California Legislature: Slouching towards end of session
California lawmakers have less than two weeks to wrap up their work before the end of the legislative session on Aug. 31. And so begins the final legislative traffic jam, as bills line up for final votes.
A piece of legislation’s particular place in that line is the complex product of political horse-trading, the competing priorities of the state Assembly and Senate and the whims of legislative leadership. So it’s not always easy to predict when the final vote will come.
The timing for Sen. Maria Elena Durazo was particularly unlucky.
As CalMatters politics intern Ariel Gans reports, the Los Angeles Democrat tested positive for COVID last week. So after more than two years of work, she missed the final legislative passage Thursday of a bill that expands the kinds of arrests and convictions that are deleted from most criminal background checks.
The 28-10 vote in the Senate sent the legislation to Gov. Gavin Newsom. If he signs it, the bill will take effect on July 1, 2023.
Durazo told CalMatters that these records make it difficult for formerly incarcerated individuals to “move forward with their lives.”
- Durazo: “We spend literally billions of dollars into many programs, both while they’re incarcerated, and right after they leave and they’re released. And it hit me that here we are preparing them in the best way that we can, and yet when they leave, they’re facing all these obstacles. So our own investment — our own tax dollars — we’re not getting the best of them.”
But Sen. Shannon Grove, a Bakersfield Republican, pointed out that the bill expands this relief to perpetrators of domestic violence. She joined other Republicans, plus Democratic Sen. Melissa Hurtado of Sanger, in voting no.
- Grove: “These things are very violent things, even though they’re not listed as serious and violent in the penal code.”
The Peace Officers Research Association of California also opposed the bill, warning that it would reduce deterrence for repeat offenses and jeopardize public safety.
But a long list of labor organizations and criminal justice reform groups supported the bill, arguing that the criminal records disproportionately limit access to jobs and housing for Black, Latino and poor Californians.
Nearly one in three adults in California have a past arrest or conviction on their record, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. While many cases are never prosecuted, in California, these incidents can remain on an individual’s record until they’re 100 years old.
The bill expands relief to those arrested for felonies who have not been prosecuted after three years, or six years for more serious felonies. The relief does not apply to a “serious or violent” felony, or felonies requiring registration as a sex offender. The state Assembly also amended the bill to require that criminal records be disclosed to school districts for hiring decisions.
Learn more about legislators mentioned in this story
María Elena Durazo
State Senate, District 26 (Los Angeles)
State Senate, District 26 (Los Angeles)
Time in office
Union Vice President
Sen. María Elena Durazo has taken at least $516,000 from the Labor sector since she was elected to the legislature. That represents 54% of her total campaign contributions.
State Senate, District 12 (Bakersfield)
State Senate, District 12 (Bakersfield)
Time in office
Sen. Shannon Grove has taken at least $65,500 from the Agriculture sector since she was elected to the legislature. That represents 11% of her total campaign contributions.
Here are a couple of other bills that are about to head to the governor’s desk:
- A bill by Napa Democratic Sen. Bill Dodd to set up a program designed to make it easier for landowners who want to conduct prescribed burns on their land to get insurance.
- A bill by Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer, a Los Angeles Democrat, to put strict limits on when “a form of creative expression” — for example, a song lyric — can be used as evidence in a criminal trial.
When lawmakers weren’t passing bills on Thursday, they were giving lengthy (and if you’re Democratic Sen. Nancy Skinner of Berkeley, musical and puppet-populated) farewells to outgoing members.
There are a lot of goodbyes in order. At least 22 members of the Assembly and 9 members of the Senate won’t be coming back next year. That’s not including any members who lose their reelection bids to non-incumbents or win a job elsewhere this November.
The coronavirus bottom line: As of Monday, California had 10,146,137 confirmed cases (+0.4% from previous day) and 93,517 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 79,191,867 vaccine doses, and 71.8% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.
Other Stories You Should Know
1 Rod Wright redux?
Consider the curious case of Bill Essayli.
A rising star in the California GOP running for a Republican-leaning Assembly seat in west Riverside County, he was the subject of a Press-Enterprise story this week which noted that the 36-year-old lawyer can’t vote in the district he hopes to represent after the November election.
Weirdly enough, it’s unclear whether that’s actually a problem in California.
A brief recap of L’Affair Essayli:
- In late 2021, Essayli re-registered to vote from outside the district (Irvine) to inside it (Riverside), making himself eligible to run.
- On June 7, the day of California’s primary, he switched his registration back to Orange County.
Essayli told the Press-Enterprise that he’s fully in compliance with California law. In a letter sent to Attorney General Rob Bonta, local Democrats and good governance activists say he isn’t and that candidates have to maintain a “fixed home” in the district.
You might think California law would be clear on this point. But you would be wrong.
Remember Rod Wright? The former state senator was convicted of eight felonies after he ran for office while living outside his own district. In response, Wright’s political ally, Sen. Steven Bradford, wrote a bill clarifying that a legislator’s legal residence is wherever they are registered to vote.
Last week, Riverside County Registrar of Voters Rebecca Spencer referred the Essayli question to the office of Shirley Weber, California’s secretary of state.
It turns out, the chief administrator of all California elections doesn’t plan to weigh in either.
- Secretary of State spokesperson Joe Kocurek: “The only option to remove someone from the ballot would be court action.”
Bill Hedrick, a former Democratic congressional candidate and the lead signatory of the letter sent to Bonta, said in an email that he still hasn’t decided whether to take that route.
- Hedrick: “If, in fact, there is a loophole that Mr. Essayli has been able to utilize regarding residency, hopefully there will be a legislative remedy to prevent this from occurring in the future.”
2 A meeting at McLane
At a press conference at McLane High School in Fresno Thursday morning, Gov. Gavin Newsom, First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom, U.S. Rep. Jim Costa and Assemblymember Joaquin Arambula all lined up to talk about the state’s mental health spending plan.
- But the most memorable speaker was senior Aliyah Barajas: “I had a speech planned yesterday that was a little bit less personal…But I realized overnight that this opportunity is a little bit too grand to just go over what everyone knows.”
Barajas said she first began to hurt herself when she was 10. After her friends told a teacher, Barajas had a meeting with a vice principal in which she said she believed she “was getting in trouble.” Then, she said, nothing happened.
- Barajas: “My parents weren’t contacted. I wasn’t referred to a counselor…I know I’m not the first, the last, or the only 10-year-old girl who has to go through that.”
The plan the governor was touting is intended to help kids like Barajas. It’s a $4.7 billion spending plan on new mental and behavioral health initiatives, including the hiring of 40,000 new mental health care workers for schools.
This isn’t new spending — nearly $4.5 billion was earmarked in last year’s budget and the rest was tucked into this year’s. But the framework on how to spend it is new, the governor’s press office said.
Newsom also noted that the “biggest limiting factor” in making health care services more accessible isn’t a lack of money, but a lack of trained professionals.
That won’t come as news to the roughly 2,000 Kaiser Permanente mental health clinicians on strike across the Bay Area and Central Valley. For the fifth day running today, members of the National Union of Healthcare Workers are planning to picket the health care giant, demanding that it hire more therapists and counselors.
CARE Court plan rightly targets state responsibilities on homelessness: What’s dramatically different about CARE Court is its requirement that government actually help the people who are living in inhumane and unhealthy conditions on our streets, writes Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg.
Other things worth your time
Here’s where California’s cliffs are collapsing into the sea the fastest // L.A. Times
San Francisco ‘Amazon Tax’ Backers Want To Axe It As Amazon May Not Be Affected // San Francisco Standard
Gavin Newsom said he would give land back to Native Americans in California. Has he? // Sacramento Bee
Opinion: California needs more housing. Unions might stand in the way // New York Times
California churches want to build affordable housing on their land, so is that so hard? // KQED
Newsom slams Oakland for “seeking to shirt responsibility” over encampment // KTVU
Inflation making recovery from California fires and other disasters more difficult // LAist
Algal bloom fills San Francisco Bay with swirls of brown water // San Francisco Chronicle
Opinion: California should end deceitful campaign fundraising tactic // Mercury News
What’s actually being taught in history class // New York Times