Inside the Capitol: California News and Analysis
Where to find news about how the California Capitol works—the players, the policies that affect how state government affects you.
It’s just the beginning.
California lawmakers kicked off a new two-year session Monday, a day full of pomp and ceremony and not a lot of substance. But a few eager legislators began putting bills across the desk, giving an early indication of some key policy fights that will shape 2019.
Some of the early legislation reflects policy priorities Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom championed on the campaign trail—calling for more housing, health care and early childhood education. (Newsom will be sworn in on Jan. 7.) Other bills amount to a take-two for lawmakers who saw their policies stall out or get vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown.
It’s too soon to say how these proposals will fare—a long road of compromises often separates a bill’s introduction from the gubernatorial signature that turns it into a law. But here are a few themes emerging in this first day of legislative action:
California’s recent wildfires are clearly a preoccupation. Both chambers opened with a moment of silence for victims of the Camp and Woolsey fires. In one of the more gripping moments of the morning, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon listed, name by name, the many California counties that, just at the moment, are recovering from climate-driven natural disasters, and what Gov. Jerry Brown termed “the new abnormal” figured heavily into his and Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins’ opening remarks.
On Monday, Democratic Assemblyman Jim Wood, who represents fire-scarred Santa Rosa—and who, as a forensic dentist, has been helping to identify remains in the Camp Fire— introduced legislation to hasten, broaden, subsidize and better codify local fire preparedness. As last session’s hard-fought wildfire bill demonstrated, though, the costs and liabilities associated with wildfires can politically be a hard sell.
Critics of Pacific Gas & Electric, whose equipment has been linked to many of last year’s fires, have been adamant in their demand that the state not give the massive utility a bailout. Assemblyman Chris Holden, a Pasadena Democrat, had planned to introduce language on Monday that would have expanded last year’s wildfire bill to give PG&E relief for potential liability for the Camp Fire, which killed at least 85 people, but over the weekend, Holden said he would wait.
Lawmakers introduced several bills aimed at alleviating the state’s housing crisis on the first day of the legislative session, including twin efforts to revive a controversial funding source for affordable housing.
Assemblymember David Chiu, Democrat from San Francisco, reintroduced a bill that would revive and reform redevelopment agencies across the state. Eliminated by Gov. Brown in 2011 to close the state’s yawning budget deficit, redevelopment agencies provided about $1 billion annually for the construction and preservation of low-income housing. Loathed by Brown, tax funds raised by these agencies were frequently used for questionable purposes.
Two of Chiu’s colleagues in the state senate unveiled their own version of “Redevelopment 2.0” on Monday. Senator Jim. Beall, Democrat from San Jose, and Sen. Mike McGuire, Democrat from Marin, announced they will be introducing a series of bills in the coming weeks to ease the state’s housing crisis, although the specifics of their redevelopment bill or other pieces of legislation were not yet made public. On the campaign trail, Gov.-elect Newsom made restoring redevelopment funding a cornerstone of his housing plan.
Lawmakers introduced a handful of other housing bills, including efforts to increase emergency funding to renters on the brink of homelessness and a major expansion of tax credits to low-income housing developers. But the biggest housing bill of the session will likely be announced tomorrow.
Sen. Scott Wiener, Democrat from San Francisco, plans to reintroduce his controversial bill that would allow taller, denser buildings around public transit, a measure that was widely admired and summarily trounced last year.
If there is a sure bet this legislative session, the expansion of early childhood education is as close as it comes.
Stymied for years by Gov. Brown, who was wary of putting the state on the financial hook for an obligation as long-term and expensive as, say, universal preschool, Democrats have come to the table well-armed. Earlier this year, a Stanford-led team of academicians issued a massive study recommending that California spend much more on pre-K education. And Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom, who has four young children, has been touting early childhood education for years.
On Monday, Democratic Assemblyman Kevin McCarty of Sacramento was first out of the gate, with a package of bills worth nearly $2 billion that would add about 84,000 full-day preschool slots, mostly for students living in poverty; put a $500 million bond on the 2020 ballot for the construction of new preschool facilities; and increase reimbursement rates for private childcare and preschool providers that contract with the state.
The legislation effectively would increase the pool of eligibility for subsidized preschool to include more 3- year-olds and all 4-year-olds living in school attendance areas where at least 70 percent of kids are on free or reduced lunch, a poverty indicator. One of the bills also would raise preschool learning standards to align them better with K-12 curriculum. “
Or three. For the last two years legislative Democrats have proposed expanding government-funded health care to undocumented adults, the largest segment of Californians who lack access to insurance. Doing that is expensive, and the proposals failed to make it into the final budget Brown signed in 2017 and again this year.
Now Democratic Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula of Fresno and Sen. Ricardo Lara are trying again, introducing bills on Monday to expand Medi-Cal to cover adults over age 19 who are in the United States illegally.
Also getting another go are some high-profile bills Brown vetoed last year, including one inspired by the #MeToo movement to stop sexual harassment. Assembly Bill 9 by Democratic Assemblywomen Eloise Gomez Reyes and Laura Friedman would give victims more time to file a claim—extending the deadline from one year to three years after an incident.
Brown vetoed the same policy this year, saying the one-year deadline “ensures that unwelcome behavior is promptly reported and halted.” Supporters counter that more time gives workers who are unfamiliar with the legal system enough time to hold predators accountable.
Brown also vetoed legislation to require colleges to provide abortion pills at campus health clinics, saying “the services required by this bill are widely available off campus,” and that students, on average, only have to travel a few miles to get it. Newsom quickly told reporters he would have signed the bill, so it was little surprise Monday when Democratic Sen. Connie Leyva came out with a second go in the form of Senate Bill 24.
A major source of angst or ebullience—depending on your view—at the end of the last session was a state court decision that threw a monkey wrench into a legal pillar of the gig economy.
The so-called “Dynamex ruling” makes it harder for employers to classify workers as independent contractors. Cheered by organized labor, it impacted workers from Uber drivers to businesses to emergency room doctors, and sent Chamber of Commerce lobbyists scrambling for relief, or at least clarification.
On Monday, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, a San Diego Democrat and labor ally, said she will introduce a bill to put a statutory bulwark around the ruling. Business interests, meanwhile, are hoping to soften the blow. Touching on competing goods from across the political spectrum—jobs, tech, small business, fair pay—this is one of those vexing issues that could challenge even a super-duper-mega-majority.
CALmatters’ Ricardo Cano and Matt Levin contributed to this report.
Last year, one piece of housing legislation overshadowed all others. Senate Bill 827 by Sen. Scott Wiener, Democrat from San Francisco, would have allowed developers to build four- to eight-story apartment buildings next to public transit stops around the state.
The goals were laudable: Ease regulations on the construction of desperately needed new housing (the state acknowledges it is short 3.5 million units), and reduce commuters’ greenhouse gas emissions by placing more homes near greener transportation such as subways, light rail and bus stops. The method was radical: Take away some of the zoning power of cities, which traditionally decide what types of homes can be built where and don’t typically encourage apartment buildings to be built right next door to single-family homes.
The instant controversy over the bill made national headlines. Beyond enraging homeowners in anti-growth locales such as Marin County, anti-gentrification groups complained the bill lacked sufficient protections for tenants in low-incomes communities where new high-rises often equate to rising rents.
So despite support from urbanists and environmentalists nationwide, the bill died a loud and early death. Wiener vowed he would be back with a similar plan next year, because he saw it as the only way to fix the state’s crushing housing shortage.
“The heart of the bill is the same as where the bill ended up last year,” said Wiener. “This is about adding housing and not replacing existing tenants.”
Under the proposal, in most cases cities would no longer be able to block new apartment buildings within a half-mile of public transit. Developers also wouldn’t have to worry about minimum parking requirements, which otherwise could add costs and reduce the number of apartments in a building.
But changes in the new version of Wiener’s legislation have made it more palatable to some, and attracted new political allies. Certain communities that already created effective transit-oriented development plans would be exempt—which is why Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, a foe of last year’s bill, supports this one. Garcetti and various Los Angeles anti-gentrification groups feared last year’s bill would encroach on their own plans to bring more affordable housing to public transit. While singling out Garcetti’s program, details on what other local initiatives might be exempt from the SB 50 remain unknown.
While details remain in flux, the bill also includes a provision for more low-income housing and stricter protections for tenants, an attempt to mollify concerns from anti-gentrification groups who remain wary, but are not as explicitly opposed as they were last year.
“There was certainly more engagement prior to SB 50 than before SB 827, and we definitely appreciate that,” said Anya Lawler, a policy advocate for the Western Center on Law and Poverty, who testified against last year’s bill. Lawler’s organization is waiting to see how key affordable housing provisions are fleshed out in the coming months.
Perhaps most importantly, the bill has a powerful new ally—organized labor. The State Building and Construction Trades Council, which opposed Wiener’s bill last year, endorses the new legislation. The “trades” and their campaign coffers wield enormous clout in the Capitol, and were instrumental to passage of a 2017 housing bill package.
“The entire approach is different,” said Cesar Diaz, legislative and political director with the state construction workers’ union. “It’s a collaborative approach by a senator who brought us in to work on this early on.”
Why the about-face? Diaz says language in last year’s bill was too ambiguous about which types of projects could qualify for expedited city review. The new bill is clearer—most projects will still need to submit to an environmental review and conform to local labor standards, allowing construction workers’ unions to wield more influence in local project approval.
“Nothing in the bill will reduce labor’s ability to get wage protections,” said Wiener.
Even with the backing of organized labor, Wiener’s kinder, gentler “upzoning” bill still faces its own uphill climb. Sen. Jim Beall, current (although perhaps not future) chairman of the Senate housing committee, did not vote for last year’s bill. This week, he issued a press release that signaled he may be preparing an alternative to Wiener’s approach.
Most California cities—although not all—have loathed this approach because it strips their zoning power.
A new provision promoting denser development in higher-income communities seems particularly provocative. “Job rich” communities—a term Wiener has yet to fully define—would incentivize denser development even in areas not within a half mile of public transit. The provision aims to ensure that new apartment buildings won’t be built only in lower-income neighborhoods with lots of bus stops, but also in wealthier enclaves with lots of job opportunities but little public transit.
A remaining variable is Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom, who applauded Wiener’s ambition but was lukewarm on the details of last year’s legislation. A spokesman for Newsom declined to comment on the new bill.
Editor’s note: This story was updated to clarify how SB 50 treats transit-oriented development initiatives in communities in Los Angeles and other cities.
Forget mere supermajorities. As a new class of legislators was sworn in today in Sacramento, the watchword for Democrats was “super-duper-majority.” Or maybe “mega-majority.” Or, as Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon put it, “gigamajority.”
In any case, Dems now hold 75 percent of the seats in the Assembly and nearly the same portion in the Senate—the most Democrats the state Capitol has seen in decades.
Among the expected priorities? Early childhood education, wildfire costs and prevention, health care, affordable housing, programs to combat poverty and inequality, and perhaps a fresh look at California’s tax system, just for starters. Though conventional wisdom might translate more Democrats to mean more liberal governance, however, that might not be the case.
Both Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon stressed in their welcome addresses that the state’s most urgent challenges—climate-driven disasters, gaping income inequality, homelessness—demand bipartisan solutions. This Legislature also is among the most diverse in state history: As if to underscore this year’s striking influx of women, at least 36 of whom were sworn in this morning, the Secretary of the Senate, Erika Contreras, juggled a baby as she was sworn in to the chamber’s top executive staff position.
Many of the newcomers also are from the Central Valley and conservative stretches of Southern California, where Democrats swept districts previously held by the GOP.
One race remains too close to call. Assemblyman Brian Maienschein took the oath but leads his Democratic challenger Sunday Gover with just 50.2 percent of the vote.
Since Maienschein was leading as of today, the rules permitted him to be sworn in—but he will be replaced if his win turns to a loss when final votes are counted.
The new class includes 10 more women than the last. Among them are lawyers, businesswomen and the first pair of sisters to serve in the state Legislature. Here are a few more things you should know about this new group:
- Nine new senators and eight new Assembly members were sworn in to the 120-person Legislature, the smallest new cohort in 30 years. The small crop of newcomers is due to a change voters made to term-limit rules, allowing lawmakers to run for the same office for up to 12 years. It means more legislators to run for re-election, and creates fewer opportunities for fresh blood until those 12-year spans start to turn over.
- It’s been a record-breaking year for women taking office at the state and federal level combined. This year’s class of state lawmakers includes 36 women, which is 10 more than the previous session—a big jump that brings the Legislature close to its 2005-06 apex for female representation, when the body included 37 women. Even so, women still comprise just 30 percent of the Legislature overall.
- The state Senate now has 29 Democrats. It’s been 56 years since Democrats had that many and kept them throughout the session. (The tumultuous 2013-14 session started with 29 Democrats but ended with 28 because of resignations, according to legislative historian Alex Vassar.)
- Two Democratic businesswomen were sworn-in to represent coastal So-Cal districts that have been held by Republicans for decades. Assemblywoman Tasha Boerner Horvath of Encinitas is the first Democrat to represent North San Diego County since 1978. And Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris of Laguna Beach is the first Democrat representing her district since 1980.
- Democratic Senator-elect Anna Caballero of Salinas will be the first non-Republican lawmaker elected from Madera county since 2000. The seat was hotly contested and millions were spent on campaigns there. The flip helped Democrats win a supermajority in the state Senate.
- Democratic Assemblyman James Ramos of San Bernardino, who was born at the San Manuel Indian Reservation, becomes the first lawmaker born on Native American tribal territory, according to the Speaker’s Office.
- The steep losses for Republicans meant that just one freshman GOP member was sworn into the Assembly—Tyler Diep of Westminster. It’s the first time since 1958 that the Assembly’s freshman class included just one Republican.
- Democratic Sen. Melissa Hurtado of Sanger, 30, will be the youngest woman ever elected to serve in the state Senate. She’s the youngest state Senator since 1981. Adding to the blue wave, she’s also the first Democrat to serve from Tulare County since 2010, according to Vassar.
- With Democrat Susan Rubio sworn into the Senate, the Legislature now includes a pair of sisters for the first time in state history; Democratic Assemblywoman Blanca Rubio is her sister. (Several pairs of brothers have served over the years.) Side-note: Former Assemblyman Roger Hernandez is Susan Rubio’s ex-husband. She campaigned, in part, as a survivor of his domestic abuse, and criticized other legislators for tolerating his behavior.
- Do you know who your lawmaker is? Check here to see if your senator or assembly member has changed.
State Sen. Joel Anderson was at least a little tipsy and rubbing a lobbyist’s shoulders during a political fundraiser at a steakhouse near the Capitol last month when he leaned in close and told her he wanted to “bitch slap” her.
That’s the finding of the latest sexual harassment investigation released by the California Legislature on Tuesday as the fallout of the #MeToo movement continues to ripple through the state Capitol. The records include a letter reprimanding Anderson, a Republican from Alpine, and calling his behavior “completely unacceptable.” The letter from Senate leader Toni Atkins, a Democrat, instructs him to “interact in a professional manner going forward” and says he will face more severe discipline if he doesn’t.
Atkins’ Republican counterpart applauded the move, saying all senators need to adhere to standards of conduct.
“The behavior exhibited in this incident will no longer be tolerated. The decision to issue a reprimand in this case is warranted and appropriate,” Senate Republican leader Pat Bates said in a statement.
Anderson, who is termed out of the Senate this year and is running for a seat on the Board of Equalization, told investigators that he did not use the term “bitch slap” in a threatening way. Instead, he argues, he used the term to describe something he found shocking. He said it was a poor choice of words and he should have instead said “blow your mind.”
Investigators disagreed, saying the lobbyist and four witnesses they interviewed heard Anderson say it as a threat, something to the effect of “I ought to bitch slap you.”
“Although we do not reach a conclusion on the specific phrasing, we conclude the term was not used in the context described by Senator Anderson,” the investigation says.
The list below shows all the harassment cases that have been substantiated by the California Legislature since it began releasing such records in February. We are continually updating this spreadsheet; scroll to the right for a link to the source documents.
State Sen. John Moorlach put a woman in a headlock and gave her a “noogie” while they were posing for a photo at a reception—something he said he does frequently in good fun, according to investigative records released Friday by the state Senate.
“While your behavior… does not appear to be sexual in nature, it is still considered ‘unwanted behavior’ and as such is inappropriate and a violation of our policy,” Senate leaders wrote in a letter to Moorlach, a Republican from Costa Mesa.
The letter says Moorlach had previously been counseled for inappropriate touching because he poked an employee in the stomach. It instructs him to “stop giving ‘noogies’ or touching anyone in ‘fun,’ regardless of whether you believe the ‘noogies’ or touching are wanted or welcomed by the recipient.”
Moorlach responded with a statement saying he was “guilty of occasional playfulness” and vowing to stop “this innocent and gregarious behavior.”
Moorlach becomes the latest entry on our running tally of misconduct reports the Legislature has released in the wake of the #MeToo movement. Scroll to the right for a link to the redacted documents released by the Senate.
The most explosive allegation to come out of the #MeToo movement in the California Capitol—a lobbyist’s claim that then-Assemblyman Matt Dababneh pushed her into a bathroom and made her watch him masturbate—has been substantiated by an Assembly investigation. And legislative officials went even further by denying Dababneh’s request for an appeal of the findings, according to records released Monday.
Dababneh, a San Fernando Valley Democrat who resigned in December, has denied the allegation and sued lobbyist Pamela Lopez for defamation after she publicly accused him of trapping her in a bathroom, masturbating and asking her to touch him while they were both at a Las Vegas hotel in 2016 for a mutual friend’s wedding. The Assembly investigation was triggered by a formal complaint Lopez lodged after hundreds of women signed a letter last fall decrying a culture of sexual harassment in the California Capitol.
Since then, the Legislature has approved a new policy for preventing and responding to harassment, and leaders agreed to make public certain records when investigations determine that elected officials and high-level staff members engaged in misconduct.
“So far it seems like the process is working,” said Lopez on Monday. “I was sexually harassed by Dababneh, the legislature conducted an investigation and substantiated that claim, then denied his appeal.”
We are keeping track of the harassment records the Legislature is releasing with this spreadsheet; scroll to the right to see the documents.
A Republican from the Central Valley is the latest California lawmaker found to have violated the Capitol’s sexual harassment policy. An investigation found that Assemblyman Devon Mathis of Visalia made frequent sexual comments, but determined there is not enough evidence to prove more serious allegations of sexual assault.
A redacted letter released by the Assembly Rules Committee says its investigation substantiated the claim that Mathis “frequently engaged in sexual ‘locker room talk,’ including making sexual comments about fellow Assemblymembers.” Mathis released an un-redacted version of the letter, which says the investigation found another allegation was not substantiated. The letter does not describe the unsubstantiated allegation but his chief of staff, Justin Turner, said it was the same claim published in a blog post last year accusing Mathis of sexual assault.
“The locker-room conversation referenced in the letter, that took place almost four years ago, was wrong and something for which I have previously apologized and do so again,” Mathis said in a statement.
The letter says the Assembly took “appropriate remedial actions” against Mathis, which the Speaker’s Office described as sensitivity training and counseling on the Assembly’s harassment policy.
Mathis’ case is the latest harassment investigation to be made public by the California Legislature in the wake of the global #MeToo movement that began last year and exposed many cases of misconduct inside the state Capitol. It prompted lawmakers to create a new protocol for handling sexual harassment investigations—though it won’t go into effect until next year.
Pressure from the media and victims’ advocates also prompted legislative leaders to make public some records that document substantiated harassment cases—records that had long been shielded from public view. The spreadsheet below lists all cases the Legislature has made public. I created it when the Legislature began releasing records in February and am updating it as each new case is released. You can scroll to the right for links to source documents.
On a leave of absence from the Legislature since she was accused of sexual harassment in February—and facing intensifying attacks in her re-election campaign—Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia jumped back into the fray today, sending out a press release saying she’d been “exonerated.”
Though an investigation did not substantiate the most serious allegations against her, it found that Garcia, a Bell Gardens Democrat, violated the Assembly’s sexual harassment policy by “commonly and pervasively” using vulgar language in talking to her staff. It also found that she had employees perform personal tasks and disparaged elected officials. (Garcia admitted recently that she had called former Speaker John Perez, who is openly gay, a “homo.”)
Speaker Anthony Rendon quickly moved to diminish Garcia’s clout, removing her from all committee memberships. Rendon also is requiring Garcia to attend “sensitivity training” and sessions to learn more about the Assembly’s policy on harassment and violence prevention.
“Our members have the responsibility to treat constituents, staff, colleagues and the entire Capitol community with respect and dignity. Disappointingly, that has not always been the case with Assemblymember Garcia,” Rendon said in a statement.
Garcia’s press release included an apology “for instances where my use of language was less than professional.”
“I want to assure everyone that I have learned from this experience and will do everything in my power to make amends for my past. Nothing is more important to me than protecting the health and safety of the people I represent. I know that I can only effectively serve my constituents if staff and my colleagues feel comfortable and respected on the job. That is the climate I pledge to build and sustain,” Garcia’s statement said.
The investigation did not substantiate complaints that Garcia drank heavily on the job, played spin-the-bottle with employees and squeezed a staff member by the butt. But it’s unclear how thorough the investigation was. It was completed without interviewing four former employees who accused Garcia of misconduct, according to a letter from the Assembly’s chief administrative officer to Dan Gilleon, the accusers’ lawyer. The letter says Gilleon advised his clients not to participate, an assertion he challenged.
“My clients were, and are, willing to cooperate as long as the Assembly is willing to take the most basic and simple steps to ensure the investigation is fair and no retaliation is permitted,” Gilleon wrote in an email to the Assembly that he shared with CALmatters.
The Sacramento Bee reported that Daniel Fierro, who accused Garcia of groping him at a softball game, gave the Assembly names of witnesses who were never interviewed. He told the Bee that he is planning to appeal the Assembly’s findings.
All of which means this story probably isn’t over yet.
The state Senate has released results of an investigation finding that Adam Keigwin, the former chief of staff to Sen. Leland Yee, likely engaged in sexually inappropriate conduct with a female employee when they both worked for the Senate, including unwanted touching and exposing himself. Keigwin, now a lobbyist, said in a statement that the allegations are “absolutely untrue.” Read further coverage in the Sacramento Bee and the Los Angeles Times.
This is the latest in a series of harassment investigations that have been made public by the Legislature in the wake of the #MeToo movement that has exposed sexual misconduct in many workplaces. I’m keeping track of the cases coming out of the California Capitol with this spreadsheet, which we created when the Legislature released a first batch of records on Feb. 2. You can scroll to the far-right column to seek a link to the source documents for each case.