It’s the final day for California Legislature to pass bills
The legislative session that started Jan. 3 — and kept going and going, other than spring break and summer recess — is set to end tonight.
Lawmakers are wrapping up after numerous rallies by state workers and advocacy groups, countless committee hearings and floor debates and a leadership change in the Assembly. But they still have work to do: After dispensing with more than 500 bills so far this week, legislators head into today with more than 220 bills they can act on before adjourning.
Here are some noteworthy developments:
- Hydrogen fueling stations: Lawmakers approved a bill that would set aside 15% of funds (about $106 million) from a billion-dollar climate program to help companies build hydrogen car fueling stations through 2030, according to CalMatters’ climate reporter Alejandro Lazo. The funding is three times less than what the lobbying group for hydrogen supporters was seeking, but Californians own only about 12,000 hydrogen-powered cars (compared to more than 760,000 battery electric cars). A spokesperson said Gov. Gavin Newsom supports the bill. Read more about the bill in Alejandro’s story.
- Watering lawns: A bill that would ban businesses, institutions and other facilities from using potable, or drinkable, water to irrigate ornamental lawns or grasses is on its way to the governor, writes CalMatters’ Rachel Becker. Authored by Democratic Assemblymember Laura Friedman of Burbank, the measure does not include residential lawns, but may lead to more businesses tearing out their lawns and installing landscapes that use less water. If Assembly Bill 1572 is signed into law, the measure would roll out in stages, starting in 2027 with government properties. Newsom’s office declined to comment, but he previously called for a similar irrigation ban through an emergency measure effective until next June. Read more about the issue in Rachel’s story.
- Wildfire insurance: Months after State Farm, Allstate and Farmers announced they would limit their insurance offerings to Californians, legislators failed to reach a deal to help insurers at a time of unpredictable wildfires, explains CalMatters’ state Capitol reporter Alexei Koseff. Negotiators couldn’t strike a balance between loosening regulations on insurance systems and maintaining protections for homeowners. The Legislature won’t reconvene until January, so the focus now shifts to Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara. Based on what Lara does this fall, some lawmakers said they would introduce a proposal next year. But that means the issue remains unresolved for another fire season. Read more about the failed fix in Alexei’s story.
- Solitary confinement: Another bill that isn’t going to make it: AB 280 to end solitary confinement, which its author, Assemblymember Chris Holden, is holding until next year to allow more time to overcome opposition from law enforcement, the Los Angeles Times reports. Newsom is also skeptical, having vetoed a similar bill last year.
CalMatters is tracking key bills that are being sent to Newsom, including measures to add paid sick days, make child trafficking a serious felony and let legislative staffers unionize. Wednesday, he signed a bill to end the state’s travel ban and instead start an advertising program to promote LGBTQ inclusion.
Some other bills sent to Newsom:
- AB 374, by Assemblymember Matt Haney, to allow cannabis lounges to sell food and host live events.
- AB 452, by Assemblymember Dawn Addis, to eliminate the civil statute of limitations for child sex abuse cases.
- AB 701, by Assemblymembers Carlos Villapudua and Cottie Petrie-Norris, to increase penalties for major fentanyl dealers (though Republicans are not impressed).
- AB 1248, by Assemblymember Isaac Bryan, to expand independent redistricting to cities and counties with more than 300,000 people.
- AB 1356, also by Haney, to give workers more advance notice of mass layoffs — 75 days, up from 60.
- SB 90, by Sen. Scott Wiener, to limit out-of- pocket expenses for insulin to $35 a month.
- SB 553, by Sen. Dave Cortese, to require employers to track workplace violence incidents and train employees.
Last but not least: 11-year-old Zacky Muñoz is celebrating the passage of AB 1651, which would require schools to store epinephrine injectors in accessible locations and allow more people to use them in emergencies.
- Muñoz, who has multiple food allergies, in a statement: “I am particularly excited that kids like me are one step closer to being safe from food allergens in California schools.”
He urged Newsom to sign the bill, and he’s had success: A related bill he championed was signed into law last year.
CalMatters covers the Capitol: CalMatters has guides to keep track of your lawmakers, explore the Legislature’s record diversity, make your voice heard, understand how state government works and to find out what Gov. Newsom decides on key bills.
Other Stories You Should Know
1 CA grapples with AI
As the myriad applications of artificial intelligence expand throughout our lives — and in some cases, jeopardize our jobs — California officials are simultaneously embracing the emerging tech and reining it in.
Democratic Sen. Wiener of San Francisco, where many AI companies are based, proposed a bill Wednesday to create a new regulatory framework for AI systems to ensure they grow at a responsible pace, are transparent with safety risks and are liable for any damages. The measure would also establish CalCompute, a cloud-based tool that researchers and developers from smaller companies can use to develop AI systems.
- Wiener, in a statement: “Large-scale AI presents a range of opportunities and challenges for California, and we need to get ahead of them and not play catch up when it may be too late. As a society, we made a mistake by allowing social media to become widely adopted without first evaluating the risks and putting guardrails in place. Repeating the same mistake around AI would be far more costly.”
The measure, unveiled on the next-to-last day of the session, is an “intent bill,” used primarily to drum up discussion (and news headlines), while legislators hammer out the final language of the bill for the next year.
But Wiener isn’t the only official who wants to keep AI in check. Earlier this month, Newsom signed an executive order to set up a “measured approach” for AI, while making sure California remains “the world’s AI leader.” The order directs state agencies to submit risk reports of AI uses and provide training for state workers; establishes a partnership with California universities to evaluate the impacts of AI; urges legislators to develop policy recommendations around AI and more.
2 Cal State hits students with tuition hike
For current and prospective students at California State University, school is about to get pricier.
As CalMatters’ higher education reporter Mikhail Zinshteyn explains, Cal State trustees voted Wednesday to hike tuition by 6% annually for the next five years. The 15-5 vote comes after a May report revealed the system had nearly a $1.5 billion budget shortfall in 2021-22. This is only the second tuition hike in 12 years for the university, which has some of the lowest tuition and fees in the country.
The first increase will kick in for all tuition-paying students next fall. For in-state undergraduates, tuition will increase by $342 — from $5,742 to $6,084. After five years, annual undergraduate tuition will be $1,940 higher than it is in the 2023-24 school year. In the first year of the tuition hike, Cal State expects $148 million in new revenue, a third of which will be dedicated to student financial aid.
Anticipating the move, students and the faculty union denounced raising tuition during the trustees meeting Tuesday. Some criticized Cal State for not explaining how the hikes will affect students who pay full tuition, while others pointed out that the salary for the school’s incoming chancellor will exceed $1 million.
- Cassandra Garcia, student body president at Sonoma State: “Students are supposed to be offered affordable higher education but instead we are slowly being stripped away of our education because the CSU fails to see us as students but instead sees us as their salary increases.”
But despite the higher tuition, Cal State’s revenues still won’t be enough to handle future costs, its leaders say. At a press event last week, Cal State’s chief financial officer even acknowledged that the tuition hikes “haven’t solved the problem,” but only “narrowed the problem.” Read more about the tuition increase in Mikhail’s story.
3 Meet Assemblymember Bill Essayli
By now, chances are you’ve probably heard of Assemblymember Bill Essayli. The Riverside Republican has raised his statewide profile not only by brazenly denouncing Democratic-led measures, but also by advocating at school board meetings across the state for teachers to notify parents when their children identify as a different gender. The policy is similar to an unsuccessful bill Essayli proposed, which opponents argued endangered transgender students.
Essayli — the son of Lebanese immigrants and former prosecutor — lost his first bid for the Legislature in 2018, but won in 2022. I interviewed him inside the state Capitol on Sept. 6, with only seven days left in the session. Besides his role as a lawmaker, we discussed the GOP’s push for “parental rights,” wildfires and crime. This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.
What is your reaction to more school board districts adopting parental disclosure policies and the attorney general’s temporary restraining order against Chino Valley’s policy?
I foresee school districts will continue to adopt these policies because it’s the right thing to do. We’ve always said this case is going to probably end up in the Supreme Court, and that’s a fight we want.
If the school is going to be involved in transitioning a kid, the parent needs to know what’s going on. And it is not an attack on trans kids, we reject that characterization. No one’s going to care for or love a child more than their own parents. That’s the fundamental disagreement between us and the attorney general. He thinks parents are a hate group and somehow dangerous to their own kids.
You had a bill that would have required the state to count wildfire emissions in its efforts to reduce statewide greenhouse gasses, but it was defeated in the committee.
Wildfires are the largest emitter of carbon, and we can’t just pretend that that’s not happening. We need to dedicate a lot more resources than we do to mitigating wildfire risk. But I’ll be honest with you, this supermajority here, they don’t want to do it because they want to focus on going after businesses, oil companies and all the other, what I call, “sexy issues” versus boring things like land management and mitigating wildfire risk. This would force them to do that and they don’t want to do it. They want to keep attacking businesses and oil companies and advance that agenda.
What is your biggest issue with California Democrats’ approach to public safety?
The pendulum has swung way too far in one direction. We have half the inmates we used to have in prison, the population has been cut in half. You see crime sprees are rampant in the state of California, you got the smash-and-grabs. So there is this feeling now in California, where there is a lack of respect for our rule of law and law enforcement. There are people who are not scared of consequences. It’s a downward trend.
As both a freshman and a Republican legislator, you face an uphill battle to pass legislation. What are your thoughts on that?
The job of the minority is to be a strong opposition party. I didn’t come here to pass watered-down bills. I came here to be an effective opposition party and hopefully grow the party.
And that way, when Californians go vote next November, they have a clear choice on what direction they want the state to go in. We believe that you should lead your life, not the government. And that’s what all these fights are about.
Meet more of the 31 new legislators: Read my prior interviews with Sen. Caroline Menjivar, a San Fernando Valley Democrat; and Assemblymembers Corey Jackson, a Moreno Valley Democrat; Joe Patterson, a Granite Bay Republican; Stephanie Nguyen, an Elk Grove Democrat; Liz Ortega, a Hayward Democrat; and Pilar Schiavo, a Santa Clarita Valley Democrat.
CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: California keeps its dubious honor of having the nation’s highest poverty rate.
CalMatters events: The next event is scheduled for Tuesday, on Gov. Newsom’s push for rehabilitation over incarceration. Register here.
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