as one of the industry’s legislative victories. An unrelated Senate bill on a statewide plastic bag ban was beaten in the Senate by three votes, after months of heavy spending by lobbying groups.
Furthermore, a bill dealing with the disposal of home-generated needles is going to be recast after some language problems arose, Stone said. He was sometimes on the short side of bills he didn’t author, such as a forest management bill opposed by some local environmentalists (though supported by conservation groups) sailed through the Assembly 70-2. He was one of the two. And he was on the short side of a fracking moratorium that died on the Assembly floor after a whopping 18 members, including Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville, ducked the vote.
Stone is not coming away empty-handed, and he still has some irons in the fire. A bill establishing the Freshwater Protection Fund is a step toward addressing groundwater contamination from nitrates, though a funding source hasn’t been identified. It is one of several drinking water bills that won legislative approval.
And Stone has his own fracking-related bill to alert regional water boards to wastewater discharges from the controversial practice. That bill survives in spirit if not name, after it was folded into an omnibus fracking bill that will be decided on this week after the bill receive a special waiver allowing it to move forward.
“Groundwater monitoring and better oversight of oil and gas wastewater are policies that are absolutely necessary to ensure protection of our precious water resources,” said Andrew Grinberg, who is tracking the fracking debate in Sacramento for San Francisco-based Clean Water Action.
Further, a bill wiping out vehicle asset tests for welfare recipients — eliminating a rule which forced some to sell their cars to receive benefits — also survives and could emerge from budget discussions now under way.
He also passed several other bills, such as one improving foster care services, another clearing the way for a pilot program allowing Santa Cruz Metro buses on highway shoulders, and another allowing the county to consolidate the treasurer/tax collector and auditor/controller offices.
Stone is also igniting his Select Committee on Coastal Protection, which is holding its first hearing Wednesday. Up first is a fact-finding inquiry on what impact plastic bags have on the marine environment.
That committee, which Stone expects to take on the road later this year, is a potential vehicle for passing future legislation. By gathering facts and figures and vetting arguments, such committees can smooth the way for politicians to turn their ideas into law.
“We had hoped, with AB 521, (manufacturers) were going to recognize the role that they play in plastic ocean pollution,” Stone said. “But they’re not willing to take responsibility yet.”
Potentially significant environmental legislation could still come from the fracking-related bills pending in the Senate and Assembly, respectively. Stone said he had asked about adding his name to the Assembly version, but also want to see the final draft before making that commitment.
“It depends on what the bill is going to be,” Stone said. “When bills die, what’s important is whether or not the concept moves forward.”
Follow Sentinel reporter Jason Hoppin at Twitter.com/scnewsdude
IF YOU GO
Assembly Select Committee on Coastal Protection
WHEN: 1:30-3:30 p.m. Wednesday
WHERE: State Capitol, Room 444, Sacramento
ONLINE: Meeting will be simulcast on calchannel.com.
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