California lawmakers will return to the Capitol this week to confront many of the big issues that bedeviled them last year, including such big-ticket items as budget shortages and pension reform. The LAT's Patrick McGreevy tells the tale.
"When state lawmakers convene again Jan. 4, their plates will be filled with leftovers. Their agenda is expected to be dominated by issues that have been unresolved in the last few years: state budget problems, pension reform, a new water supply system and legalizing poker on the Internet."
"But lawmakers face a huge distraction: The 2012 elections will be the first since their districts were redrawn to make them more competitive. Many officeholders face an uncertain political future."
"The backdrop for those anxieties is the state's persistently grim financial situation. The deficit is expected to be nearly $13 billion for the new fiscal year that starts July 1."
"That is the big issue of the year, how we continue to grapple with the economic crisis," said Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez (D-Los Angeles). So officials are revisiting earlier ideas for raising money — besides increasing taxes, which Gov. Jerry Brown hopes voters will do on the November ballot."
In California courtrooms, small cases are big business as the state becomes the go-to place for class-action lawyers. The LATimes' Carol J. Williams has the story.
"Pro-business factions contend that success in petty false advertising and fraud claims like the Nutella case have made California the go-to place for trial lawyers from all over the country seeking to enrich themselves on frivolous class-action litigation."
"The state's tough consumer-protection laws and consumer-friendly courts have created what the American Tort Reform Foundation recently termed a "judicial hellhole" that delays legitimate suits from being heard and chases away jobs and investment."
"Lawmakers' efforts to rein in the lawsuits in recent years have been mostly thwarted by legal lobbies, and critics say the problem has intensified as court budgets grow tighter and civil cases get backlogged."
"We all pay" for cases like these "when they take up our judicial resources," said Katherine Pettibone, a lawyer and legislative director for the Civil Justice Assn. of California. "We just cut back $350 million from our state courts. This harms access to justice for everyone. Sometimes you just want to say 'pull your socks up and move on.' "
Meanwhile, highly fuel-efficient vehicles will be eligible to get green stickers to qualify for the car-pool lanes. The program gets under way this week, although so far, nobody has qualified.
From the Bee's Tony Bizjak:"Continuing its push for cleaner vehicles, California this week begins offering green decals to owners of near zero-emission cars, allowing them to drive solo in the state's carpool lanes."
"But freeway diamond lanes around Sacramento and the state won't be seeing green anytime soon: It turns out no commercially available cars on the road meet the new standards."
"The vehicles that will qualify are not likely to be seen for a few more months," said John Swanton of the California Air Resources Board. "It is not going to be a mad rush."
"State officials said that's by design. They aren't looking for the kind of land rush that came with the state's popular and somewhat controversial yellow decal program, which came to a close last June."
A new ennvironmental law to limit or halt fishing off the Southern California coast is in effect, with some 350 square miles of ocean designated as underwater marine parks.
Melissa Pamer in the Press-Telegramhas the story. "Starting today, fishing will be halted or limited in some 15 percent of Southern California's most bountiful ocean waters under a new landmark environmental protection initiative."
"From Point Conception in Santa Barbara County south to the Mexico border, more than 350 square miles of open sea will become state marine protected areas."
"These underwater parks, the result of a long-running planning process that often pitted fishermen against environmentalists in a passionate tug-of-war, are meant to protect crucial marine habitat and boost fish stocks."
"Los Angeles County will see two marine protected areas on the edges of Santa Monica Bay: off Point Vicente and Abalone Cove on the Palos Verdes Peninsula and off Point Dume in Malibu."
And from our "Whole Lot of Shakin' Goin' On" file comes the tale of the super-volcano in Europe that's ready to blow its top.
"It's lurking just 390 miles away underneath the tranquil Laacher See lake near Bonn and is capable of ejecting billions of tons of magma."
:This monster erupts every 10 to 12,000 years and last went off 12,900 years ago, so it could blow at any time."
"Experts believe that if it did go off, it could lead to widespread devastation, mass evacuations and even short-term global cooling from the resulting ash cloud blocking the sun."
"The effect on the UK is hard to predict but it’s possible that large parts of southern England could be covered ash."