Crunch time for California Legislature
It’s another make-or-break week at the Legislature before its month-long summer recess. By Friday, bills that have already passed either the Assembly or Senate must get through policy committees in the other chamber to stay alive this session.
Most measures have, but there are some that are still in jeopardy as committees busily go through them this week.
From CalMatters’ housing reporter Ben Christopher:
On Monday, one of the most closely watched housing bills of the year made it past another key hurdle — but only because a group of Democrats and Republicans joined forces to override a powerful committee chairperson.
Senate Bill 423, written by San Francisco Democratic Sen. Scott Wiener, would fast track the permitting of new apartment developments in much of the state. At issue in the Assembly Natural Resources committee: Whether that streamlining should apply in California’s “coastal zone.”
Wiener agreed to narrow the amount of territory covered by the bill. But committee Chairperson Luz Rivas, a Democrat from Arleta, said she didn’t think the bill went far enough to dissuade developers from building in places prone to both flood and fire. Other Democrats worried about the precedent of circumventing the state’s Coastal Commission.
But they didn’t have the votes. That’s unusual. Chairpersons usually get their way.
- Longtime lobbyist Chris Micheli, who was in the room: “It happens maybe once or twice a year between the two houses.”
But even by those rare standards, the 140-minute hearing on a single bill was exceptional, with members debating the amendments at length and out in the open, rather than quietly working everything out ahead of time.
- Wiener: “I calculated I think four-and- a-half years since I walked into a committee without having full agreement with the chair.”
Many of the Assembly members were visibly flustered. Some lobbyists and advocates in the room were impatient as the debate dragged on. But for at least one observer in New York, the debate on display wasn’t dysfunction, but radical transparency and “detailed debate.”
Could there be as much drama on other noteworthy bills as the deadline looms?
Scheduled for debate in committee hearings today:
- Senate Bill 487 would shield abortion providers from civil actions from other states where abortion is illegal.
- Assembly Bill 8 would make ticket pricing more transparent;
- AB 1356 would expand layoff notices to contractors and ban companies from requiring employees to sign non-disparagement agreements as a condition of early layoff notification or pay.
- AB 28 would create an excise tax on guns to fund violence prevention;
- AB 474 would prioritize cooperation between state and local law enforcement to crack down on fentanyl trafficking, while SB 19 would create an anti-fentanyl abuse task force;
- AB 645 would create a pilot program for speeding cameras.
- SB 596 would make it a misdemeanor to threaten or harass school employees outside work.
- AB 464 would allow homeless individuals to get identification records;
- SB 43 would expand the definition of “gravely disabled” to allow more people to be admitted into mental health conservatorships.
- AB 1228 would establish joint labor law liability for fast food franchise owners;
- SB 627 would require large chains to give 60-day notice of closings and grant transfer rights to employees.
And on Wednesday, legislators are set to consider these proposals in committee:
- AB 247 would put a $14 billion bond measure for construction at K-12 schools and community colleges on the 2024 ballot;
- AB 659 would recommend that K-12 students and college students be vaccinated against the human papillomavirus;
- SB 28 would put a $15 billion bond measure ($9 billion for K-12 schools and $2 billion each for the University of California, California State University, and California Community Colleges) for construction and campus modernization on the 2024 ballot.
- AB 418 would ban the manufacturing and sale of certain chemical additives in food.
- SB 20 would create regional housing trusts to fund homeless and low-income housing.
- SB 497 would protect workers who report labor violations from being fired, bullied or harassed.
CalMatters reporters will be watching what happens to these bills and others, and I’ll have updates the rest of the week.
“We continue to make unprecedented investments,” Newsom said, despite the state’s $30-billion plus budget deficit.
CalMatters covers the Capitol: CalMatters has guides to keep track of your lawmakers, explore its record diversity, make your voice heard, understand how state government works and follow the state budget process. We have a lesson-plan-ready version of the explainer — especially made for teachers, libraries and community groups — as part of the CalMatters for Learning initiative.
Other Stories You Should Know
1 Will CA improve work-life balance?
With the bill deadline looming, one issue that legislators are addressing is work-life balance, an even bigger concern for many Californians coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As CalMatters’ politics intern Rya Jetha explains, the Legislature is currently considering three bills that aim to enable workers to take care of themselves and their loved ones without the risk of losing their jobs:
- AB 518 would expand who is eligible for paid family leave by including “chosen family,” which could mean loved ones without a legal or biological relationship, such as an elderly neighbor, cousin or friend.
- AB 524 would add “family caregiver status” to the list of protected characteristics that would not be discriminated against when applying for or keeping a job. The bill is set to be debated in committee on Wednesday.
- SB 616 would raise the number of paid sick days from three to seven days per year and expand how sick days are accrued and used.
Oakland Democrat Buffy Wicks authored both Assembly bills. For her and other proponents of AB 518, extending the definition of a nuclear family beyond spouses, children and parents is necessary with more aging adults, and as LGBTQ+ families and multigenerational households become more common.
Because women, people of color, and low-wage workers are also more likely to be taking care of a parent or young child, AB 524 would protect their status as a “family caregiver” in the same vein as race, sexual orientation and religion is protected in the workplace.
And by increasing paid sick leave, individuals will have a bigger safety net to recover from their illness and prevent infecting others at the workplace.
But Rya reports that various business groups oppose these measures, arguing that they put an undue burden on small businesses who will not be able to offset the costs or have the resources to oversee these new proposals.
The California Chamber of Commerce deemed both AB 524 and SB 616 as “job killer” bills. And while the group supported another bill that would increase sick leave to five days, it argued that expanding it to seven days would be “something that really not all businesses can afford to do.”
2 Shoring up safety nets for undocumented
California officials have steadily opened more access to state benefits to undocumented residents.
As Jeanne Kuang and Nicole Foy from CalMatters’ California Divide team explain, an undocumented person in California is now eligible for in-state tuition at public colleges, state financial aid, a driver’s license, low-income tax credit and, if you’re a child, young adult or a senior, Medi-Cal health coverage.
And more benefits are on the way: In January, Medi-Cal coverage will open up to low-income immigrants of all ages, and in 2025, California will be the first state to issue food aid to undocumented immigrants.
But immigration advocates say the state still has a ways to go. The state’s 1.1 million undocumented workers make up 6% of its labor force and pay billions in state and local taxes. Yet, in 2021, 25% of undocumented immigrants in California lived in poverty. They also make up the largest share of Californians without health insurance.
- Arturo Villanueva, an undocumented immigrant and farm laborer (in Spanish): “So many of us who work in the fields are undocumented. We who are the most affected receive the least.”
Two bills introduced this year would expand access to benefit programs: One bill would give undocumented elderly and disabled residents who don’t qualify for Social Security access to a state-funded benefit, and another would enable undocumented residents who do not qualify for Medi-Cal to get subsidized health insurance.
But with a budget deficit and a possible recession on the horizon, critics have raised concerns that expanding services to undocumented immigrants is financially unsustainable. The full Medi-Cal expansion, for example, would cost the state $2.6 billion a year.
Assemblymember Bill Essayli opposes the $300 million proposal to offer unemployment benefits to undocumented workers. Instead, he believes the state should spend funds to pay off federal loans and avoid raising payroll taxes on businesses.
- Essayli, a Riverside Republican: “If you really care about getting people out of poverty, you’d help ease the burden on businesses so they can hire people and pay them living wages.”
3 Health care for the homeless
How do you provide health care to people who don’t have a home?
One way: The state’s Health Care Services Department is supporting at least 25 street medicine teams to deliver medical care directly to California’s 170,000 unhoused people — in encampments, under bridges, on corner sidewalks or wherever they may reside.
During his reporting in Los Angeles, Bakersfield, and Redding, Larry met physicians who, in addition to taking blood samples, giving ultrasounds and distributing medications, must also gain the trust of unhoused individuals. It’s a tall order given that homeless people are often wary of health professionals and reluctant to seek medical help.
- Kyle Patton, medical director of the HOPE street medicine team at Shasta Community Health Center: “A big part of our job is not just the medical care…. Thirty percent of my job is taking care of people in the field. The rest is just shooting the breeze and convincing my patients that I’m a guy worth talking to.”
In Los Angeles, Larry met Steven “Cowboy” Dombrowski. According to Brett Feldman, a physician assistant who directs street medicine teams from the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine, Dombrowski suffered from necrotizing fasciitis. He had already lost his right pinky finger from the flesh-eating disease and his skin graft had failed. The team began checking on Dombroski three times a week for months, despite gaps in time when they couldn’t find him.
- Dombowski: “I was ready to give my arm up. I just thought it was going to be amputated one day. I expected I was going to die. But with the street medicine team, it was all positive.”
To learn more about Dombowski and others like him, read Larry’s photo essay. And read more about the CalMatters/CatchLight partnership from our engagement team.
CalMatters columnist Dan Walters is away and will return July 24.
Legislators should ban five food chemicals, found in Skittles and other candy, over industry opposition, argues Brian Ronholm, director of food policy at Consumer Reports.
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LA failed to stop landlords from turning housing into hotels // ProPublica
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Hollywood could face strikes by actors and writers. Here’s why // Los Angeles Times
LA billionaire sells San Diego Union-Tribune to owner of Southern California News Group // The Orange County Register