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SACRAMENTO — Lacking Democratic votes to get a controversial environmental bill off the Assembly floor, Majority Leader Dario Frommer on Thursday extended AB 528′s timeline. The move will give proponents — which include some of the state’s most prominent environmental groups — an additional six months to muster support for the bill. Supporters say the hold-up was a group of fiscally conservative Assembly Democrats. “It gives us more time to work with the moderate Democrats,” said Rico Mastrodonato, Northern California director for the California League of Conservation Voters. Supporters insist that, despite formidable opposition, the bill is not dead. “We feel that we need time to get some of those folks that are getable,” said Michael Schmitz, executive director of the California League for Environmental Enforcement Now, a bill sponsor. Opponents of AB 528 — including 102 groups representing manufacturers, counties, municipalities and tort reformers — say the measure’s intent of creating a private right to sue over violations of environmental and public-health laws is fatally flawed and has no chance of becoming law. “It’s an inherently bad bill,” said Craig Johns of California Resource Strategies, a lobbying group representing the California Manufacturers and Technology Association and several other bill opponents. “They probably decided to do a two-year bill because the so-called moderate caucus is putting a lot of pressure on the speaker not to get it moving.” Supporters acknowledged that finding common ground with opponents might be difficult — even given the fact that they now have until the end of January to move the bill. “We asked [opposing lobbyists] for suggestions on improving the bill,” said Bill Magavern, senior legislative representative of the Sierra Club, another bill sponsor. “They answered us dealing with objections to the whole philosophy behind the bill.” Frommer, D-Glendale — formerly regarded as part of that mod squad — was chosen by state environmentalists to carry AB 528 particularly because of his pull with the moderate caucus. But bill proponents knew from the get-go that the bill would be a tough sell — particularly in light of the passage last fall of Proposition 64, which now bans using Business & Professions Code � 17200 to bring private rights of action. AB 528 does not call for using 17200. It also exempts government agencies from lawsuits and gives the state attorney general and local enforcement officials 60 days to address most violations, but opponents rushed to characterize the measure as an end-run around Prop 64. “What part of no don’t they understand?” asked a full-page ad that ran twice in the Sacramento Bee this week, sponsored by dozens of industry groups opposing AB 528. “Millions of Californians said no to abusive lawsuits — the Legislature should say no to AB 528.” Industry groups opposing the measure insisted that the link between Prop 64 and AB 528 is genuine. “You really think this through and realize what could happen with [new] private rights of action,” said Ken Gibson, vice president of the Western Region of the American Insurance Association. Some opponents, including Johns, suggested Frommer’s bill was receiving backing from the plaintiff bar, which joined California environmental groups in opposing Prop 64 in November. Consumer Attorneys of California President Sharon Arkin said the group is not involved with the bill. “We are not going either way on this one,” she said. Supporters say linking Prop 64 to AB 528 was a cheap and easy public relations shot, financed by industry groups that have something to lose from stricter environmental reporting. “If you have money, and are buying full-page ads � you can do that overnight,” said Mastrodonato. “We lost the PR campaign on this bill.” He expressed hope that by working until the end of January — the new deadline for moving AB 528 off the Assembly floor — supporters may be able to bring a “grassroots component” to discussions with Assembly hold-outs. “I’m not discouraging lawmakers from urban areas from being concerned about their constituents’ employment and putting food on the table,” Mastrodonato said. “But they should also be equally concerned because these same urban constituents are likely to be subject to environmental pollution.”

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