That’s a wrap for California Legislature

Your guide to California policy and politics
Lynn La BY Lynn La September 15, 2023
Presented by Dairy Cares, Southern California Gas Company, Climate-Smart Agricultural Partnership and Politifest 2023

That’s a wrap for California Legislature

The California Legislature finished its 2023 session late Thursday night, but not before lots of lobbying by advocacy groups, some controversy and quite a bit of last-minute deal-making.

The most significant agreements are also big wins for Big Labor — and defeats for Big Business — as CalMatters state Capitol reporters Alexei Koseff and Sameea Kamal explain.

While one Republican senator complained that “the fourth branch of government in this Capitol building has a little bit too much power this year,” the head of the California Labor Federation said unions have worked hard over the past few years to elect new members who champion workers’ rights.  

Though some expect that the business-labor balance will eventually swing back to the middle, it’s clear that unions had the upper hand this session. Lawmakers sent to Gov. Gavin Newsom:

  • Striking workers: A bill that is one of the California Labor Federation’s top priorities, to allow striking workers to collect unemployment benefits after two weeks on the picket line, is especially notable this summer, when labor disputes involving California screenwriters, hotel workers, restaurant employees and others are leaving  many without pay as they strike for better working conditions. But business groups oppose Senate Bill 799, arguing that the state’s unemployment program is already overstrained.
  • Health care employees: An agreement to eventually raise the minimum wage to $25 an hour for tens of thousands of health care workers. In exchange, under SB 525, hospitals and other medical employers get a 10-year moratorium on local measures to increase compensation. Workers at larger hospitals and dialysis clinics would be the first to see the increase, starting in 2026, followed by community clinics and other health facilities. Employees at smaller and rural hospitals will have to wait until 2033 to see the $25 bump.
  • Fast food restaurants: A deal between fast food companies, unions and lawmakers, detailed in AB 1228. As unveiled on Monday, the agreement would give a $20 minimum wage to fast food workers starting next April. And fast food companies wouldn’t face potential liability for labor violations at their franchises. A ballot referendum to undo a controversial law regulating the industry would also be nixed, saving both sides the time and money on the campaign. SEIU California called the fast food bill “one of the biggest wins in history for working people.”

While those labor bills were among the most closely-watched on the final day and night, legislators gave final approval to dozens more. CalMatters is tracking key bills that are being sent to Newsom

Here are some other noteworthy bills that made it over the finish line in the final days:

Not every bill made it, however. For instance, AB 518, by Assemblymember Buffy Wicks, would have extended who can take paid family leave to “chosen family” who don’t have a legal or biological relationship. The measure was held in the Senate.  And SB 50, by Sen. Steven Bradford, to prevent “pretextual” traffic stops that target people of color, was held in the Assembly.


Focus on inequality: Each Friday, the California Divide team delivers a newsletter that focuses on the politics and policy of inequality. Read an installment here and subscribe here.

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.


1 Bait-and-switch on mental health bond?

A person stands next to tents on a sidewalk in San Francisco on April 21, 2020. Photo by Jeff Chiu, AP Photo
A person stands next to tents on a sidewalk in San Francisco on April 21, 2020. Photo by Jeff Chiu, AP Photo

With more than 170,000 unhoused people in California, voters in March will have the first chance in 20 years to shape how the state addresses its homelessness and mental health crises by deciding how the money gets spent.

But there was last-week controversy. 

Gov. Newsom wants to reroute nearly one-third of money raised by a 1% tax on millionaires (roughly $1 billion annually) to housing programs, and he’s also asking voters to approve a $6.4 billion bond to add 10,000 psychiatric treatment units in the state. 

A last-minute change on the bond shocked disability rights advocates, who told CalMatters’ health reporter Kristen Hwang that language that prohibits the money from being used on involuntary confinements has been stripped away. They call it a bait-and-switch because they say that Newsom administration officials had emphasized the money would fund housing and unlocked treatment settings for people with severe mental health illnesses and substance use disorders. 

  • Samuel Jain, senior attorney with Disability Rights California: “We are horrified. The administration at the last possible moment… put in language that completely changes the intent of this bill.”

But Newsom officials disagree, with one spokesperson saying the bond money will be “used for the full spectrum of behavioral health treatment sites.”

The measure, with the contentious changes, got through the Legislature Thursday night. Read more in Kristen’s story.

Rejiggering how counties spend money from the Mental Health Services Act is as complex as it is significant — while Newsom and supporters argue that overhauling the system is “long overdue,” critics fear diverting money for housing will leave other state mental health programs out in the dust

To learn everything you need to know about the issue, Kristen has a thorough breakdown of Newsom’s new mental health plan, including where the money will go exactly, why that money is needed and what organizations may be losing out if voters approve Proposition 1 on March 5. Read Kristen’s explainer here.

2 The complications of democracy

A voter fills out their ballot at a voting site at the Hamilton School gymnasium in central Fresno on June 7, 2022.
A voter fills out their ballot at the Hamilton School gymnasium in Fresno on June 7, 2022. Photo by Larry Valenzuela, CalMatters/CatchLight Local

From CalMatters housing reporter Ben Christopher:

Next year California voters will have the opportunity to weigh in on three proposed constitutional amendments that would, in no particular order:

  1. Make it easier to raise new taxes 
  2. Make it harder to raise new taxes 
  3. Make it harder to make it harder to raise new taxes

Nobody said democracy is simple.

Making it easier: On Thursday, the Democratic-controlled Legislature approved ACA 1 to lower the electoral threshold needed to pass bonds and taxes that fund affordable housing and specified public infrastructure projects.

Now many of those measures need the support of at least two-thirds of voters to pass. Authored by Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, a Democrat who represents Davis, ACA1 would reduce that threshold to slightly more than a majority — 55%. 

  • Sen. Scott Wiener, a San Francisco Democrat, speaking in support of the measure: “Any of us would be thrilled to get 64% in our re-election. We would think of that as a voter mandate. But that’s a failure in California because of the absurd two-thirds vote.”
  • Huntington Beach GOP Sen. Janet Nguyen, noting that most local bonds are funded by property owners: “It’s always easier to have that other person pay for the tax and not pay for it yourself.”

Making it harder: An amendment proposed and largely funded by the California Business Roundtable, a lobbying group of major employers, would do just the opposite, and then some. 

Their proposed measure, already on the November 2024 ballot, would raise the electoral bar on specific-purpose state and local tax increases to two-thirds. State tax hikes would also require the approval of a majority of voters. 

Making making it harder harder: As Lynn explained last week, Democratic Assemblymember Chris Ward from San Diego introduced his own proposed constitutional amendment to “knee-cap” the Roundtable’s measure.

On Thursday, lawmakers also approved ACA 13, which would require any ballot measure to raise the approval threshold to pass by that same level of support. Translation: That business-backed two-thirds-requiring proposal would itself need the support of two-thirds of voters to pass.

By default, both ACA 1 and ACA 13 would go before the state voters in March. But thanks to a couple other bits of last-minute legislating, both are bound for the November 2024 ballot instead.

For the record: A previous version of this item incorrectly said that ACA 13 will be on the March ballot.

3 On the picket line

People march during the Child Care Providers United Rally at the state Capitol in Sacramento on June 15, 2023.
People march during the Child Care Providers United Rally at the state Capitol in Sacramento on June 15, 2023. Photo by Julie A Hotz for CalMatters

Fall may be around the corner, but “hot labor summer” rolls on and on. 

More than 60,000 California hospital and healthcare workers, represented by Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West, voted to strike Thursday if they cannot reach a deal by Sept. 30 with their employer, Kaiser Permanente. Among the union’s chief complaints: Cutting performance bonuses for frontline workers, low pay for entry-level positions and wages that don’t keep up with the rising cost of living. If the workers strike, the union says it “could be the largest healthcare strike in U.S. history.”

Meanwhile, the California Labor Federation announced Wednesday that its 1,200 affiliated unions, representing about 2.2 million members, will not cross picket lines, in solidarity with the United Auto Workers. UAW, representing 145,000 autoworkers, went on strike Thursday night at three assembly plants in the Midwest — one each for the big three automakers: General Motors, Ford and the parent company of Chrysler. 

And thousands of screenwriters and actors on strike in Los Angeles held a massive rally Wednesday, gathering around movie studios and offices to advocate for better pay and benefits. The Writers Guild of America has been on strike since May and was joined by SAG-AFTRA in July — moves that ultimately put the Hollywood movie and TV industry to a screeching halt. In addition to wage increases, the unions seek tighter regulations over artificial intelligence and better residual payments. Producers said Thursday that they will schedule a meeting with the writers next week, the first hint of progress in a month, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Reminder: A bill that passed the Legislature on Thursday would make striking workers eligible for unemployment benefits after two weeks.

But one union that has reached a deal is Child Care Providers United, which announced Thursday that the governor has signed off on its new contract. The union represents more than 40,000 family child care providers in California, who will receive $600 million over two years in rate increases, $80 million a year for retirement funding, additional funds for training and more.

  • Zonia Sanchez, a child care provider and a member of CCPU’s bargaining committee, in a statement: “We are grateful to the legislature and Governor for listening to us, a woman of color led workforce, and working with us to enact this historic contract. Truly transforming California’s child care system is the goal of this contract…”

CalMatters Commentary

California’s electorate would better reflect its diversity with fully automatic voter registration and consistent investments in voter engagement, write Christopher Wilson, vice president of operations at PowerPAC, and James Woodson. executive director of the California Black Power Network.

CalMatters events: The next event is scheduled for Tuesday, on Gov. Newsom’s push for rehabilitation over incarceration. Register here.


Other things worth your time

Some stories may require a subscription to read

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Pelosi mocks McCarthy on ‘ever incredibly shrinking speakership’ // Politico

State Treasurer Fiona Ma to face trial in sexual harassment suit // San Francisco Chronicle

Northern CA Democrats resisting Trump MAGA wave // The Sacramento Bee

California’s disadvantaged rural high school students struggle // Los Angeles Times

SF D.A.’s office disqualified from prosecuting murder case // San Francisco Chronicle

Family of student killed in bullying reaches $27M settlement // Los Angeles Times 

Court: San Jose Unified discriminated against Christian student club // San Francisco Chronicle

‘Relocating’ rent-controlled tenants in LA is a lucrative business // Los Angeles Public Press

CA appeals court will hear lawsuit seeking to overturn rooftop solar decision // The San Diego Union-Tribune

Who needs a $25 minimum wage in LA? // Capitol & Main

See you next week


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