Inside one of the Capitol’s most secretive processes

Your guide to California policy and politics
Emily Hoeven BY Emily Hoeven May 20, 2022
Presented by American Property Casualty Insurance Association, Dairy Cares, Climate-Smart Agricultural Partnership and New California Coalition

Inside one of the Capitol’s most secretive processes

There wasn’t a lot of light on what state lawmakers got up to on Thursday — literally.

First, there was the power outage that swept across downtown Sacramento, delaying the start of the Assembly and Senate’s floor sessions.

But it would have been understandable if you were left in the dark even after the electricity was restored.

That’s because lawmakers then embarked on an opaque process called the suspense file, a twice-annual procedure in which they rattle through a list of hundreds of bills at breakneck speed, passing or killing them without a word of explanation — and, in the cases of some dead bills, without even mentioning them at all.

Making it even harder to track what’s going on, the Assembly and Senate appropriations committees — which handle the suspense file — met at the same time Thursday, forcing advocates, reporters and curious members of the public to rapidly toggle back and forth between screens and spreadsheets.

And don’t for a second think you can get up and go to the bathroom, or go get another cup of coffee, or take your eyes off the screen — because you can’t rewind legislative livestreams.

Plus, you aren’t just tracking what lawmakers say — you’re tracking what they don’t.

While the Assembly appropriations committee announced which bills it was tabling — in other words, slaying — the Senate didn’t. So a proposal to shut down the three offshore oil rigs in state waters following last year’s Huntington Beach oil spill died a literally silent death, as did a bill to tighten gun safety requirements for film productions after Alec Baldwin fatally shot photographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of the movie “Rust.”

  • State Sen. Dave Cortese, the Campbell Democrat who authored the gun safety bill: “It’s a powerful and ruthless industry. First the industry killed Halyna. Then they killed the bill that would’ve made people like her safe.”

Indeed, while the suspense file allows lawmakers to shelve proposals that are too expensive, it also allows them to silently euthanize those that are controversial, opposed by powerful interest groups, or politically inconvenient — concerns that take on additional weight in an election year.

All in all, about 220 bills met their demise Thursday — and Alexei Koseff and the rest of the CalMatters team have a rundown of the most notable measures.

  • For more: Check out preliminary lists of bill fates from the Assembly and Senate.

The coronavirus bottom line: As of Monday, California had 8,757,871 confirmed cases (+0.6% from previous day) and 90,219 deaths (+0.1% from previous day), according to state data now updated just twice a week on Tuesdays and Fridays. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.

California has administered 75,489,752 vaccine doses, and 75.2% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.


1 SF, LA want more cops

San Francisco Mayor London Breed in Sacramento on March 9, 2020. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters
San Francisco Mayor London Breed in Sacramento on March 9, 2020. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

A “top priority” in San Francisco Mayor London Breed’s forthcoming budget proposal: more funding for police academies and officer recruitment and retention amid rising voter concerns about crime and public safety. But her plan could be stymied by a lack of prospective applicants: “You have these aspirational goals of throwing more money at any particular department, but it’s just a paper game if those positions remain vacant,” Supervisor Aaron Peskin told the San Francisco Chronicle. “If you’re doing prudent, realistic budgeting, you have as many academy classes as you reasonably think you have applicants to fill.”

  • That’s the situation confronting Los Angeles: Mayor Eric Garcetti wanted to boost the Los Angeles Police Department’s ranks by 780 officers to 9,735 — a goal budget consultants said was impossible due to the city’s labor shortage, the Los Angeles Times reports. The more likely scenario: The LAPD will have fewer than 9,500 officers by June 2023. As a result, city councilmembers proposed increasing the LAPD’s operating budget by 6.5%, rather than the 8.5% Garcetti wanted.
  • The emphasis on beefing up police departments follows outcry from some residents and small businesses afflicted by crime: The co-owner of a beloved Filipino restaurant in Oakland was shot and killed Wednesday night in front of his 11-year-old son, while a Tuesday night shootout at an East Palo Alto park filled with children and families left one person dead and three injured. “These people decided to shoot at each other, 33 rounds between them, with all these kids playing in the park,” said Jeff Liu, interim East Palo Alto police chief.
  • And it comes ahead of the June 7 recall election of San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin, which, according to a swath of recent polls, seems likely to succeed. “Whether it is real or not, the crime wave is coming for Boudin,” Annie Lowrey wrote in a Thursday article in The Atlantic. “San Franciscans do not feel safe and secure.”

2 UC inches toward debt-free education

The University of California Office of the President offices in downtown Oakland on May 19, 2022. Photo by Martin do Nascimento, CalMatters
The University of California Office of the President offices in downtown Oakland on May 19, 2022. Photo by Martin do Nascimento, CalMatters

The University of California moved closer to its goal of offering in-state undergraduates a debt-free education by 2030 on Thursday, when the system’s governing body voted to prioritize part-time work over taking out loans as part of its official financial aid policy, CalMatters’ Mikhail Zinshteyn reports. But that 2030 goal depends in large part on compliance from the state and federal governments — and Gov. Gavin Newsom’s recently revised budget blueprint didn’t promise funding for a bill to expand eligibility for Cal Grant, the state’s flagship financial aid program. The governor last year also vetoed a bill to add more than 100,000 students — including several thousand UC students — to the Cal Grant program, though he expanded grant eligibility in other ways. 

3 Reflections from the Class of 2022

Lukas Daniels, 23, who is graduating with honors in anthropology and a minor in women and gender studies from Cal State Dominguez Hills, poses for a portrait on campus in Dominguez Hills on May 17, 2022. “I definitely needed a lot of community support throughout the pandemic when everything was virtual,” Daniels said. “It was an emotional rollercoaster—graduating is something not a lot of us thought we would get to do.” Photo by Pablo Unzueta for CalMatters
Lukas Daniels, 23, who is graduating from Cal State Dominguez Hills, poses for a portrait on campus on May 17, 2022. Photo by Pablo Unzueta for CalMatters
  • “I made a grand total of five friends during a year of school over Zoom.”
  • “It has kind of been a grieving process, realizing that I may never be in lecture halls again. I will never have another undergraduate experience.”
  • “(The pandemic) taught me that it’s possible to survive, like, no matter what the situation is. … I’m going to move to the Bay Area to start working … as a software engineer at Google. I’m not really scared about moving to the Bay, even though I’ve never been there before.”
  • “I think the pandemic served a little bit like a mirror, or looking glass, to see the value of college. And in a lot of ways, it has not been worth it just due to the exorbitant cost of school. … I think for me, personally, trying to cram so much in such a short span of time led to the risk of the burnout. There’s kind of a sense of time lost due to the pandemic and then this desire to wring out every possible opportunity because it’s so expensive and short-lived.”

These are just a few of the poignant, thought-provoking, poetic responses students graduating from colleges across California shared with CalMatters’ College Journalism Network as they reflected on the pandemic’s impact on their higher-education experiences. Read their stories here.


CalMatters Commentary

Teach ethnic studies and civics together: Ethnic studies can teach our children about their commonalities and their unique identities. Civics can teach them how to work toward compromise. But California plans to teach these lessons separately, which makes no sense, argue Amanda Susskind of the Constitutional Rights Foundation and Dan Schnur, who teaches at UC Berkeley, Pepperdine University and USC.


Other things worth your time

Some stories may require a subscription to read

Gavin Newsom’s inflation plan could drive up prices even more, experts say. // Sacramento Bee

With formula scarce, California moms are sharing breast milk. // Los Angeles Times

Anti-abortion activists broke into UCSF women’s clinic, recorded patients and stalked a doctor, Boudin says. // San Francisco Chronicle

Recall reform could limit Breed’s options if Boudin is ousted. // San Francisco Examiner

San Francisco’s juvenile hall was scheduled to close last year. So why are kids still locked up there? // San Francisco Chronicle

Gascón charges man accused of attacking Dave Chapelle with unrelated attempted murder. // Los Angeles Times

California Supreme Court clears the way for Newsom to grant clemency to NFL star’s father, convicted of murder in 2005. // San Francisco Chronicle

FBI corruption probe reveals the people who run Anaheim. // Los Angeles Times

High-profile California Democrat and O.C. political consultant reveals role as FBI witness in Anaheim corruption probe. // Voice of OC

Big oil backers and bobblehead ads? Sacramento’s Senate race heats up as PACs weigh in. // Sacramento Bee

Anne Marie Schubert’s unconventional bid for attorney general. // Los Angeles Times

Sheriff Alex Villanueva didn’t have approval to film campaign ad in local church, archdiocese says. // ABC7 Los Angeles

Editorial: Return to pre-pandemic public meeting rules? Yes — and no. // Los Angeles Times

Latinos hold only 3% of California’s public company board seats despite diversity push. // San Francisco Chronicle

California to get first Native American federal judge. // FOX40

California election commission weighs whether to allow Bitcoin donations. // Sacramento Bee

Tesla might not love California, but California still loves Tesla. // Electrek

California’s electric grid has an EV problem. // Yahoo Finance

20 U.S. states back restoring California strict emissions rules. // Reuters

California traffic deaths spiked for second year in a row in 2021. // San Francisco Chronicle

Updated state computer system frustrates districts during student testing period. // EdSource

Acrimony, threats, absent doctors: L.A. County and USC clash over hospital management. // Los Angeles Times

Frustration with private ambulance provider prompts San Diego to explore shift to in-house service. // San Diego Union-Tribune

Helping mentally ill people: The debate over ‘involuntary treatment.’ // Capitol Weekly

L.A. controller reiterates calls for city to use its land for homeless housing. // Daily News

Homeless count up 10% in San Diego County. ‘More miserable out there than I have seen in years.’ // San Diego Union-Tribune

Hundreds more Oaklanders are living in cars and RVs these days. // Oaklandside

Exorbitant costs could kill 13,000 homes planned in Bay Area’s biggest housing proposal. // San Francisco Chronicle

Oakland wins $11M to turn Coliseum hotel into homeless housing. // Mercury News

Years-long effort to develop Point Molate in Richmond dies. // Mercury News

If sea ice melts in the Arctic, do trees burn in California? // Scientific American

Man gets 24 years in prison for fire that killed 12 condors. // Associated Press

Growing number of sick and dying California brown pelicans worries animal experts. // Los Angeles Times

‘Unchecked pain and misery’: PETA files complaint against campus labs. // Daily Californian

Black fig fly: a new invasive pest in California. // Entomology Today

See you next week


Tips, insight or feedback? Email emily@calmatters.org.

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