California lawmaker backs off regional energy grid plan

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A contentious proposal to merge California's energy grid with others in the West won't advance this year, after the lawmaker sponsoring it said Wednesday it requires more discussion.

Assembly and Senate lawmakers, meanwhile, sent dozens of bills to Gov. Jerry Brown's desk, including proposals to increase transparency in drug pricing, limit immigration authorities' access to campuses and workplaces, and ban smoking at beaches and parks. The year's legislative session is quickly winding to a close, with lawmakers heading home after Friday's votes.

Democratic Assemblyman Chris Holden announced he would halt his two bills to let the California Independent System Operator eventually merge with grid managers in other Western states. Cal-ISO and other backers said a regionalization plan would make it more convenient and cheap to integrate renewable energy sources like wind and solar.

But critics charges a regional grid would open California's market to coal and natural gas power generated in other states. They cheered Holden's decision to pause the bill.

"Now is not the time for California to give up control over our energy future, but rather to assert it," said Mark Toney, executive director of the Utility Reform Network.

Holden said he hopes to revisit the plan next year after more discussion on legislative oversight of such a switch. California has debated regionalizing the grid for years, but Holden's proposal was introduced late last week.

Gov. Jerry Brown has supported a regionalization plan. Cal-ISO operates long-distance power transmission lines for about 75 percent of California power customers.

Shelving the bill misses an opportunity to "reduce utility bills, cut pollution and increase electric service reliability," the Natural Resources Defense Council said in a statement.

The Legislature, meanwhile, sent Brown a drug price transparency bill that failed in previous years amid opposition from drugmakers. Lawmakers introduce SB17 in response to high-profile spikes in the prices of certain drugs.

If Brown signs it, it will require pharmaceutical manufacturers to provide 60 to 90 days' notice to big purchasers such as the state and insurance companies before instituting sizeable price increases.

Supporters say it will discourage big price increases, but drug companies argue it will discourage research into lifesaving cures.

Other bills sent to Brown on Wednesday would:

—Require immigration agents to present a warrant for access to community colleges or California State University campuses. The bill is part of California's effort to protect roughly 200,000 young immigrants in the state who are protected from deportation under a federal program being halted by the Trump administration. Another bill requires immigration agents to present a warrant to enter workplaces.

—Allow taxpayers to make a voluntary tax contribution to help the state reduce its backlog of untested rape kits.

 —Granting parole to more elderly inmates. Federal judges in 2014 ordered California to consider releasing inmates 60 or older who have served at least 25 years in prison. The bill locks that court order into law. Death row, no parole inmates, police killers and third-strike career criminals are excluded.

—Add new restrictions on California drivers under age 21. A bill headed to Brown would require anyone under 21 to have a provisional license starting in 2020, compared to age 18 in current law. Provisional driver's licenses restrict when someone can drive and who they can have in the car, with exceptions for driving to school and work.

—Ban smoking in state parks and beaches. Brown vetoed a similar bill last year, but this year's version lowers the fine for violations from $250 to $100.


Associated Press writer Don Thompson contributed reporting.

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