California's sweeping new social policies could set trend

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California's Legislature Is Making Progressive Milestones

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California ends its legislative season having enacted some of the country's most aggressive social policies: Laws requiring student vaccinations, granting terminally ill people the right to take life-ending medications, and mandating equal pay for women were among dozens approved.

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The range of sweeping new laws in the most populous state reflects legislators' desire to set a national trend on progressive social and environmental issues while sidestepping more thorny economic matters.

Many interest groups and politicians see California as the brass ring for setting policies — and then testing whether those policies can withstand rigorous challenges.

"Both the vaccine bill and the right-to-die legislation will be seriously looked at by other states," said Sherry Bebitch-Jeffe, senior political science fellow at the University of Southern California. "If it can pass here and it is perceived to work here, I think the proponents have a big positive jolt out of the victory in California."

She believes over the next five to 10 years, the nation will look more like California both demographically and politically.

See photos of recent efforts by Brown:

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California's sweeping new social policies could set trend
Gov. Jerry Brown addresses the audience as he visits the Rosie the Riveter National Monument to sign the equal pay act into law on Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015, in Richmond, Calif. (Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group/TNS via Getty Images)
Gov. Jerry Brown stands to applaud female factory workers from WWII as he visits the Rosie the Riveter National Monument to sign the equal pay act into law on Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015, in Richmond, Calif. (Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group/TNS via Getty Images)
SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 22: Gov. Jerry Brown of California attends a meeting of U.S. and Chinese governors and Chinese President Xi Jinping to discuss clean technology and economic development September 22, 2015 in Seattle, Washington. Xi is on his first state visit to the U.S. (Photo by Matt Mills McKnight-Pool/Getty Images)
Jerry Brown, governor of California, left, shakes hands with Narendra Modi, India's prime minister, right, in San Jose, California, U.S., on Sept. 27, 2015. Modi is touring Silicon Valley this weekend, seeking investments from Fortune 500 companies. Photographer: Jeff Chiu/Pool via loomberg
FILE - In this Oct. 7, 2015, file photo, California Gov. Jerry Brown, sitting center, surrounded by government officials, signs landmark legislation by Senate President pro Tempore Kevin De Leon, third from left, to combat climate change at a ceremony at the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles. California enacted some of the nation's most aggressive social polices this year, including de Leon's SB350 which calls for increasing the state's renewable electricity use to 50 percent and doubling energy efficiency in existing buildings by 2030. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)
FILE - In this Oct. 7, 2015, file photo, California Gov. Jerry Brown speaks before signing a bill to combat climate change during a ceremony at Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles. California enacted some of the nation's most aggressive social polices this year, including SB350, which calls for increasing the state's renewable electricity use to 50 percent and doubling energy efficiency in existing buildings by 2030. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)
CORRECTS SPELLING OF FIRST NAME TO GRACIELA, INSTEAD OF GARCIELA - California Gov. Jerry Brown discusses a bill he is about to sign with Graciela Castillo-Krings, his deputy legislative secretary, at his Capitol office in Sacramento, Calif., Friday Oct. 9, 2015. Brown has until Sunday to deal with the hundreds of bills passed by lawmakers in the final days of this year's legislative session. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
FILE - In this June 9, 2015, file photo, California Gov. Jerry Brown meets with board members of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California in Los Angeles. California will become the fifth state in the nation to allow terminally ill patients to legally end their lives using doctor-prescribed drugs. Gov. Jerry Brown, a former Jesuit seminarian, announced, Monday, Oct. 5, 2015, he has signed a bill approved by state lawmakers after an emotional and deeply personal debate. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)
California Gov. Jerry Brown addresses a dedication ceremony for The Broad Museum in Los Angeles Friday, Sept. 18, 2015. Billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad gives his latest gift to Los Angeles when The Broad, a $140 million museum built to hold some of the greatest pop-art works ever created, opens on Sept. 20, in the cityâs burgeoning downtown cultural center. The Broad contains some 2,000 pieces from its founderâs personal collection. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)
FILE - In this Sept. 14, 2015, file photo, Calif. Gov. Jerry Brown discuss the state's wildfire situation at the Governor's Office of Emergency Services news conference in Rancho Cordova, Calif. Gov. Brown signed legislation, Monday, Oct. 5, 2015, allowing terminally ill people in the nation's most populous state to take their lives, saying the emotionally charged bill forced him to consider "what I would want in the face of my own death." Brown, a lifelong Catholic and former Jesuit seminarian, said he acted after discussing the issue with many people, including a Catholic bishop and two of his doctors. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, file)
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Gov. Jerry Brown, a lifelong Catholic and former Jesuit seminarian, ended months of speculation when he signed the hotly debated right-to-die law, saying he doesn't want to deprive the terminally ill of that option.

Advocates pushed for such laws in at least two dozen states this year following the highly publicized death of activist Brittany Maynard, a California woman with terminal brain cancer who moved to Oregon to legally end her life.

The legislation faltered elsewhere, but advocates hailed the California win as their most significant. They called it the "biggest victory for the death-with-dignity movement since Oregon passed the nation's first law two decades ago."

With the worst of the state's budget crisis behind them, Democratic lawmakers who control both houses of the Legislature are free to resume a liberal agenda of extending protections to the most vulnerable. But they lack the critical two-thirds majority required to approve tax increases or fees.

Brown won approval for robust climate change legislation. But Republicans and moderate Democrats who are a growing force in the state capital successfully stripped it of a mandate to cut oil use in California by half within 15 years, marking a rare defeat for the 77-year-old governor.

The new law requires the state to get half its electricity from renewable sources by 2030, continuing California's "leadership in terms of social and environmental issues," said Larry Gerston, a professor emeritus at San Jose State University.

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Similarly, several states already are examining equal pay legislation after its passage in California.

"It's the panoply of issues that California, if not in a leadership position, is always close to it," Gerston said. "The various voices are represented here much more, in more forceful ways."

Despite the Legislature's liberal bent, the year also marked another win for business interests, who defeated 18 of the 19 bills the Chamber of Commerce dubbed "job killers." Besides stripping the climate bill of an oil mandate, they again stymied efforts to tax tobacco and oil, and opted not to alter the state's landmark property tax limitation law.

In all, lawmakers sent Brown 808 bills, and he signed 675 of them. Other major new laws include:

— Automatically registering all eligible voters when they get or renew their driver's license in an effort to boost voter turnout.

— The strictest rules in the nation to ban routinely giving antibiotics to livestock.

— The first law to specifically ban using the name "Redskins" for school sports teams.

— Barring most people with concealed weapons permits from taking weapons onto college campuses.

Lawmakers also put off dealing with some of the more politically vexing issues that confronted them, such as a $59 billion backlog in road maintenance and a $1 billion shortfall in Medi-Cal, the state's health insurance program for the poor.

Those problems won't be any easier to solve in 2016, an election year, but there's always the ballot box. State officials are reviewing at least 80 proposed ballot initiatives.

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