Tough decisions loom for lawmakers, Newsom
In some ways, the suspense file that state lawmakers churned through on Thursday — a lengthy list of hundreds of bills that they either silently sent to their death or let survive another day — didn’t live up to its reputation.
That’s because the secretive, twice-annual process — which allows legislators to shelve bills they deem too expensive, as well as those that may be politically inconvenient or strongly opposed by powerful interest groups — left undecided some of the most highly anticipated battles of the legislative session.
More than 200 bills met their doom on Thursday in the Assembly and Senate Appropriations Committees, including those that would have allowed prosecutors to sue social media companies for intentionally addicting kids to their products, capped insulin copays for diabetic patients, called for increased carbon sequestration in California’s lands, phased out online retailers’ use of plastic packaging, forced gun owners to buy liability insurance and required police agencies to let the public listen to their radio transmissions, Ben Christopher and the rest of the CalMatters team report.
And although a pay transparency bill advanced, its most significant provision — to force the public reporting of company pay data broken down by position, race, and gender — was eliminated.
But the suspense isn’t over for a slew of controversial bills among the more than 600 that made it through, setting lawmakers up for contentious public votes with the end of the legislative session less than three weeks away — and the Nov. 8 general election less than three months away.
The proposals could also put Gov. Gavin Newsom in a precarious political position if they land on his desk: Newsom, who in recent months has been steadily elevating his national profile in what some have interpreted as groundwork for a future presidential run, declined to comment Thursday on whether he plans to sign a contentious bill lawmakers sent him last week that would permit Oakland, San Francisco, and Los Angeles to launch trial supervised drug injection sites.
- Democratic strategist Roger Salazar told Politico: “You don’t want to go over that progressive waterfall. You want to keep going down that stream but you don’t want to go too far and then end up crashing.”
Here’s a look at some of the bills that could present Democratic lawmakers and Newsom with especially complex political conundrums. They would:
- Limit solitary confinement in prisons, jails and private immigration detention facilities.
- Tighten California’s concealed carry gun law.
- Restrict prosecutors’ ability to seek either the death penalty or life without parole for some accomplices in certain felony murders.
- Classify as unprofessional conduct physicians and surgeons’ dissemination of COVID “misinformation or disinformation.”
- Require school districts to have COVID testing plans.
- Expand online privacy protections for youth.
- Protect out-of-state families seeking gender-affirming care for their transgender children in California.
- Create a framework to force severely mentally ill Californians into treatment and housing.
- Allow the state to negotiate wages, hours and work conditions for the entire fast-food industry.
- Increase payments from the state’s paid family leave program for lower-wage workers, starting in 2024.
- Permit farmworkers to vote by mail in union elections.
- Allow legislative staffers to unionize.
- Speed up affordable housing construction.
- Give certain cities the green light to allow eligible bars, restaurants and nightclubs to sell liquor until 4 a.m., instead of the previous 2 a.m. cutoff.
- Legalize human composting.
The coronavirus bottom line: As of Monday, California had 10,071,958 confirmed cases (+0.5% from previous day) and 93,193 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.
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1 Newsom highlights plan to increase water supply
Warning that hotter, drier weather could cause California’s water supply to shrink by as much as 10% by 2040, Newsom on Thursday unveiled a broad strategy to help the state create more. But, as the governor’s office acknowledged, many of the proposed actions had already been identified in the state’s Water Resilience Portfolio, which was released in 2020. And the blueprint itself has limited details, distant deadlines, and doesn’t include a conservation mandate or measures to substantially address water use by agricultural interests, which consume about four times more water than urban residents do, CalMatters’ Rachel Becker reports.
- Jeffrey Mount, a senior fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California’s Water Policy Center: “These are going to be targets without consequences. Nobody is going to hang if they aren’t met. But they can bring public attention to the problem” of drought.
A key prong of Newsom’s plan is to fast-track projects — including reservoirs, groundwater recharge facilities and desalination plants — by streamlining the state’s notoriously lengthy and convoluted environmental review process, a strategy he also employed in a highly controversial energy blueprint. “The time to get these damn projects is ridiculous. It’s absurd. It’s reasonably comedic,” Newsom said. “In so many ways, the world we invented from an environmental perspective is now getting in the way of moving these projects forward.” (Former GOP Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger voiced a similar sentiment in a recently published newsletter: “We can’t be held hostage any more by those who use our environmental review system against us. If a project can’t be approved in a year, what are we even doing? If anyone can sue to slow down every project with no consequences, what are we incentivizing?”)
- However, Newsom’s own administration recently denied a permit for a massive proposed desalination plant in Huntington Beach that had been debated for more than 20 years.
- State Sen. Brian Dahle, a Bieber Republican who’s running for governor against Newsom, said in a statement: “Gavin Newsom has had more money and opportunity to increase our water supply than any other Governor in history. He has done nothing. Voters have approved over $27 billion in bonds over the years to increase water storage in this state and yet we haven’t seen one extra drop of water needed for our residents.”
Also Thursday, Newsom tapped Antonio Villaraigosa, former mayor of Los Angeles and his former Democratic gubernatorial opponent, as his new infrastructure czar. Newsom said Villaraigosa will work with local, state and federal leaders to identify, streamline and coordinate priority projects and maximize the tidal wave of federal funding headed California’s way. Villaraigosa’s personal firm signed a five-month, $175,000 contract with California Forward, a statewide nonprofit that will contribute input on some projects, CEO Micah Weinberg told me. He added that the contract could be extended depending on how things go.
2 Lawmakers release political tension on sports field
They say politics is a blood sport — but state officials and lawmakers set apart their political and geographical differences this week when they gathered for a softball game on Monday and a soccer game on Wednesday. (I may be giving myself away here, but I couldn’t help but cheer upon learning that Team Northern California won the softball game 16-8 and the soccer game 5-2.) Both games were played for charity, with the softball game raising more than $42,000 for Sacramento’s Mustard Seed School, a free private school for homeless youth, according to Sacramento Democratic Assemblymember Kevin McCarty’s office. The soccer game raised $50,000 for Stanford Sierra Youth & Families, a Sacramento nonprofit that aims to help foster youth and their families overcome challenges together, according to the Sacramento Bee.
Attorney General Rob Bonta, a former captain of the Yale University soccer team who said he plays “in the old man’s league on the weekend,” scored two of Team NorCal’s goals and was apparently the man to beat, while Democratic Assemblymember Robert Rivas of Salinas — who’s angling to become the next Speaker of the Assembly — was named MVP of the softball game.
Appropriately, state Sen. Anthony Portantino, who leads the Senate Appropriations Committee that determined the fate of the suspense file bills, was the referee of the soccer game.
- Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel, a Van Nuys Democrat, told the Bee: “He’s the most important man in my world this week for a lot of reasons.”
California’s doctor shortage is limiting abortion access: Lawmakers should pass Senate Bill 1375, which would allow qualified nurse practitioners, nurse midwives and physician assistants to perform abortions without physician supervision, argues Debbie Bamberger, a nurse practitioner.
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