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Big tests ahead for new Legislature

Your guide to California policy and politics
Emily Hoeven BY Emily Hoeven December 6, 2022
Presented by American Property Casualty Insurance Association, Dairy Cares, Climate-Smart Agricultural Partnership and New California Coalition

Big tests ahead for new Legislature

Now comes the hard part.

That was the main takeaway from Monday’s largely ceremonial flurry of activity in the state Capitol.

Joined by their families, newly elected lawmakers were sworn into office after opening speeches that at times ventured into the metaphysical, with Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon at one point comparing the challenge of political change to that of postmodern architecture: “Although you can tear down what came before you, you still need a structure in which to live.”

Lawmakers also convened Gov. Gavin Newsom’s special session on oil company profits, and then just as quickly adjourned it: In the Assembly, organization of the special session lasted three minutes.

Newsom, meanwhile, unveiled the text of his proposal to enact a price gouging penalty on oil companies about two months after first floating the idea — but many blanks, literally, still have to be filled in.

According to the Newsom administration, the bill would permit the state to fine oil refiners with “excessive profit margins” and funnel the penalty money back to Californians. But some of the bill’s most contentious aspects — including the size of the penalty and the definition of “excessive” margins — remain unclear and will have to be worked out in negotiations with the Legislature.

Some lawmakers were hesitant to embrace the half-formed proposal, CalMatters’ Alexei Koseff and Sameea Kamal report: “It would certainly be problematic if in the short term it leads to higher prices for consumers,” said Democratic Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin of Thousand Oaks.

  • Newsom told reporters: “I hope it never goes into effect because these (companies) will change the way they’ve been doing business. We want them to make extraordinary profits. I’m not opposed to profits. They just can’t take advantage of you.”
  • Kevin Slagle, a spokesperson for the Western States Petroleum Association, told the Los Angeles Times: “To … see no details on thresholds or what this penalty is and looks like … it makes us wonder if this is a real public policy discussion or more of the politics we’ve seen from this governor.”

Public policy discussions aren’t likely to start until Jan. 4 at the earliest, when state lawmakers will reconvene both the regular and special legislative sessions. Meanwhile, pressure will likely keep building on all sides: Greenpeace USA activists, for example, unfurled banners in the state Capitol demanding lawmakers “make Big Oil pay.”

Other legislative news you should know:

  • The speakership deal is official: The Assembly approved a resolution formalizing a leadership transition plan greenlighted by Democratic members last month: Rendon will remain speaker through June 30, 2023, at which point Assemblymember Robert Rivas of Hollister will take over.
  • The Senate gets a new minority leader: Republican Sen. Brian Jones of Santee will replace Scott Wilk of Santa Clarita as leader of the Senate Republican Caucus.
  • Lawmakers introduced a torrent of new billsthough, again, the hard part will come next year, when they’ll face votes and debates. Key proposals include:
    • The latest attempt to allow legislative workers to unionize. “We ask our staff to write legislation and staff bills that expand collective bargaining rights for other workers in California, yet we prohibit our own employees from that same right,” Democratic Assemblymember Tina McKinnor of Inglewood, the bill’s author, said in a statement.
    • The latest attempt to impose new excise taxes on guns and ammunition, authored by Democratic Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel of Woodland Hills.
    • A bill to specify a timeline for schools to implement LGBTQ+ cultural competency teacher training under development by the state education department, authored by new Democratic Assemblymember Rick Chavez Zbur of West Hollywood.
    • A bill to push California closer to its goal of offering debt-free college by allowing income-eligible UC and CSU students to receive expanded financial aid awards to help cover such non-tuition costs as housing, books, food and transportation — authored by Democratic Assemblymembers Kevin McCarty of Sacramento and Sabrina Cervantes of Riverside.
    • And Assembly Republicans unveiled a package of bills called the “California Promise,” which call for suspending the state gas tax, offering property tax bonuses to local governments that approve more housing, banning homeless encampments near schools, increasing penalties for fentanyl dealers, giving working families a tax credit and expanding the renters’ tax credit, promoting transparency in school curriculum, and expediting environmental review for water storage projects, among other things.

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1 California election updates

Voters leave the elections office in downtown Fresno after dropping off their ballot for the midterm elections on Nov. 8, 2022. Photo by Larry Valenzuela, CalMatters/CatchLight Local
Voters leave the elections office in downtown Fresno after dropping off their ballots on Nov. 8, 2022. Photo by Larry Valenzuela, CalMatters/CatchLight Local

Ahead of the Friday deadline for county elections officials to submit to the California secretary of state their final results from the Nov. 8 election, let’s dive into the latest updates:

  • Two legislative races are still too close to call: As of Monday evening, Democratic incumbent Melissa Hurtado and Republican David Shepard each had 50% of the vote for a state Senate seat looping around east Bakersfield — and Democrat Christy Holstege and Republican Greg Wallis each had 50% of the vote for an Assembly seat straddling Riverside and San Bernardino counties. The contests have been virtually neck-and-neck for days.
  • Vice President Kamala Harris will swear in Rep. Karen Bass as Los Angeles mayor on Sunday: Bass asked the vice president to administer the oath of office in recognition of their position as two of California’s most powerful Black women, according to the Los Angeles Times.
  • Crypto meets Congress: Groups connected to Sam Bankman-Fried, the disgraced co-founder of FTX — a cryptocurrency exchange that was valued at $32 billion before it abruptly went belly-up — spent heavily on two Southern California congressional races, backing the successful candidates Sydney Kamlager in Los Angeles and Robert Garcia in Long Beach, the Los Angeles Times reports. Kamlager, who as a state senator introduced an unsuccessful bill that would have allowed state agencies to accept cryptocurrency as payment, told the Times she didn’t know the groups were connected to Bankman-Fried. “I wouldn’t know the person if he walked up and sold me a Snickers bar,” she said.
  • Will a Californian lead the Republican National Committee? Harmeet Dhillon, California’s Republican National Committeewoman, is preparing to launch a leadership bid, marking the most serious challenge to date for current chairperson Ronna McDaniel, Politico reports. Dhillon has long played a prominent role in California GOP politics, and her profile grew amid the pandemic as a result of her law firm representing plaintiffs in many of the lawsuits against state COVID restrictions.

2022 Election

Latest coverage of the 2022 general election in California

2 First auction for California offshore wind

Three offshore wind turbines operate off the coast of Rhode Island. The first leases off California will be auctioned off today. Photo by Michael Dwyer, AP Photo
Three offshore wind turbines operate off the coast of Rhode Island. The first leases off California will be auctioned off today. Photo by Michael Dwyer, AP Photo

Imagine a future where massive wind turbines float in the ocean off California’s coast, with their blades — each bigger than a football field — spinning in the air and generating enough electricity to power millions of homes. Today marks the first step in a years-long journey to achieve that goal: Starting at 7 a.m., federal officials will auction off leases for parcels of ocean water about 20 miles off Morro Bay and Humboldt County — offering a crucial first look at how strong the market is for producing offshore wind off California, a particularly challenging market, CalMatters’ Nadia Lopez reports.

  • Habib Dagher, executive director of the University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center, who is helping develop the country’s first offshore floating wind turbines: “California has deeper waters than any other areas with these floating turbines so far in the world. … That adds costs and risks because no one’s building anything this big or this deep yet.” Dagher said the turbines would be in waters 2,490 feet deep off Humboldt County and 3,320 feet in Morro Bay. The deepest project to date: 721 feet in Norway.
  • Dagher added: “How do you protect the environment, protect local stakeholders, protect the fisheries, protect Indigenous communities, while also speeding up permitting so we make a difference with global climate change?” 
  • The state doesn’t have much time to figure these thorny problems out if it wants to reach its goal of producing at least 25 gigawatts of energy from offshore wind sources by 2045 — enough to supply 25 million homes.

3 Real ID deadline delayed — again

Travelers enter a terminal at Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles, Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2022. The Department of Homeland Security has pushed back its deadline for travelers to possess a Real ID to May 5, 2025. Photo by Jae C. Hong, AP Photo
Travelers enter a terminal at Los Angeles International Airport on Nov. 22, 2022. Photo by Jae C. Hong, AP Photo

If you still haven’t gotten your Real ID, you can rest a little easier: Citing pandemic-induced backlogs at state driver’s licensing agencies, the federal government on Monday announced a two-year extension of its Real ID enforcement deadline, pushing it from May 3, 2023 to May 7, 2025. This marks at least the fourth extension since October 2020, the original deadline for Americans to present a Real ID or other federally approved document meeting heightened security and identity-verification requirements in order to fly domestically or enter certain federal buildings.

  • In March 2020, just days before California shut down due to COVID-19, DMV Director Steve Gordon warned state lawmakers of an impending “untenable situation”: To meet the deadline, the DMV estimated it would need to process more than 8 million Real IDs in a little over six months, more than triple its past volume.
  • But the extra time has helped the DMV catch up. Gordon said in a Monday statement that nearly 14.8 million Californians had a Real ID as of Dec. 1, an increase of more than 2.6 million since the same date last year and up nearly 200,000 from last month.
  • Gordon: “If a Real ID is on your holiday wish list this year, we’ve made it easy for you to get one. All you have to do is fill out an online application, upload your documents and make a quick trip to the DMV.”
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CalMatters Commentary


CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: The real scandal behind California’s leak of confidential gun permit data: the state’s long list of failed information technology projects.

Help is on the way for California truckers grappling with EV rules: Many programs and grants — from the local to the federal level — are available to help the trucking industry transition to zero-emission vehicles, writes Nick Chaset, CEO of East Bay Community Energy.

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

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