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Olsen talks new bills, hydrofracking and regulations with Turlockers
Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen discusses issues affecting local residents at a town hall meeting hosted by the Turlock Chamber of Commerce on Thursday. - photo by BROOKE BORBA / The Journal

Assemblymember Kristin Olsen (R-Modesto) and residents of Turlock came together Thursday to informally discuss pressing issues affecting citizens at a Town Hall meeting hosted by the Chamber of Commerce. Items discussed included Olsen’s 2013 legislative measures to protect students and veterans, as well as the need for job stability and Governor Jerry Brown’s proposal to hydrofrack in California.

Olsen started the Town Hall meeting by shunning the traditional podium- audience set up and instead had the chairs placed in a circle, to better promote general discussion. She began the informal talk by stating the importance of April in the State Legislature, which she said is one of the busiest times of the year as all bills are going through the first round of votes in committee. It will be determined by May which bills will move forward. Olsen has proposed 11 bills for her 2013 legislative package, most focusing on education and veterans.

Two bills that Olsen believes are likely to pass deal with honoring veterans, such as allowing them access to State Parks on Veteran's Day and Memorial Day (AB 150), and allowing local jurisdictions the option of waiving building and inspection permit fees for Americans with Disabilities Act-type modifications to disabled veterans’ homes (AB 151).

In education, Olsen proposed AB 430, which focuses on teaching assessments based on individual district needs; and AB 1067, which calls for school panic alarms that would give law enforcement the opportunity to dispatch quickly campus emergencies.

Olsen was also pleased to announce that AB 67, a bill that would freeze tuition at California State University and University of California campuses, has already passed the Assembly’s Higher Education Committee this week with bipartisan support.

“It is a compromise that we’ve been working on over the last couple of months. My initial proposal was to provide long term predictability over tuition fees. What we’ve seen is sudden spikes in tuition, which priced students out of the degree program before they’ve even finished,” said Olsen.

Since 2008, CSU tuition and fees have increased nearly 63 percent. The new bill guarantees a fixed tuition rate for the next four years until a permanent solution can be put in place.

“It is important that we get these kids educated,” said Turlock resident Bob Endsley. “We are going into world competition and we have to make sure our kids are educated so they can keep us an important country in the world.”

Residents were keen to hear Olsen’s progress, but also voiced their concerns on issues that she had not tackled for this year. Turlock native Mary Giventer brought up hydrofracking, which involves using high pressured water and chemicals to release natural gas found in rocks.

The process has been known to contaminate water, but also boost natural gas production. California Governor Jerry Brown has expressed interest over the controversial issue, which troubled Giventer.

“My concern is that hydrofracking requires a very large amount of water. Only a percentage of that water is recovered. Within this part of California, where restoring the Delta is an issue, is this a worthwhile thing to do?” asked Giventer. “We don’t have enough water to take care of the agriculture. How can we follow the demands to do both while still retaining water?”

Olsen replied that recent technologies have made the effort much cleaner and safer than in the past, but stated that companies do not have to disclose which chemicals they use in their processing.

“It is going to be required that they let it be known to the public and state what chemicals are used in the process. We have to know that to make sure the water remains clean and safe. It is illegal to require companies to release proprietary information, but there are ways to release chemical information. I see fracking as one opportunity to improve the economy of the San Joaquin Valley,” said Olsen. “Although, we have to make sure it has viable opportunities for communities.”

Assemblymember Olsen also made it clear that she believes it's indecent for the Central Valley to give up their source of water supply for another region, and stated that businesses are failing due to an abundance of regulations working against the Valley economy.

“There is no will in Sacramento to get most of these issues done, including unemployment,” said Olsen. “Everyone wants to know what is that one regulation that we need to scale back or repeal to make these problems go away. It isn’t just one, and it will become a web of regulations you just can’t get through. I need to know if there is a specific regulation that is holding you or your business back. Governor Brown wants specifics, and why shouldn’t he? We need to provide him with those answers.”