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State lawmakers to debate minimum wage, guns, fracking

SACRAMENTO — State lawmakers head into the final week of this year's Legislative session facing issues that could help shape California's environment and business climate for years to come.

They also plan to add new limits to what already are some of the nation's strictest regulations for firearms, while trying to find a compromise that will meet federal court demands to reduce the prison population by the end of the year.

With just four days of hearings scheduled to consider hundreds of remaining bills, some of this year's most contentious issues remain unresolved while the Democratic leaders of the Senate and Assembly try to work a compromise over how to address the state's prison crisis.

In addition to the competing prison proposals, lawmakers will consider changes to the most stringent environmental law in the country. The debate over the California Environmental Quality Act is pitting environmentalists against business interests and includes fast-track provisions to aid a planned NBA arena for the Sacramento Kings.

Regulations for the oil and gas drilling technique known as fracking, a minimum wage increase and whether to strip the tax exempt status of the Boy Scouts because the group excludes gay adults also are on the agenda for the end of this year's session.

"There are a few hot buttons and controversies," said Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, adding later that, "We'll get it done."

Hanging over the lawmakers is a federal court order requiring California to reduce its prison population by about 9,600 inmates by year's end to improve the delivery of medical and mental health care. Steinberg is at odds with Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown and both Republican leaders over whether to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on rehabilitation programs, as Steinberg wants, or to lease empty cells in private prisons or county jails, as the others want.

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