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A new year, a new legislative session
State Senator Tom Berryhill - photo by Contributed to the Courier

Beginnings - whether it is the New Year or the new legislative session - traditionally bring a whirlwind of optimism, collegiality and excitement for the future. 2015 should be no exception. On Jan. 5, Governor Jerry Brown will be sworn in for a record fourth term and will lay out his vision for the state. Talk of common goals and working together to achieve good results are sure to be the topics of the day. I look forward to working towards making that talk a reality.

We should all pretty much agree that good jobs, quality schools, affordable college and safe streets are our priorities. It's deciding how to get those things done when things get a little sticky.

One way to create more jobs is to take a hard look at the regulations that hinder economic expansion. The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is one regulation that still needs a serious retooling. As with many government agencies, the creation of CEQA was well intended but came with unintended consequences. Originally passed to protect our environment, spur informed planning, and assure public input and involvement in community growth decisions, CEQA now stands as a barrier to job creation and healthy economic growth. Abuses of the law by folks with motives other than protecting the environment continue to allow some to use CEQA to stall projects, increase expenses for a competitor, or negotiate better labor contracts. This type of abuse makes it harder and more expensive for businesses and does absolutely nothing to protect the environment.

Setting up strong schools so our kids get good educations is another no-brainer. How else will our children compete for the jobs of the future without a good education? Voters agreed and passed a temporary tax increase a few years ago, with the promise that the revenue would go to schools. The governor and the Legislature should keep that promise. Unfortunately, most those dollars are now going to the state's General Fund and paying for things like pay raises for public employees, funding pensions and a host of other non-education related spending. This is not what voters agreed to and most certainly was not the intent of the law.

Fingers are crossed all over Sacramento that the recent rains continue and California sees a very wet winter. As both a skier and a farmer, snow in the mountains is good news. But it's not half as good as what that rain means to communities up and down the state suffering from the drought. Passing the water bond last fall will put a water infrastructure in place to meet California's growing needs. As discussions and work continue on water, it will be important to have the interests of rural communities at the table, and you know I'll be there representing ours.

Ideally the Legislature will see eye to eye on all these issues and collegiality will rule the day. In reality disagreements will crop up sooner rather than later. Either way I stand ready to fight for rural California and work with all sides to ensure that our voice is heard loud and clear.

- State Senator Tom Berryhill represents California's 8th District. He grew up in rural Ceres and graduated from Ceres High School.