California Legislature weeds through key bills

Your guide to California policy and politics
Lynn La BY Lynn La April 20, 2023
Presented by New California Coalition and California Water Service

California Legislature weeds through key bills

The state Legislature’s policy committees are buzzing with activity this week, hearing bills on topics including election reform, missing persons and chemicals in candy. Bills that require money will advance to their respective appropriations committee, where many will have to face the dreaded suspense file next month, which can stop a bill’s progress in its tracks. 

Let’s spin through some highlights: 

  • Referendum reform: On Wednesday, the Assembly elections committee passed Assemblymember Isaac Bryan’s bill on referendum reform. Currently, companies can block policies they don’t like by qualifying ballot measures and putting it on voters to kill or uphold the laws. (Next year, voters will decide on two referenda related to the oil and fast food industries.) The Democrat from Culver City argues that industries abuse the referendum process and his bill aims to make the process more transparent and clear to voters.
  • Two strikes against fossil fuel: Two Democratic-led fossil fuel-related bills made it through the Senate judiciary committee this week. One, proposed by San Francisco Sen. Scott Wiener, wants to require large corporations that do business in California to disclose their greenhouse gas emissions. Business groups are pushing back, saying that because the measure mandates large corporations to disclose emissions throughout their entire supply chain, their partnerships with small and medium businesses would be jeopardized if these companies struggle to report their emissions. The other bill is from Long Beach Sen. Lena Gonzalez, which would wind down investments in fossil fuel companies from the pension funds for state employees and teachers. Opponents argue that the bill would reduce investment diversification and returns.  
  • Missing Black youth: The National Crime Information Center reported that more than 77,000 Black girls ages 17 and under went missing in 2022. But missing Black children are disproportionately classified as “runaways,” according to the Black and Missing Foundation. To bring more attention and resources to missing Black youth, Sen. Steven Bradford, a Democrat from Gardena, wants to establish an “Ebony Alert,” which would trigger an Emergency Alert System for missing children and young people between the ages of 12 and 25 years old. On Tuesday, his bill passed the Senate public safety committee.
  • Ban on food chemicals: Also on Tuesday, the bill to ban Skittles (but not really), which the Assembly health committee approved last week, advanced out of the environmental safety and toxic materials committee. The proposal would actually ban the manufacturing, sale and distribution of food products in California that contain five food chemicals linked to cancer and behavioral problems in children. Several food and beverage companies oppose the bill, arguing that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and “many international scientific bodies” have reviewed the chemicals and deemed them safe. 

Cannabis event: Don’t miss CalMatters’ event at Cal Poly Humboldt, 10:30-11:30 a.m. today, on how the news media covers cannabis. Our panel will be moderated by CalMatters CEO Neil Chase and features a panel of journalists, media professors and cannabis studies experts. Register for this event.


1 How many chances to pass a class?

Students walk through campus at Sacramento City College on Feb. 23, 2022. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters
Students walk through campus at Sacramento City College on Feb. 23, 2022. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters

From CalMatters’ community college reporter Adam Echelman:

Failing a college class is rough. But failing it four times? That’s almost impossible, according to current California law, which restricts the amount of times a student can retake a class.

A new bill by Assemblymember Mike Fong, a Monterey Park Democrat, would change that, allowing community college students to retake classes as many as five times if they receive a D or F in the first four tries. Currently, students can enroll as many as three times in the same class.

The bill, which passed the Assembly’s higher education committee on Tuesday, brought students and teachers alike to the Legislature. 

“Some of the most earth-shattering events in my life have happened around midterms or thereafter when it was too late to even withdraw from courses,” said Heather Brandt, a student chancellor at San Francisco City College.

In the two decades that it took her to graduate, she said she dealt with an abusive relationship, a miscarriage, and the incarceration of her spouse, among other challenges. The restrictions around retaking classes delayed her graduation even more, she said. 

But the good intentions of the bill may come with “unintended consequences,” said Melissa Bardo, associate director of policy and government relations for the research and advocacy group Education Trust-West.

  • Bardo, to the committee: “A student attempting to take a course up to 5 times amounts to two and a half years of a student’s academic career spent on one course. This has significant impacts on time to degree and college affordability.” 

She told legislators that this bill could create the wrong kind of financial incentive for schools, who receive money for each class a student takes. Students might be pushed to retake classes instead of receiving academic support upfront, she said, adding that it could also undermine efforts legislators just made to help students graduate faster.

The community college chancellor’s office expressed no official position on the bill but expressed general concern. 

There’s no recent data about how many students actually repeat courses multiple times. An analysis shared with CalMatters by the chancellor’s office from 2014 found that less than 3.5% of students failed the same math or English class twice or more.

2 Snuffing out ‘hidden’ fees

Illustration by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters; iStock
Illustration by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters; iStock

It’s a familiar scenario: We’re about to finish an online transaction — renting a car, booking a hotel room or nabbing tickets to tomorrow’s game — and right before confirming the purchase, we’re smacked with a long list of fees. Undeterred, most of us pay up anyway, but the experience is frustrating nonetheless.

To crack down on hidden fees, several California legislators are pushing a series of bills that would require companies to be more transparent about their pricing, according to CalMatters’ economy reporter Grace Gedye. One overarching bill, from Democratic Sens. Bill Dodd of Napa and Nancy Skinner of Oakland, would prohibit companies from advertising the prices of goods or services that didn’t include mandatory fees, besides taxes. Other bills zero in on specific industries, including:

The reason retailers continue this practice isn’t surprising: In general, “when fees, taxes and surcharges are revealed late in the game, shoppers end up spending more,” Grace writes. Even when one ticket company, eBay’s Stubhub, experimented with all-inclusive pricing to drum up more customer loyalty, ticket buyers who had to pay fees tacked on at the end of the buying process still spent more and were more likely to make a purchase than customers who saw the total price up front.


CalMatters Commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: As Colorado River goes dry, a time of reckoning for the Imperial Valley.

CalMatters columnist Jim Newton: New L.A. Mayor Karen Bass’s proposal to increase the police budget reveals how she has adjusted to the realities of city government. 

CalMatters held a contest for students to write opinion pieces about Earth Day. 

Second place: Disaster protections aren’t the same as climate change solutions, writes Olivia Brandeis, who lives in the Bay Area and is a student at Monte Vista High School.
Here are excerpts from some of the 120-plus submissions. And read more from our engagement team about the contest.


Other things worth your time

Some stories may require a subscription to read

State Supreme Court rejects challenge to Newsom’s CARE Court // San Francisco Chronicle

Key California legislator proposes raising teacher pay by 50% over 7 years // EdSource

He’s rich, he’s pugilistic and he’s quietly paying to get Newsom’s attention // Politico

38.5 million Californians live in county with failing grade for air quality // Los Angeles Times

RJR uses California as test market for skirting national menthol cigarette ban // Politico

One California Republican signed brief supporting abortion pill ban // San Francisco Chronicle

Berkeley’s gas ban shot down by federal court // Berkeleyside

National City officially ends 1992 cruising ban // The San Diego Union-Tribune

Already an ‘enormous rise’ in SF overdose deaths in 2023 // San Francisco Chronicle

Judge rules female athletes can seek damages in Title IX lawsuit against SDSU // The San Diego Union-Tribune

Feds probe viral video showing man harassing S.F.’s Pier 39 sea lions // San Francisco Chronicle

The North County charity execs cutting deals that enrich them personally // Voice of San Diego

San Jose mayor says city ‘will not become SF’ // The San Francisco Standard

Should SF build a 55-story condo tower near Ocean Beach? // San Francisco Chronicle

Controversial statue in downtown San Jose will be gone by May // The Mercury News

See you tomorrow


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