Clean energy is among priorities as Latino lawmakers broaden focus of bills

Latino Caucus members unveiled a list of nine priority bills at a news conference Wednesday.

Latino Caucus members unveiled a list of nine priority bills at a news conference Wednesday.

(Melanie Mason/Los Angeles Times)

Latino lawmakers, who have increasingly flexed their muscle as a voting bloc in the Capitol, endorsed a slate of proposals Wednesday that includes efforts to increase voter registration and promote clean energy.

The package underscores how the lawmakers are broadening their focus from core issues such as immigration to economic and environmental policies as well.

“The issues that the Latino legislators care about are issues that matter to all Californians,” said Assemblyman Luis Alejo (D-Watsonville), chairman of the California Latino Legislative Caucus.


Although Latinos continue to see immigration as a key issue, “other issues are definitely gaining in salience,” said Matt Barreto, co-founder of the polling firm Latino Decisions.

Those subjects include economic inequality and climate change, said Barreto, who teaches political science at UCLA.

The broader portfolio also reflects the ambitions of Latino lawmakers as they cast their eye on higher office, said Louis DeSipio, a political science professor at UC Irvine.

“In order to ensure that they speak not just to their Latino constituencies but to statewide constituencies more broadly, they need to have their hand in a range of issues,” DeSipio said.

The caucus, consisting of 22 Democrats, has built its clout in state government as the state’s Latino population has grown. Latinos account for 38% of California’s population, according to U.S. census data.

Among the proposals the caucus endorsed is one to offer California’s U.S. citizens “enhanced” driver’s licenses embedded with their personal data to speed crossings at the Mexican and Canadian borders.


Such information would not have the same layers of data protection that passports have, said Kevin Baker of the American Civil Liberties Union, which has raised privacy concerns about licenses with added technology.

On the environmental front, the lawmakers backed a bid to offer rebates for used electric vehicles, making them more accessible to poorer Californians. The caucus also endorsed a sweeping bill aimed at reducing pollution that mirrors much of Gov. Jerry Brown’s agenda for fighting climate change.

The lawmakers are backing a number of immigration-related bills, including a measure that would allow people living in the country illegally to receive Medi-Cal, the state-subsidized healthcare program for the poor.

Improving the state’s voting processes is another focus. A new “motor voter” bill would automatically register eligible residents to vote when they obtain or renew a driver’s license.

The group also threw its weight behind legislation that would require large cities to elect their local representatives by district rather than in at-large elections. Cities with at-large elections have come under scrutiny for depriving minority populations of sufficient representation.

Also winning the lawmakers’ support is a measure that would create programs similar to redevelopment agencies to finance housing and infrastructure in poor communities. Such redevelopment programs statewide were shut down several years ago amid complaints they were plagued by waste and corruption.


Alejo said the new effort, which he introduced, would spur investment in needy areas and would include safeguards to ensure accountability, including giving voters the right to overturn an agency’s plan by referendum.

The proposals endorsed by the caucus are:

Medi-Cal expansion: SB 4 by Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens)

“Enhanced” driver’s licenses: SB 249 by Sen. Ben Hueso (D-San Diego)

Climate change: SB 350 by Sen. Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles)

Redevelopment agencies: AB 2 by Assemblyman Luis Alejo (D-Watsonville)

City council elections by district: AB 278 by Assemblyman Roger Hernandez (D-West Covina)

Protect minors from having immigration status revealed in civil litigation: AB 560 by Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez (D-Echo Park)

Clean vehicle rebates: AB 940 by Assemblyman Henry T. Perea (D-Fresno)

Allow low-level drug offenders to get treatment before entering a plea: AB 1351 by Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton).

“Motor voter” registration: AB 1461 by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego)

Follow @melmason for more on California government and politics.