On its way out of town for summer recess, the Legislature passed a veritable caravan of budget “trailer bills” Thursday.

But wait, you ask: Didn’t the governor sign a budget bill in mid-June? And didn’t he also sign another budget bill earlier this week? 

Yes and yes. And if you’re confused it’s because California’s budget process, especially amid pandemic and unprecedented federal aid, is super confusing.

The state constitution requires the Legislature to pass a budget by June 15. But the constitution is silent on how detailed that budget has to be. So this year, lawmakers passed a placeholder in mid-June, authorizing the state to spend an unprecedented amount of money but without offering much in the way of specifics. 

The bill signed earlier this week represented weeks of negotiations between the governor and legislative leaders, all Democrats.

Then came the trailer bills — uber-detailed measures that direct how to actually spend all that money. If the budget bills are the skeletons of state fiscal policy, trailers are the meat. 

There’s a lot of meat this year. Lawmakers have passed 50 bills adding to or amending the “final” budget — and more could come after lawmakers return Aug. 16.

Senate Pro Tem Toni Atkins, a San Diego Democrat, told CalMatters’ political reporter Laurel Rosenhall that the unexpected deluge of cash in the budget, plus the pandemic, has created an “unprecedented” process this year. 

  • Atkins: “I am thrilled that we’ve been able to have the resources…I get that it is kind of hard to track and follow. But I appreciate the approach.”

Not everyone appreciates it.

The coronavirus bottom line: As of Wednesday, California had 3,743,714 confirmed cases (+0.1% from previous day) and 63,533 deaths (+0.04% from previous day).

California has administered 42,707,762 vaccine doses, and +60.9% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.

Plus: CalMatters regularly updates this pandemic timeline tracking the state’s daily actions. We’re also tracking the state’s coronavirus hospitalizations by county and lawsuits against COVID-19 restrictions.

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1. About those budget trailer bills… 

Monserrat Ramirez Garcia, 12, responds to her teacher’s questions during an online math class from her Oakland home on April 23, 2021. The legislature passed a $6 billion package to expand broadband infrastructure to communities without high speed internet. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters
Monserrat Ramirez Garcia, 12, responds to her teacher’s questions during an online math class from her Oakland home on April 23, 2021. In a budget trailer bill, the Legislature added policy detail to a $6 billion package to expand broadband to communities without high-speed internet. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters

It’s no secret that budget trailer bills are a great way to slip significant policy changes — some of them only tangentially related to the actual budget process — into law without the debate, deliberation and delay that can bedevil much standalone legislation.  

Plus, trailers only need simple majorities to pass (not the two-thirds required of other spending bills) and they can’t be overturned at the ballot box. 

Here are a few of the big new policies included in Thursday’s bills on their way to the governor’s desk:

  • Making undocumented immigrants 50 and older eligible for Medi-Cal, the state’s health insurance program for low-income Californians;
  • Setting up a $2 billion fund to forgive utility bill debt accrued during the pandemic — though companies would have to opt in — and a rule requiring utilities to enroll all those customers in payment plans to prevent further shutoffs;
  • A $6 billion package to build out high-speed broadband infrastructure; 
  • A $35 million first-in-the-nation pilot program to fund local guaranteed minimum income projects with priority going to youths leaving state foster care and to pregnant women, as the California Divide’s Jesse Bedayn reports;
  • And a pay raise for child care workers who serve children from low-income families and funding care for another 120,000 kids.

2. Masks are back

Image via iStock

To any L.A. County residents reading this, hopefully you didn’t toss out your N95s. 

Thursday, the county’s health officer, Muntu Davis, announced that all residents will, starting at midnight Saturday, again be required to don face coverings when indoors — vaccinated or otherwise.

Just a few hours before that, Sacramento County’s public health officer made a similar announcement — though hers was a recommendation rather than a mandate. Those counties have the fourth and tenth highest new transmission rates in California, respectively — though caseloads are inching up across the state.

That’s in part thanks to the new, super-spreading “delta” variant of the virus. But Sacramento’s county’s health officer left no doubt about where she lays the blame.

A few of those people might be state legislators, though we don’t know for sure. Dogged Los Angeles Times reporters asked all 120 of them about their vaccination status. Eleven Republicans, including Assembly GOP Leader Marie Waldron, and one Democrat declined to answer.

Even more COVID news: The University of California made it official, saying it will require all students and teachers to be vaccinated before returning to campus this fall, something CalMatters higher ed reporter Mikhail Zinshteyn noted last month.

3. “Something is going to have to break” on election calendar

Image via iStock

Pity your local election administrator.

After the state wraps up the recall election Sept. 14, they’ll have to get right back to work preparing for the next regularly scheduled election in 2022. 

With delays in the state’s election map-drawing process, registrars across the state have been quietly freaking out for months.

Then came the announcement earlier this week that the state’s citizens redistricting commission, the independent body tasked with drawing California’s congressional and legislative maps, plans to ask the state Supreme Court for another two-week delay

The current schedule requires the 14-member commission to have their maps ready by the end of the year. It wants to extend the deadline to Jan. 14.

How does any of that square with the other state requirement that counties let would-be candidates start filing to run for office in mid-December? 

It doesn’t, says Donna Johnston, Sutter County’s chief election administrator and president of the California Association of Clerks and Elections Officials.

  • Johnston: “Something is going to have to break.”

​​The commission has its own crunched deadline. It isn’t likely to receive the necessary Census data until mid-September. Then, after drawing the maps, it has to give the public an opportunity to weigh in.

  • Spokesperson Fredy Ceja: “The commission tried to take those concerns into consideration when asking for an extension, so we’re trying not to push the date too far.”

So far, the Legislature has resisted calls to revise deadlines or push back the June 2022 primary date. But lawmakers may not have a choice.

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See you Monday.

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Ben covers housing policy and previously covered California politics and elections. Prior to these roles at CalMatters, he was a contributing writer for CalMatters reporting on the state's economy and...