Lawmakers start off with flurry of bills

December 7, 2012

San Francisco Cronicle

By: Wyatt Buchanan

Sacramento --

Californians could have a chance to repeal provisions of the state's controversial affirmative action ban, the use of unmanned aircraft could be restricted and parts of Proposition 13, the state's famous property tax law, could be softened under bills introduced at the Capitol this week.

The new Legislature was sworn in Monday for the start of a two-year session, and many lawmakers introduced their first bills this week. Those first bills often reflect the highest priorities for lawmakers, who now take a monthlong break before returning to work in January.

One proposal that undoubtedly will receive much attention as it moves through the Capitol is SCA5, introduced by Sen. Ed Hernandez, D-West Covina (Los Angeles County). The measure, which would be an amendment to the state Constitution, would repeal the parts of Proposition 209 - passed in 1996 - that prohibit using race as a basis for recruitment and admission to state colleges and universities.

The measure needs the approval of two-thirds of both legislative houses and then would go on the ballot for voter approval. If passed by the Legislature, it would appear on the 2014 ballot.

"I think the public would be open to it. It's a much different electorate than ... when Prop. 209 passed," Hernandez said. "The country's evolving, the state's evolving. My goal is to at least allow that discussion to be had at the state level."

Hernandez has proposed similar bills that have passed, but were vetoed by both former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, and current Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat.

Those bills weren't constitutional amendments, however, which require a two-thirds vote. Now that Democrats have gained supermajorities in both houses of the Legislature, Hernandez said it is a "unique opportunity" for his proposal. If passed, it does not need Brown's approval and goes directly onto the ballot.

Ward Connerly, a former UC regent and the major backer of Prop. 209, said Hernandez should wait to see how the U.S. Supreme Court rules on an affirmative action case out of Texas that could make the need for the bill moot.

He also said the senator is out of step with national trends on the issue.

"I would tell the honorable Sen. Hernandez that he is moving upstream on this," Connerly said. "The rest of the country is trying to find race-neutral ways of meting out 'affirmative action' rather than race-based preferences."


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