California lawmakers heading to policy retreats to prepare for year

California Senate's Democratic and Republican caucuses head to policy retreats to prepare for the year

Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, who has written extensively about the gap between the nation's rich and poor, will be among the speakers to be heard as California Senate Democrats embark on a two-day policy retreat later this month.

The 25-member caucus will gather Jan. 27 and 28 at the state-owned Stanford Mansion, just blocks from the Capitol, to prepare for a new legislative year in which higher education, poverty and the state’s deteriorating road system are likely to be on the agenda.

“The objective of the conference is to enable senators to hear from various policy experts and discuss policy issues in a relaxed setting in a concentrated fashion,”said Geoff Long, policy director for Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles).

He said isues to be discussed include the state budget, "income inequality and the shrinking middle class,” climate change, economic security for women and the effects of social policy on demographics.

Lawmakers will hear from experts including Reich, who is professor of public policy at UC Berkeley; Angela Glover Blackwell, founder of PolicyLink; Ann O’Leary, director of the children and families program at Next Generation; and Nancy Pfund, founder of DBL Investors.

Former Senate leader Darrell Steinberg said the summits are an important part of getting ready for the coming legislative year. Republicans will hold a one-day policy summit in Sacramento on Jan. 27.

“It is a chance before the bill season begins for the caucus, the members and the leader to help set the course for the entire year,” Steinberg said. “Once the committees start meeting and bills start moving it's very tough to reflect and plan ahead.”

In the distant past, lawmakers have been known to hold the retreats at luxury resorts where they enjoyed gourmet meals, but leaders have been more cost-conscious in recent years.

The caucus gets free use of the Stanford Mansion, while the cost of food for two full days will be $4,400, about $1,500 less than last year, Long said.

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