Keeping track of multiple, simultaneous games in the first two rounds of the NCAA basketball tournament is easier than following the dozens of bills that get presented, debated, and decided in the first few days of spring at the state Capitol.
Tuesday's offerings included two closely watched bills aimed at decreasing gun violence, bills to undo portions of public safety realignment, and a proposal that could challenge the tax exempt status of some of California's biggest hospital chains.
In most cases, the high-profile legislation fared as expected. Bills from majority Democrats either were approved heartily or given 'courtesy votes' so the thorny details can be ironed out later this year; bills from the shrunken Republican minority were dismissed outright or given reconsideration so the rejection can happen all over again in a few weeks.
Of those bills worth watching on Tuesday:
Gun Control: The Assembly Public Safety Committee moved forward a controversial bill to limit ammunition sales to only licensed dealers, and to shrink the size of magazine clips to no more than ten rounds. AB 48 by Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, won committee approval after a brief hearing with some familiar arguments.
Skinner said the bill imposes no new waiting periods, but does seek to match buyers, through a drivers license or other ID, against existing state law enforcement lists of those banned from owning firearms. She also said the wisdom of a smaller ammo clip was proved by recent events.
"Think about the Newtown massacre: six minutes," Skinner said to the committee. "The shooter was only shooting for six minutes. We want to eliminate that."
Critics worried about family members no longer being allowed to buy ammo for each other, or organizations that would buy rounds for a sporting event. They also said the bill would simply push buyers to other states.
"We're going to lose the tax revenue here in California," said Assemblywoman Marie Waldron, R-Escondido.
The committee also approved AB 169, a bill to limit most transfers of designated "unsafe handguns" to someone who, by law, isn't authorized to own it. Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, says his bill would close a loophole that allows an approved owner of the gun (one without safety mechanisms, for example) to sell it to someone who otherwise couldn't buy it on their own.
Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a similar, albeit more narrow, bill on the subject in 2012.
Charity Care and Hospital Tax Status: A relatively tame hearing on AB 975 Tuesday afternoon belied the real battle being pitched in Capitol corridors over its provisions.
In short, the bill would create new statewide standards for the community benefits non-profit hospitals have to provide as part of the deal for being excused from paying tens of millions of dollars in taxes.
The bill, by Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, was approved by the Assembly Health Committee but only under what the committee's chair conceded was a "courtesy vote" to allow negotiations to continue.
Sponsored by the California Nurses Association, AB 975 grew out of reports that there's no consistent way to monitor whether tax-exempt hospitals are providing the service to the community envisioned by existing laws. The nurses union accuses some hospitals of not providing so-called "charity care" as required, and of using $1.8 billion in tax-free profits on non-community needs.
Hospital representatives strongly oppose the bill, arguing there's neither a reasonable statewide standard, nor proof that non-profit hospitals are doing anything wrong. And the suspicion on both sides was evident in the committee questioning.
"What do you think they (hospitals) would be doing with the money?" asked Assemblyman Brian Nestande, R-Palm Desert.
To which AB 975 author Wieckowski shot back, "Giving raises to CEOs? I don't know."
Hospital representative pointed out those kinds of uses for non-profit hospital profits are illegal, a point that drew some grumbling from the nurses in the committee audience.
The battle is generally unions versus business on the bill, but with an exception: SEIU-United Healthcare Workers, itself a large player in the industry, formally submitted an opposition letter on Tuesday, citing uncertainty about California's implementation of the federal Affordable Health Care Act.
Realignment Redos Rebutted: Republicans again tried, and were denied, attempts to modify some portions of Gov. Jerry Brown's 2011 public safety realignment plan. The Assembly Public Safety Committee on Tuesday turned down efforts to send sex offenders to state prison who commit some kind of parole violation. Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, told one GOP legislator that he's working with the Brown administration on a solution to the cases that have popped up around the state of unsupervised or uncooperative convicted felons who would have been in prison before the law was changed.
Ammiano, nontheless, applauded Assemblyman Eric Linder, R-Corona for, as he said, giving it "the old college try."