California bills in danger in ‘suspense file’
If you’re the author or supporter of a bill before the California Legislature, this is one list you dread: While getting sent to the “suspense file” doesn’t seal a measure’s fate, it does put it at some risk of being killed for the year.
Leading up to the big suspense file decision day next week, the Assembly and Senate appropriations committees are putting together lists of bills — and lots of high-profile ones are on them. Here’s a selection:
- SB 691: Require dyslexia risk screening in public schools.
- AB 91: Offer debt-free community college for students who live close to Mexico border.
- SB 760: Require all-gender restrooms in every school by July 2025.
Environment and climate change:
- SB 252: Wind down investments in fossil fuel companies from pension funds for state employees and teachers.
- SB 253: Require large corporations to disclose greenhouse gas emissions.
- SB 261: Require companies with $500 million in revenue to prepare climate financial risk reports.
Labor and the economy:
- AB 518: Extend paid family leave to care for LGBTQ partners.
- SB 497: Protect workers who report labor violations from being fired, bullied or harassed.
- SB 616: Extend paid sick leave from three days to seven.
- SB 627: Require large retail chains to give 60-day notice of closings and grant transfer rights to employees.
- AB 92: Ban civilians who are prohibited from owning firearms from also owning bullet-resistant body armor.
- AB 742: Ban the use of police dogs for arrests and crowd control.
- AB 881: Increase juror pay in criminal cases for low-income people from $15 to $100 a day.
Reproductive rights and health care:
- AB 315: Stop crisis pregnancy centers from advertising misleading information.
- SB 36: Protect out-of-state individuals from criminal prosecution when they seek reproductive or gender-affirming care in California.
- SB 525: Raise the minimum wage for health care workers to $25 an hour.
A reminder of how the suspense file process works: Twice a year, the two appropriations committees bulldoze their way through hundreds of bills that include more than negligible spending and that they must consider before the end of the legislative session.
In May, the committees go rapid-fire through bills from their own house. In August, legislators will cull bills that have passed from the other house. Last year, they killed about 200 on each day of marathon hearings.
While bills are shelved because there isn’t money in the budget to pay for them, holding a bill in the suspense file can also be a convenient way for lawmakers to essentially kill a bill, often without a recorded vote or explanation. That’s particularly useful on controversial measures, where a public vote or comment could be weaponized against legislators in campaign ads.
Reparations calculator: CalMatters has created an interactive tool to estimate how much someone might be owed in reparations for slavery and racism, under recommendations going from a task force to the Legislature and governor. Look it up here, and read the full story from Wendy Fry from CalMatters’ California Divide team.
Other Stories You Should Know
1 How best to boost disabled workers
A 2021 state law that bans companies from paying workers who have disabilities less than the minimum wage may be well-intentioned — but it may also force programs that provide employment services to these workers to shut down.
As Jeanne Kuang from CalMatters’ California Divide team explains, California and a dozen other states have prohibited lower wages after the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights argued it’s “exploitative and discriminatory.” Others also said these programs segregate people with disabilities and prevent them from obtaining higher-paying work, which would lead to greater independence.
But those leading “sheltered” disability programs say it’s difficult to imagine local businesses and nonprofits agreeing to more expensive contracts to accommodate these higher wages. VistAbility, a Martinez-based nonprofit that pays workers $3 to $14 an hour, is one of the programs that must pay minimum wage by 2025 or shut down.
Only about 20% of California who have developmental disabilities are employed. Because these programs — which employ about 5,000 — connect workers who would not otherwise have job opportunities, those with the most significant disabilities may lose their jobs.
Some VistAbility workers Jeanne spoke to said they benefit from the company of coworkers, the steady tasks and the guaranteed weekday hours.
- Chris Bowers, a father who has an adult son with Down Syndrome: “As parents, especially in my circle, we sure didn’t care what our kids made. We just wanted our kids to be out in a job site, learning.”
In response to these concerns, the California Department of Developmental Services plans to increase funding so providers can place workers into jobs that pay minimum wage and are integrated with coworkers who do not have disabilities.
2 CA Native Americans declare emergency
A recent string of killings on a California tribal reservation has brought renewed awareness to the disproportionate level of violence experienced by indigenous people and women.
In April, the Round Valley Indian Tribes in Mendocino County declared a state of emergency after two young people were slain in Covelo within a few weeks of one another, as reported by the Los Angeles Times. This follows a similar emergency declaration from the Yurok tribe, located in Del Norte and Humboldt counties, after several Yurok women were solicited by human traffickers and another woman went missing in October 2021.
Such instances are familiar to the Native American leaders and advocates who gathered last week at the state Capitol to kick off Missing and Murdered Indigenous People Week. Sponsored by the Legislature’s Native American Caucus, events included a press conference, a select committee about criminal activity jurisdiction on tribal lands and an evening candlelight vigil.
Assemblymember James Ramos, a Democrat from Highland and the only Native American legislator, spoke at these key events and has authored a handful of bills to address the issue.
- Ramos, in a Tuesday email to CalMatters: “It was moving to see a large portion of California’s tribes present at this first-ever candlelight vigil…. We cannot allow this violence to continue.”
California has the largest population of American Indians of any state and is also one of the top five states with the highest caseload of missing and murdered indigenous people.
Ramos’ measures include a resolution to designate May 2023 as Missing and Murdered Indigenous People Awareness Month in California, as well as two bills currently in the appropriations committee: One that would grant tribal police officers access to state law enforcement resources and another that would require families, including Native American families, be notified when a child or dependent in the foster care system has gone missing.
3 Colleges behind on student needs
Besides keeping up with their exams, jobs and social lives, some college students in California struggle with homelessness, food insecurity and transportation.
To support these students in community colleges, the 2021-22 state budget included $100 million in one-time funding and $30 million in annual funding to go towards “basic needs centers,” writes CalMatters’ community college reporter Adam Echelman.
Each of California’s 115 community colleges should have established these centers on campus by July 1, 2022, but about a third missed the deadline. There is no penalty and colleges that missed the deadline cited various reasons: Delays in construction, issues with paint and carpeting and administrative problems related to hiring staff.
Some campuses aim to debut their basic needs center by the end of the year, others by 2024. In the meantime, community colleges still find ways to provide students with support, including establishing food pantries, running clothing donation sites and helping students find subsidized housing near campus.
For instance, the Ram Pantry at Fresno City College serves more than 900 students a day with free food and the college offers subsidized housing for as many as 300 students a year. One of them was Mateo Vargas, who told Adam he was staying with relatives and couch-surfing until he became homeless last year. The college found him an apartment a few blocks away from campus for $301 a month, giving him a year to build the savings and credit history to afford his own place.
A state constitutional amendment enshrining housing as a fundamental right could dramatically reshape how California confronts the housing crisis, writes Michael Tubbs, founder of End Poverty in California, special advisor to Gov. Gavin Newsom and former mayor of Stockton.
CalMatters columnist Dan Walters is on vacation this week; his next column will appear next week.
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