Last Stop: Governor’s Call

By CALmatters Staff | Sept. 16, 2017

It was a year of epic dealmaking in Sacramento.

With Democrats holding supermajorities in both houses of the Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown facing the end of his final term next year, lawmakers took on some contentious issues. By July, the governor had signed into law a long-sought increase in gas taxes to pay for road repairs and an extension of the state’s cap-and-trade program—a big win for him as he tries to position California as a global leader on climate-change policy.

Other proposals—creating universal health care, overhauling the bail system—remained too hot to handle and were punted to next year or beyond. And despite their burning rhetoric against Republican President Donald Trump, California Democrats showed a mixed record in passing bills meant to fortify the Golden State of resistance.

In the final days of the session, hundreds of bills landed on Brown’s desk. Here are some of the most consequential.

Laurel Rosenhall

Bills Signed by Governor


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Last Stop: Governor’s Call

Bills Signed by Governor


Bills Signed by Governor

Picking Presidents

What the bill would do

This one is all about California’s role in presidential elections. SB 568 by Democratic Sen. Ricardo Lara of Bell Gardens, would move up the presidential primary by three months. Instead of holding one of the nation’s latest primaries, in June, California would hold one of the first, in March.

Who supports it

The bill was sponsored by Democratic Secretary of State Alex Padilla, who has not declared that he’s running for higher office but is known in political circles to be eyeing a run for U.S. Senate. Padilla argues that as the nation’s largest state, California should have a greater role in determining presidential nominees. Under the current timeline, presidential nominees are usually determined before Californians vote in June. Advancing the primary to March, Padilla and other supporters say, would increase California’s influence in the race for the nation’s highest office.

Who’s opposed

No formal opponents have emerged, though some people have questioned whether moving the date will have the impact supporters hope. California has moved its primary election to March three times in the last two decades. In the most recent instance, when the state held a March primary in 2008, more than two dozen states also moved up their dates, leaving California without the clout it sought. Changing the date also comes with what many Californians may see as a downside: an even longer campaign season.

Why it matters

California’s large and diverse population gets statistically sidelined in presidential campaigns. Candidates spend time in tiny but influential states like Iowa and New Hampshire but largely ignore the Golden State—except when they fly in to raise money from wealthy donors. This bill could force candidates to get familiar with ordinary California voters as well.

Governor’s Call

Signed on Sept. 27

Laurel Rosenhall

The Housing Crisis

What the bills would do

A long-awaited package of housing bills includes three biggies collectively intended to put a dent in the state’s affordable housing crisis—although even supporters admit the legislation won’t come close to solving the problem. They are:

  • SB 2, by Sen. Toni Atkins, a San Diego Democrat, which would impose a $75 fee on many real estate transactions and direct that revenue toward state-sponsored affordable housing. The fee, which would not apply to home sales, could raise upwards of $200 million annually.
  • SB 3, by Democratic Sen. Jim Beall of San Jose, which would put a $4 billion affordable-housing bond before voters in 2018. The borrowing would support construction and subsidize home loans for veterans.
  • SB 35, by San Francisco’s Sen. Scott Wiener, a Democrat. It would ease regulatory hurdles for new housing developments in cities that are not meeting their state-mandated housing goals.
Who supports them

To steer these bills through the Capitol, legislators attracted a diverse coalition of supportive developers, affordable-housing advocates, environmental groups, realtors and construction labor unions. In one way or another, these groups want more housing. But the bills were filled with specific concessions to secure their support, and critics of the measures say those watered down the legislation. Gov. Jerry Brown has expressed support for the package.

Who’s opposed

Cities and counties, anti-gentrification groups, anti-tax groups and some environmental groups have opposed various elements of the package. Local governments don’t want the state usurping their power over local zoning decisions.

Why it matters

An epic housing affordability crisis is throttling California. In every metropolitan area, at least 30 percent of residents cannot afford local rents. This package represents the first major legislative effort to fix the problem in years—at least the first that includes a significant move to speed the development process. But experts say more will be necessary: California needs to build 180,000 homes a year just to keep prices from rising further. Right now, we’re about 100,000 units short of that target.

Governor’s Call

Signed on Sept. 29

“Today you can be sure we got 15 good bills. Yes, they’re good! They move the ball forward!” – Gov. Jerry Brown

 

“This capitalistic system, I mean it is powerful, but it’s so powerful you can’t control it. And when people make a lot of money because they have all these apps, they start spending it and bidding up the price of housing. And there we are” – Also Gov. Jerry Brown

 

Matt Levin

Sanctuary State

What the bill would do

Senate leader Kevin de León wants to regulate whether, and when, local law enforcement agencies can cooperate with federal immigration agencies. The Los Angeles Democrat’s SB 54 would do that, as well as limit the agencies’ right to hold and question immigrants. The bill specifically allows cooperation in cases of people convicted of certain crimes and when federal authorities have a judicial warrant for an individual.

Who supports it

Most Democrats and immigrant-advocacy groups support the bill. They say it would help protect immigrants from interactions with law enforcement that could lead to deportation, and it would tamp down fears that keep immigrants from calling for help in times of trouble.

Who’s opposed

The California State Sheriffs’ Association is against the bill, saying it would continue to hamper local law enforcement’s ability to “communicate and cooperate with” federal officials. The California Police Chiefs Association had opposed the bill but changed their position to neutral after the Senate leader struck a deal with Gov. Jerry Brown that expanded the list of crimes exempting immigrants from the bill’s protections.

Why it matters

While some cities—such as San Francisco and Los Angeles—have such “sanctuary” policies in place, California would become the first state to provide them and to require all law enforcement authorities to follow its stipulations. The proposal is part of the Legislature’s efforts to protect hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants as the Trump administration has cracked down on enforcement.

Governor’s Call

Signed on Oct. 5

“These are uncertain times for undocumented Californians and their families, and this bill strikes a balance that will protect public safety, while bringing a measure of comfort to those families who are now living in fear everyday.” – Gov. Jerry Brown

Elizabeth Aguilera

Detaining Immigrants

What the bill would do

People arrested for being in this country illegally may spend weeks, months or even years behind bars in detention facilities run jointly by federal immigration authorities, city governments and, in some cases, private corrections corporations. Ten of these immigration jails are in California. SB 29, by Sen. Ricardo Lara, a Democrat from Bell Gardens, would place a moratorium on cities entering into these contracts in the future; existing contracts would be grandfathered in.

Who supports it

If many of the immigration rights groups, legal aid groups and criminal justice reformers who support this bill had their way, immigration detention would be banned. Entering this country illegally is, after all, a civil violation, they argue, so why treat people like dangerous criminals when other, less demeaning forms of community supervision would do? An outright ban seems politically implausible even in California, so checking the growth of these facilities is, in their view, the second-best option.

Who’s opposed

The California State Sheriffs’ Association is nearly alone in formally opposing this bill, which the group deems state overreach. If a county determines it’s in the public interest to detain those suspected of being here illegally—and to collect a sizable contract payment from the federal government for their work—that is no business of Sacramento, the argument goes. And if the state bans these facilities in California, federal immigration authorities will simply house detained immigrants in other states, further from home.

Why it matters

As the Trump administration ramps up federal immigration enforcement, the need for more detention space is likely to shoot up accordingly. Will ICE have California’s support to help meeting that need? Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown struck down a similar bill with his veto pen.

Governor’s Call

Signed on Oct. 5

Ben Christopher

‘Clean’ Money

What the bill would do

Dubbed the “Disclose Act,” AB 249 would change California’s political ethics law in two ways. It would require campaign ads to more clearly display the names of the top three interest groups that paid for them—even dictating details such as font size and background color. And it would require that those listed are the original source of the money, not masked by a misleading committee name such as “Citizens for Mom and Apple Pie.” The second provision, however, would apply only to ads for ballot measures (not candidates).

Who supports it

The California Clean Money Campaign sponsored this bill, filed by Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, a South San Francisco Democrat. It has support from a broad swath of progressive groups, which argue that the changes would bring more transparency to the money that flows through the political system and help voters understand who’s paying to influence their vote.

Who’s opposed

The bill has no formal opponents. However, the staff of the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission, which regulates California’s campaign finance system, recommended opposing the Disclose Act, saying it would complicate things without adding commensurate clarity for the public.

Why it matters

Voters are bombarded by campaign ads each election season from interests that seek to sway their decisions. Groups that believe voters should have more information about who pays for those ads have tried to pass various versions of the Disclose Act in California for seven years.

Governor’s Call

Signed on Oct. 7.

Laurel Rosenhall

Medicine Prices

What the bill would do

Drug makers would have to give buyers—public and private—advance notice before making certain price increases, typically more than $40, under SB 17, by Democratic Sen. Ed Hernandez of West Covina. It would also require health insurers to report to the state how much they spend on prescriptions and the proportion of health insurance premiums that go toward drugs.

Who supports it

Labor, health care and consumer groups, including the California Labor Federation, Kaiser Permanente and Health Access California, are supporters. They say Californians deserve to know how much medication is going to cost and why.

Who’s opposed

Drug makers including Eli Lilly & Company, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America and the Plasma Protein Therapeutics Association are on record against the Hernandez bill. They argued that the bill would expand bureaucracy and that requiring one approach for all companies does not work.

Why it matters

Californians spend hundreds of millions of dollars on prescription drugs each year, and the share of overall health costs going to drugs is growing. Drugs account for about 10 percent of health spending nationwide and represent about 19 percent of the cost of employer insurance, according to an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation of data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and Truven Health Analytics.

Governor’s Call

Signed on Oct. 9

 “Californians have a right to know why their medication costs are out of control, especially when pharmaceutical profits are soaring,” – Gov. Jerry Brown

Elizabeth Aguilera

Young Offenders

What the bill would do

Youths sentenced to life without parole would get a chance at freedom if Senate Bill 394 becomes law. The measure, by Democratic Sens. Ricardo Lara of Bell Gardens and Holly Mitchell of Los Angeles, would require the state to hold parole hearings for those offenders after 25 years of incarceration.

Who supports it

More than two dozen social and criminal justice advocacy groups, such as Human Rights Watch and the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, support the bill. So does rapper Common, as CALmatters reported. The backers say the United States is the only country in the world that locks up youths without ever offering them an opportunity for release. If signed into law, the measure would affect some 300 prisoners.

Who’s opposed

The California District Attorneys Association opposes the legislation, calling it “neither right nor proportional” and noting that youths sentenced to the lesser term of 25 years to life are eligible for parole after 25 years behind bars. Other leading law enforcement groups haven’t formally weighed in.

Why it matters

Five years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment forbids life sentences for juveniles, unless they’re considered for parole. Last year, the justices held that the ruling applies retroactively. The legislation would help align California’s sentencing guidelines with those decisions.

Governor’s Call

Signed on Oct. 11

Jessica Calefati

Rape Kits

What the bills would do

A group of bills attempts to address the backlog of untested rape kits in California, where evidence can sit untouched in crime labs years after victims endured humiliating forensic examinations:

  • AB 41, by Assemblyman David Chiu, a San Francisco Democrat, would require local law enforcement agencies to log all future rape kits into a California Department of Justice database, but not to test them. This is considered a step toward the eventual goal of testing all rape kits.
  • AB 1312, by Democratic Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher of San Diego, would expand protections for rape victims in several ways, including by banning the destruction of a rape kit in an unsolved case until 20 years have elapsed, or until a victim who was younger than 18 turns 40.
  • AB 280, by Assemblyman Evan Low, a Democrat from Campbell, would add a check-off box on personal income-tax forms allowing Californians to donate directly to the Rape Kit Backlog Voluntary Tax Contribution Fund.
Who supports them

The bills are backed by victims’-rights groups, which estimate that hundreds of thousands of rape kits remain untested nationwide—including at least 9,000 in California. The precise number remains a mystery because most states, including California, don’t inventory the kits—a problem one of the bills would address.

Who’s opposed

The California State Sheriffs’ Association opposes AB 41 because of the cost of reporting rape kit counts to the Department of Justice. The sheriffs see it as an unfunded mandate from the state. No groups officially oppose AB 280, but some have criticized the idea of paying to test rape kits with the limited funds raised by a tax check-off. They say the testing of criminal evidence should be paid for with law enforcement budgets.

Why it matters

These bills could speed prosecution of some cases.  Yet legislative efforts to count and clear the rape kit backlog have failed over the years in California, with the powerful law enforcement lobby citing the burden on their budgets. Gov. Jerry Brown decides if this year is different.

Governor’s Call

All bills signed Oct. 12.

Laurel Rosenhall

Free Tampons

What the bill would do

Assembly Bill 10 would require public schools in low-income areas to stock at least half of their bathrooms with free menstrual pads and tampons. The author is Democratic Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia of Bell Gardens, a self-professed “tampon queen” who has said she seeks to end the taboo attached to menstruation.

Who supports it

The American Civil Liberties Union, the California Teachers Association and Planned Parenthood are among nearly four dozen groups that support Garcia’s mission and this bill. So do many of Garcia’s colleagues in the Legislature. The measure cleared both the Senate and Assembly with strong bipartisan backing.

Who’s opposed

The measure’s only formal opponent is the California Right to Life Committee, a conservative group that previously opposed the state’s move to require vaccinations for schoolchildren. Spokeswoman Camille Giglio, a Bay Area resident, called the proposal a “ridiculous” waste of taxpayer money that would likely lead to schools dispensing free condoms.

Why it matters

Garcia’s bill amounts to public recognition that menstruation products are a medical necessity. It is modeled after a successful New York City pilot program that used free products to boost attendance. Garcia says she’s hoping for similar results in California, where low-income young women have reported skipping school to manage their periods. Some also say they’ve overused a single tampon, which could cause serious health problems.

Governor’s Call

Signed on Oct. 12

Jessica Calefati

Raising Kids

What the bill would do

SB 63 would allow more Californians to take unpaid family leave to care for a new baby. Existing state law guarantees that benefit only to workers at businesses with 50 or more employees. Under this bill by Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, a Santa Barbara Democrat, parents at companies with 20 to 49 workers could take 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a newborn or adopted child without losing their jobs.

Who supports it

Numerous groups representing workers and children argue that too many Californians are left with an untenable choice when they have a new baby: take time off and risk losing their job, or go to work and sacrifice precious bonding time. Several other states already provide job protection for new parents at small companies.

Who’s opposed

Chambers of commerce up and down the state and numerous employer groups representing farmers, retailers and manufacturers, among others, argue the requirement will harm small businesses that already struggle to compete. They note that California already requires employers to offer workers up to four months of disability leave for pregnancy and birth.

Why it matters

With the rapid brain development that takes place in the early weeks of life and the high risk of illness, pediatricians say it’s critical for newborns to spend lots of time with their parents. Roughly 16 percent of the California workforce would likely benefit from this bill, given the size of the companies they work for. Politically, though, this idea has faced an uphill battle: Two years ago, a similar proposal stalled in the Legislature, and last year Brown vetoed a variation of this bill.

Governor’s Call

Signed on Oct. 12

Laurel Rosenhall

Gender Pay Gap

What the bills would do

The average woman working full-time in California earns 86 cents for every dollar earned by a man. Two bills aim to close that gap, offering different approaches. AB 1209, by Democratic Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher of San Diego, targets the boardroom. It would require large companies to publish the average pay gap between salaried men and women, as well as for board members. AB 168, by Assemblywoman Susan Eggman, a Democrat from Stockton, tries to head off the problem altogether by banning employers from asking a job candidate his or her previous salary.

Who supports them

Both bills share the support of women’s-rights groups, though the less restrictive AB 1209 has a broader coalition of labor, legal aid organizations and nonprofits behind it. That’s partly because relatively few companies would be affected by it—those with 500 or more workers. Supporters say if there’s no significant pay gap, these businesses should have nothing to worry about. Backers of AB 168 argue that the use of salary histories “bakes in” pay inequality by allowing it to follow people throughout their careers.

Who’s opposed

The California Chamber of Commerce opposes AB 168 and has labeled AB 1209 a “job killer.” The measures would unfairly penalize those acting in good faith, the foes say. For example, seniority, education and preferences about work-life balance can all justify a pay differential. Business groups have argued that publicly available pay data reflecting such legitimate disparities could be used to shame a company if taken out of context. In any case, they say, the bills are redundant: Equal pay for equal work is already the law in California.

Why it matters

The change of administrations in Washington, D.C., has heightened the debate over equal pay. In 2016, for example, President Obama issued an executive order requiring federal contractors to submit pay data sorted by gender and other demographic points. The Trump administration nixed the order.

Governor’s Call

AB 168 signed on Oct. 12.

Gov. Brown vetoed AB 1209 on Oct. 15 with this message: “While transparency is often the first step to addressing an identified problem, it is unclear that the bill as written, given its ambiguous wording, will provide data that will meaningfully contribute to efforts to close the gender wage gap. Indeed, I am worried that this ambiguity could be exploited to encourage more litigation than pay equity.”

Ben Christopher

Lead in the Water

What the bill would do

AB 746, a measure by San Diego Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, a Democrat, would require community water authorities to test for lead in water systems in schools built before 2010. School districts would be required to shut down contaminated water sources and notify parents of the potential dangers.

Who supports it

The American Heart and Stroke Associations support the bill, as does the California Teachers Association. The teachers union adopted a policy earlier this year that all schools must be safe from environmental and chemical hazards, including lead in the water, because of “the adverse health impacts on children and adults from ingesting lead.”

Who’s opposed

There is no organized opposition to the bill, but there are concerns about what districts can do once they find contamination. The bill does not address repairs, leaving to school districts any decisions on removing contaminated piping or fixtures.

Why it matters

The safety of school water systems has been in the spotlight since the Flint, Michigan, crisis, in which officials knew lead-tainted water was flowing into homes and did nothing about it. Since then, several analyses of public health data by media outlets, school researchers and others have revealed high levels of lead in children throughout California. Lead exposure can lead to developmental and learning disabilities, especially in young children. There is no level of lead that is safe.

Governor’s Call

Signed on Oct. 13

Elizabeth Aguilera

Free Tuition

What the bill would do

Community college tuition would be free (yes, free) for the first year for all Californians if Assembly Bill 19 becomes law. The measure’s author, Democratic Assemblyman Miguel Santiago of Los Angeles, calls the bill his response to a brewing economic crisis. He’s talking about the state’s need for 1 million more workers with bachelor’s degrees by 2030.

Who supports it

Community college districts up and down the state and unions for teachers, nurses and state workers support the bill. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democratic candidate for governor in next year’s election, also backs the measure. They say the proposal is needed to boost enrollment and completion rates.

Who’s opposed

The bill has no formal opponents, but that doesn’t mean Gov. Jerry Brown’s support is guaranteed, as CALmatters reported in July. The California Community College Chancellor’s Office estimates the bill would cost the state $31 million annually, and staff from Brown’s Department of Finance have pegged the cost even higher, at $50 million.

Why it matters

California already allows low-income students to attend community college free, but the middle class is struggling to pay for college, too. This measure could help more students finish their education and use their degrees to find work in the state’s economy. For context, Tennessee is poised to go even further and make community college free for all.

Governor’s Call

Signed on Oct. 13

Jessica Calefati

Spray, Wipe, Swipe

What the bill would do

Dubbed the “Cleaning Products Right to Know Act,” SB 258 would require manufacturers to list chemical ingredients on cleaning-product labels, giving consumers and workers more information about the sprays, wipes and solutions they use every day. Sen. Ricardo Lara, a Bell Gardens Democrat, carried the bill.

Who supports it

Environmentalists and health advocates sponsored the bill, prompted by the potential health problems some people experience from exposure to chemicals. Some product manufacturers, including Procter & Gamble, eventually supported it too.

Who’s opposed

Some associations representing product manufacturers and chemical companies argue that disclosing ingredients could give away trade secrets and that listing potentially hundreds of chemicals on a label is impractical for companies and unhelpful to consumers.

Why it matters

The debate over requiring more information on the labels of consumer products comes up routinely in the state Capitol. Most of the time, business groups defeat these bills with arguments that they could harm sales by creating unfounded fear. Lawmakers have rejected proposals to add more information to the labels of beauty products, soda, plants and flowers, as well as to foods that contain synthetic dyes or genetically modified ingredients. They rejected a version of the cleaning-product bill last year, so the success of SB 258 would mark a win for consumer advocates.

Governor’s Call

Signed on Oct. 15

Laurel Rosenhall

Gender X

What the bill would do

California would create a new gender designation under SB 179 for all forms of state ID: not “M” for male or “F” for female, but “nonbinary.” (Rumor has it that the abbreviation will be “X,” though that remains to be seen). The bill, introduced by Democratic Sens. Toni Atkins of San Diego and Scott Wiener of San Francisco, would also make it easier for transgender Californians to legally change their gender designation on state documents.

Who supports it

For Californians born with a combination of male and female biological characteristics or those who are transgender, or for anyone who identifies as neither male nor female, the case for this bill is: “Well, duh.” Changing some DMV software and adding a new checkbox on state forms is not too much for the state to do to affirm a group’s identity. Millennials, the majority of whom don’t see gender in this-or-that terms, are generally on board, too.

Who’s opposed

A small group of conservative religious organizations, decrying the decline of traditional gender designations, opposes the bill. Other opposition—even among lawmakers who voted against it—has been notably silent. While conservatives have made political hay out of so-called bathroom bills in other states, conservatives are not likely to win a culture war over gender in California.

Why it matters

Count the number of people affected or the dollars spent, and this bill is relatively small potatoes. But for its supporters, it advances human rights and dignity more than anywhere else in the nation. Although Oregon issues driver’s licenses with “X” markers, SB 179’s passage would make California the first state to create a nonbinary marker for all I.D. through legislation.

Governor’s Call

Signed on Oct. 15

Ben Christopher

Waiting for the Governor

Bills Vetoed by Governor