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Legislative Wrap: How Livable Streets Bills Fared in Sacramento

Last week was a busy one in Sacramento as lawmakers scrambled to compromise and pass important pieces of legislation while others will have to “wait ’til next year.” Streetsblog offers the following scorecard for some of the most important pieces of legislation that will impact the drive to create livable streets.

We’re putting the bill’s in numerical order, ignoring the “SB” and “AB” that comes first in their filing numbers so AB 27 would come after SB 4.

SB 1: Sustainable Communities Investment Authority

Synopsis: There was a lot of excitement for Senator Darrell Steinberg’s efforts to allow communities to create investment authorities to raise funds for smart growth transportation projects. Advocates hailed it as the first attempt to create a mechanism to implement the state’s previous smart growth legislation.

Status: Passed in the Senate, shelved in the Assembly at Steinberg’s request so he could “focus on CEQA reform.”

SB 4: Oil and Gas: Well stimulation

Synopsis: Senator Fran Paley’s legislation marks the states first serious attempt to regulate the process of removing natural gas from the ground known as hydraulic fracturing or just “fracking.”  The environmental impacts of fracking are not fully known, but nobody except the most ardent supporters of the natural gas industry would argue that they are anything but terrible for the environment surrounding areas where fracking takes place.

Paley’s legislation was amended so many times, with a large exemption which seems to limit the governor’s power to act if studies show frackign to be as dangerous as many people feel, that the environmental groups that fought so hard for the legislation’s passage withdrew their support in the waning moments. Paley is continuing to push the bill as the best one that was possible.

Status: The bill was passed by both houses. Many people who oppose fracking, including the Los Angeles Times, are now urging Brown to veto instead of sign.

AB 60: Driver's Licenses: Eligibility, required documentation

Synopsis: The debate over whether or not to allow undocumented immigrants access to driver’s licenses crosses many political battle lines, but the impact on traffic safety could be significant in its own right for two reasons.

First, the Los Angeles Police Department is refusing to impound vehicles for those caught driving without a license if a licensed driver can be found to take the car to the owner’s house. Their logic is that because L.A. has a large undocumented community and this community has no access to licenses that it is not fair to deny this segment of the population the right to have a car despite statistics that show that unlicensed drivers are more likely to cause a crash and more likely to kill someone during a crash.

Second, police departments have long theorized that one of the reasons California has a higher than average rate of hit and run crashes is because undocumented immigrants/unlicensed drivers flee after a crash.

This legislation addresses both of these issues: if undocumented immigrants have access to driver’s licenses, LAPD no longer has to worry about what is, and isn’t, fair. In theory, licensed drivers will be less likely to run after a crash.

Status: The bill was passed by both houses and awaits approval by Governor Jerry Brown. Given the politics surrounding the legislation, his signature isn’t certain.

AB 184: Statute of Limitations

Synopsis: Assemblyman Mike Gatto responded to a horrific hit and run crash in his district by introducing legislation that makes prosecuting hit and run drivers a little easier. Under current state law, a hit and run driver that can allude the law for three years is suddenly in the clear as the statute of limitations for this horrific crime ends three years after the crash.

Gatto’s legislation doubles that time to six years. Originally, the legislation would have extended the statute indefinitely, but it was amended in the Senate. Streetsblog Los Angeles covered this legislation as it advanced herehere and here.

Status: The amended legislation was passed by both houses. It sits on the Governor’s desk and faces no real opposition.

AB 417: California Environmental Quality Act: Bicycle Transportation Plan

Synopsis: One of the centerpieces of the California Bicycle Coalition’s legislative agenda, AB 417 would exempt from review a bike plan and its projects to the extent its impacts are limited to traffic, bicycle parking infrastructure and signage. The Bike Coalition has a handy fact sheet available on the legislation, here.

Status: AB 417 passed the Assembly this summer. It was shelved in the Senate before even earning a committee vote.

SB 731/743 – CEQA Amendments

As covered last week, Senator Darrell Steinberg’s major attempt to reform the California Environmental Quality Act was shelved in favor of a “Frankenbill” that combined some portions of that legislation with another bill that created a legal fast track for a new stadium proposal.

Read more about the legislation from last week’s Streetsblog here.

Status: Still on the Governor’s desk. A signature is expected.

AB 738 - Public Entity Liability: bicycles
Synopsis, as provided by California Bicycle Coalition: AB 738, introduced by Assembly Member Diane Harkey, is a proposed amendment to the Government and Vehicle Codes that would let city agencies and their elected officials avoid any responsibility for an injury they cause to a bicyclist on a roadway if that roadway has a bike lane. This immunity from accountability that Harkin proposes not only eliminates the opportunity for victims to see some compensation, it also eliminates the biggest incentive for local agencies to apply reasonable safety standards when they design bike facilities.

Status: This legislation is dead, and probably isn’t coming back.

AB 1371: Vehicles, Bicycle Passing

Synopsis: After seeing more far reaching legislation get vetoed by Governor Jerry Brown the last two years, Steven Bradford’s version of the “Give Me 3″ legislation was written specifically to address Brown’s concerns as stated in his veto statements. However, the legislation was amended so many times that some advocates question whether it would be best if Brown just vetoed the legislation so the legislature can pass better legislation when there’s a more bike-friendly governor.

The biggest concern is new language that excuses drivers from giving bicyclists a three feet passing berth when a driver is “unable to comply.” This basically obliterates the main purpose of the legislation, to stop dangerous passing. However, given that three feet passing laws are mostly symbolic, there are no police out there with measuring tapes, the California Bicycle Coalition and other advocates are still urging Brown to sign the legislation.

21 states have three foot passing laws. The only governors to ever veto such legislation are Brown and Texas Governor Rick Perry.

Status: On the Governor’s desk, awaiting a veto or signature.

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