Special Session Allows an End-Around; Tobacco Bills Avoid G.O. Committee

The legislative move to shift six tobacco-related bills to the special session on health care was a remarkable event in the California Legislature, basically circumventing the Assembly Committee on Governmental Organization, which had put up strong resistance to two of the bills.

“It’s not every year we have a special session on health, so we’re taking advantage of the opportunity,” said state Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), author of SB 140, which would hold e-cigarettes to the same public-spaces regulations as traditional smoking products.

Leno’s bill was so deeply amended by the Governmental Organization committee on July 8 that he disassociated himself from the amended legislation. Another tobacco regulation bill was supposed to be heard that day, as well — SB 151 by state Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina), which would change the legal smoking age from 18 to 21 — but Hernandez pulled his bill off the docket when it became clear that the committee would torpedo it, he said.

“That committee is usually not friendly to consumers in issues of alcohol, tobacco and gambling,” Leno said. “There are moneyed interests that have their way in that committee.”

The six bills get new bill numbers with the move into the special session. They are:

  • SB 5/AB 6, regulating electronic cigarettes to meet existing tobacco laws;
  • SB 6/AB 7, adding hotel lobbies, small businesses, break rooms and tobacco retailers to the list of smoke-free workplaces;
  • SB 7/AB 8, changing the legal smoking age from 18 to 21;
  • SB 8/AB 9, requiring schools to be tobacco-free;
  • SB 9/AB 10, allowing local jurisdictions to tax tobacco; and
  • SB 10/AB 11, creating an annual Board of Equalization tobacco licensing fee program.

For more on the tobacco package, see today’s news story.

    The decision to move the bills to the special session came from leadership in both houses, and was announced by Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) and Senate Pro Tempore Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles).

    Leno said, despite the frustration of having his bill roasted in the G.O. committee, he is grateful for the unusual work-around. “I want to be respectful, the Assembly Speaker has joined hands with the leader in the Senate, and I am tremendously appreciative of that,” Leno said. “Let’s just call that a victory and go from there.”

    The two leaders of the Assembly Committee on Governmental Organization, chair Assembly member Adam Gray (D-Merced) and vice chair Assembly member Eric Linder (R-Corona) could not be reached for comment.

    Assembly Speaker Atkins, who appointed Gray to chair the G.O. committee, declined to comment but did issue a joint public statement with DeLeón: “Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the United States, and treating tobacco-related illnesses costs California taxpayers billions of dollars. We applaud our members for taking on this public-health crisis for the people of California.”

    The Legislature has adjourned till Aug. 17. The six bills are expected to be heard in special session soon after both houses reconvene.

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