Political Notebook

Dan Walters: Last hours of session can be odd

Odd things happen during the final hours of any legislative session as hundreds of bills are processed in what one sage accurately termed a “sausage factory.”

Bills that languished for months are suddenly revived, new ones magically appear, and existing bills are rewritten as dozens of lobbyists for hundreds of interest groups work the back offices and hallways of the Capitol.

Assembly Bill 802, dealing with energy conservation in commercial buildings, is one such measure. Originally introduced by Assemblyman Das Williams, D-Carpinteria, in February, it underwent its seventh and final amendment on Sept. 10, one day before approval by both legislative houses.

The Senate voted on it without a floor analysis that would explain its complex provisions. The Assembly produced a perfunctory analysis, but it did not mention a big effect of the late amendments – repealing a 2007 law (Assembly Bill 1103) requiring commercial property owners to disclose energy use data to buyers, lessees or lenders.

The California Business Properties Association and other business groups had complained for years that the requirement, enforced by state Energy Commission regulations, was nonsensical because energy data from tenants often were not available to owners, and it forced them to hire expensive energy auditors.

On Aug. 28, the CBPA told its members that it was “working on a potential deal” to rewrite the “cumbersome and expensive” requirement, and a day after AB 802’s passage, it declared, “sometimes end-of-session amendments are actually a good thing.”

While building energy benchmarking would continue under the new law, the mandatory disclosures at time of sale, lease or refinancing would be lifted and the new law’s requirements would be applied only to larger buildings – those over 50,000 square feet, including large apartment houses.

Williams’ office says the repeal amendments were drafted at the behest of the Energy Commission, but that’s another odd aspect.

On Sept. 9, two days before AB 802’s passage, the commission approved a bulletin saying it would be “implemented over several years in a manner that dovetails” with AB 1103’s long-standing regulations, and that “owners of covered buildings above 10,000 square feet must continue to provide benchmarking information to a prospective buyer, lessee, or lender …” for many years to come.

However, this month, it abruptly withdrew that stance and declared that AB 1103 would be repealed as of Jan. 1, 2016, while AB 802’s provisions would not take effect until a year later.

“There will be no statewide energy use disclosure requirement in 2016,” the revised notice said.

Professional energy auditors apparently were caught napping and are complaining about the negative effects on their business. Repeal of AB 1103 was not even mentioned at the Oct. 7 annual meeting of the California Energy Efficiency Industry Council.

Strange things do happen in the last hours of a legislative session.

Dan Walters: 916-321-1195, dwalters@sacbee.com, @WaltersBee