In summary

In the Legislature, the policymaking—and political pandering—priorities of Sacramento are beginning to take shape. A by-the-numbers overview:

Nobody can say California lawmakers haven’t kept busy. Between their December swearing-in and a late-February cutoff, they introduced an average of more than 32 bills a day. Now they face a June deadline to decide which of those 2,628 ideas will advance out of either the Assembly or state Senate.

Many are mere placeholders. In the coming months they will be fleshed out, amended, and/or gutted. New authors will hitch themselves to clear political winners, while more controversial bills may see their backers back down.

But the policymaking—and political pandering—priorities of Sacramento are beginning to take shape. A by-the-numbers overview:

The most popular bills

Tax-free tampons, tax-free text messages, tougher police accountability measures, and a host of proposed remedies for California’s housing crisis—you can tell a lot about lawmakers’ goals by the bills they’re most eager to slap their names on.

Excluding procedural measures and symbolic resolutions, the single most popular bill in the Legislature—at least the one that more elected members opted to co-author than any other—would eliminate the sales tax on tampons and other menstrual products.

Nearly a third of all state lawmakers are co-authoring Assembly Bill 31, introduced by Bell Gardens Democrat Cristina Garcia. But only four of those 36 coauthors are Republicans. That includes Sen. Ling Ling Chang from Diamond Bar, who co-authored the same proposal with Garcia in 2016—a bill Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed. Now lawmakers hope Gov. Gavin Newsom is more open to the idea.

But just because a bill is popular doesn’t mean it’s destined to become law.

Assembly Bill 162, which would ban state fees on text message services, was introduced by Assemblyman Kevin Kiley, a Republican from Roseville. That’s a response to the California Public Utilities Commission, which floated the possibility late last year of slapping a monthly surcharge on phone plans with text message services to fund subsidized service to low-income and rural areas. The commission rescinded the proposal after federal regulators raised questions about its legality, but state Republicans quickly rallied against the Sacramento “text tax.”

The bill is backed by every GOP senator and all but four GOP members of the Assembly. That all-red support bloc doesn’t carry much weight in a legislative body where Democrats outnumber Republicans three-to-one. But sometimes bills are less about making policy than sending a message.

The most bipartisan bills

It’s easy to forget, but Republicans and Democrats don’t disagree on everything. Specifically, tax credits for renters, empowering nurse practitioners and boosting college aid for foster youth have all attracted bipartisan support this year.

Looking at popular bills (those with at least 10 coauthors), Orinda Democratic Sen. Steve Glazer’s proposal to boost the state tax credit for renters attracted a group of coauthors who most closely resemble the partisan breakdown of the Legislature itself. With 24 Democratic and 6 Republican coauthors, it is, in short, the most bipartisan bill of the year.

Other bills that had similarly representative cross-party appeal:

  • AB-890: A bill that would allow all qualified nurse practitioners to practice medicine without a physician’s supervision
  • SB-150: A bill that would allow the state program that awards college aid to current and former foster youth to reduce payment delays. It would also allow students who are not meeting academic qualifications to keep receiving aid for two years, rather than one, before being cut off.
  • ACA-11: A bill to put a state constitutional amendment on the 2020 ballot that, if approved, would allow state lawmakers to provide more funding to the Legislative Analyst’s Office, the nonpartisan agency tasked with assessing the fiscal impact of legislation and ballot measures.
  • AB-9: A bill that would give workers alleging employment discrimination three years to file a complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing. The current statute of limitations is one year.
  • SB-12: A bill that would allow money dedicated for mental health services to be used to create drop-in mental health centers for kids and teenagers.
  • SB-50: A bill that would ban cities from blocking the construction of new apartment buildings within a half-mile of public transit. This is a controversial one. Read more here.
  • AB-31: A bill that would exempt menstrual products from the state sales tax.
  • AB 298: A bill that would study the creation of a state low-interest home loan program for first responders.
  • AB 614: A bill that would allow more California farmers to receive a tax credit if they donate food to food pantries.

The most bipartisan lawmakers:

Bipartisan bills require legislators inclined to occasionally venture across the partisan aisle. Some are more so than others.

Glazer is not only the author of the bill with the most bipartisan appeal, he has also been more willing than any other Democrat to coauthor legislation with a Republican. Of the 42 bills he has put his name to this winter, 17 have also been authored by a member of the opposite party.

On the Republican side, Sen. Scott Wilk from Santa Clarita has been the most bipartisan- curious, co-authoring bills with Democrats 55 percent of the time.

As a group, Republicans have led the pack in bipartisanship. That isn’t necessarily because the GOP is uniquely inclined towards legislative comity—there just aren’t very many Republicans in Sacramento these days. That helps explain why 80 percent of the bills introduced this winter were authored by Democrats. GOP lawmakers who want to actually make a law typically have to enlist some Democratic coauthors.

It’s not always clear why a legislator would be more or less inclined to work with their colleagues in the opposing party. But among GOP lawmakers, one possible reason sticks out in the data: the competitiveness of their districts.

Republican lawmakers who won their last election by less than 5 percent were much more likely to join hands with the other side: on average roughly 40 percent of the bills they co-authored shared credit with at least one Democrat. Meanwhile, Republicans in the safest districts who won their seats with margins over 20 percent in the last election, coauthored bills with Democrats nearly half as often—or only one-fourth of the time.

That relationship wasn’t as clear on the Democratic side. Case in point: Tom Umberg. In one of many Orange County upsets last November, he won his Senate seat by a mere 1.2 percentage points—the narrowest margin of a Democrat in the Legislature. Since coming to Sacramento, he has put his name on 24 bills. All but four of them were introduced in the final two days before last week’s filing deadline and none had Republican coauthors.

Editor’s note: This story was updated to correct the number and co-author circumstances of Tom Umberg’s bills.

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Ben Christopher

Ben covers California politics and elections. Prior to that, he was a contributing writer for CalMatters reporting on the state's economy and budget. Based out of the San Francisco Bay Area, he has written...