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    California lawmakers take on oil price gouging at special session. Here’s what could happen


    December 5, 2022 - Lindsey Holden, The Sacramento Bee

     

      California lawmakers are preparing to debate alleged oil company price gouging, swear in new members and vote on leadership positions, all in the same day.

      Senate and Assembly members will convene in Sacramento on Monday for the start of the regular legislative session, as well as a special session Gov. Gavin Newsom called to address possible penalties against the oil industry, which registered record profits amid spiking gas prices this fall.

      He said drivers were paying more at the pump due to “greed, pure and simple.”

      Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood, told CalMatters the kickoff will serve only to “establish and organize the special session.”

      More substantial work on possible windfall penalties for oil companies will not take place until after Jan. 4, when legislators return following the winter holiday.

      Here’s what to expect Monday.

      What’s going on with the special session?

      Newsom, who announced plans for the session in October, still sounds intent on sanctioning the state’s oil industry. But his terminology has shifted.

      He initially described the plan as a “tax” on windfall profits. The money would go back to taxpayers through rebates or refunds. On Wednesday, however, the tax became a “penalty.” The wording difference may be important, as tax increases require a two-thirds vote in both the Assembly and Senate.

      “During the special session, the Legislature will also consider efforts to empower state agencies to more closely review gas costs, profits and pricing as well provide the state with greater regulatory oversight of the refining, distribution and retailing segments of the gasoline market in California,” Newsom’s office said in Wednesday’s statement.

      However the fee is worded, oil companies still view it as a tax, said Kevin Slagle, a spokesman for Western States Petroleum Association.

      “Make no mistake, this is a tax,” Slagle said. “When you impose a penalty on industry, it’s a tax, and you’re not taxing (your way) to lower costs.”

      What about the regular session?

      Senators and Assembly members will also meet for the first day of the regular legislative session. It mostly serves as a swearing-in ceremony for new members of both houses, as well as a time to elect new legislative leadership.

      Democratic Assembly members caucused in November to select a new leader following a protracted competition between Rendon and Assemblyman Robert Rivas, D-Salinas, for the role.

      Members agreed that Rendon would serve as Speaker until June 30, when Rivas will take over. The entire Assembly, including Republicans, on Monday will vote on this compromise.

      ©2022 The Sacramento Bee. Visit sacbee.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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