California lawmakers revive assisted suicide bill

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State lawmakers announced today they’ve resurrected legislation that would allow doctors to prescribe lethal medication to qualified, terminally ill Californians who request it.

The bill's backers will try to get it passed during the current special session on health spending. The Senate approved the measure in June but it then stalled in the Assembly Health Committee. During the special session a smaller health committee with different members will consider the bill. 

The measure, originally SB 128, was reintroduced as AB X2-15. It contains "some very minor technical modifications," said co-author Sen. Bill Monning (D-Carmel).

The move comes about six weeks after Monning and his co-author Sen. Lois Wolk (D-Davis) pulled the bill from further consideration after they were unable to corral enough votes for passage in the 19-member Assembly Health Committee. During the special session on health, the measure is slated to go before a new Assembly health panel, the 13-member Public Health and Developmental Services Committee

The Developmental Services Committee – whose members are appointed by Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) – only retains seven of the 19 members of the Health Committee, and does not include several opponents of the assisted suicide bill, including Assemblymembers Jimmy Gomez (D-Los Angeles), Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) and Freddie Rodriguez (D-Chino). 

Religious groups - particularly the Catholic church - have been among the most vocal opponents of the assisted suicide bill.  As SB 128 made its way through the legislature, the Los Angeles Catholic Archdiocese lobbied L.A.-area Democrats on the Assembly Health Committee. 

"We recognize it's an uphill push," Monning told KPCC. "We don't expect or seek to change the religious belief of any member."

Instead, he expressed hope that this second attempt to get the legislation passed this year will offer lawmakers more time to listen to constituents, a majority of whom he contended support the idea. 

A June poll commissioned by Compassion & Choices - a major backer of the bill - found 69 percent of likely California voters saying they would vote for a ballot initiative legalizing doctor-assisted suicide. 

"Latinos, African-Americans, senior citizens, women, men, Catholics - all in majority numbers - support the establishment of this right in the state of California,"  Monning said. 

"Sixty percent of Catholics support this option, so the time is right," said Assemblyman Luis Alejo (D-Salinas), a co-author of AB X2-15.

Opponents denounced the effort to use the special session to pass the legislation.

"This is a heavy-handed attempt to force through a bill that could not get any traction at all in committee," the coalition Californians Against Assisted Suicide said in a statement.  "It's one thing to run roughshod over the normal committee and legislative process to jam through a district bill, but to do that on what is literally a life-and-death issue is clearly abusive."

The coalition will fight to defeat the measure, said spokesman Tim Rosales.

"We'll just continue to keep up the work we've been doing to educate both legislators and Californians about assisted suicide," he said.

The bill would need to be approved by the Assembly Public Health and finance committees and the full Assembly. The Senate would then have to approve the new amendments in AB X2-15 before passing it on to Gov. Jerry Brown, Monning said. 

The special session runs through Sept. 11.

If AB X2-15 fails, Monning said he will revive SB 128 at the start of the new legislative session next January. 

This story has been updated.