Newsletter: Gov. Gavin Newsom’s fine print, and suspense in the California Legislature

Essential Politics

When it comes to governing California, it doesn’t get much more action-packed than right now. Big decisions are about to be made that will affect millions of the state’s residents.

On Thursday, the appropriations committees in the state Senate and Assembly will meet to either send proposed laws that cost money to their respective house’s floor for a final vote — or quietly kill the bill, often with no explanation to the public.

It’s the clearing of what’s known in Sacramento as the “suspense file,” a way station where bills costing a noticeable amount of money are held until the final deadline for action. Lawmakers will say that it only makes sense to weigh all the bills against one another, to set priorities for state spending.

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Perhaps. But bills are amended in real time — no written changes until much later, instead only verbal notes offered at breakneck speed by the committee’s chair. And as stated earlier, a bill can be “held in committee” without a vote. In both cases, the public has very little idea what’s going on until the dust settles.

One lobbyist put the estimate of more than 1,000 bills that will live or die on Thursday, most of those in the Assembly.


Meanwhile, lawmakers will be taking a close look at Gov. Gavin Newsom’s latest budget proposal, rolled out last week with more spending and an even larger tax windfall.


But not all the spending is what it looked like at first blush. Neither lawmakers nor the news media knew that one of his big moves last week — to eliminate the sales taxes collected on diapers and menstrual products — was only a two-year commitment. After that, the taxes would automatically be reinstated.

The governor has had other instances, too, where the rhetoric and reality haven’t quite matched up during his first four months in office.

“I don’t want to compare Newsom to Trump, but I will for just a second,” said Joseph S. Tuman, a professor of political and legal communications at San Francisco State University. “I must say this is a characterization you see in both of them, which is running to report something and make headlines before you’ve dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s.”


Few bills at the state Capitol have been as talked about this spring as Senate Bill 50, the sweeping effort to push cities and counties to allow more density when it comes to building new homes — more people living on less land in urban and even some suburban communities.

Researchers have found that between half and three-quarters of the developable land in much of the state is zoned for single-family housing only. And in two of the state’s biggest cities, the challenge is especially daunting.

Liam Dillon, along with mapping work by Kyle Kim, took a closer look at Los Angeles and San Francisco. L.A. alone has zoned 62% of the developable areas for single-family residences.



-- Escalating a feud between California’s cities and the state over legalized marijuana, state lawmakers are pushing a bill that would require municipalities that voted for Proposition 64 to allow one cannabis retailer for every four liquor stores.

-- California is considering pro-vaccine legislation to give the state more oversight of doctors who exempt schoolchildren from immunizations. But opponents say the state can’t be trusted to safeguard private medical data that would be collected under the bill.

-- California is debating new rules for CalGang, its statewide database of gang members and associates. At the heart of the conversation is deciding where public safety ends and racial profiling begins.

-- The U.S. Department of Transportation has cut off communication with California’s bullet train agency, a radio silence that may further set back the project.

-- California is poised to spend $35 billion more on K-12 education than just five years ago. So why are so many school districts sounding a financial alarm?


-- Jared Kushner’s long-awaited plan to reform the U.S. immigration system has a little something for everyone — to hate. It already appears DOA in Congress.

-- Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, accused of systematically dismantling his country’s democratic institutions, is due at the Oval Office on Monday.


-- President Trump’s personal attorney Rudolph Giuliani has scrapped plans to visit Ukraine after Democrats denounced his effort to push the Eastern European nation to open investigations that he hopes could benefit Trump politically.

-- Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan visited a border city in Texas on Saturday and said he intends to accelerate planning to secure the border and bolster the administration’s ability to accomplish that without the Pentagon’s continuous help.

-- Attorneys general from more than 40 states are alleging the nation’s largest generic drug manufacturers conspired to artificially inflate and manipulate prices for more than 100 different generic drugs, including treatments for diabetes, cancer, arthritis and other medical conditions.

-- The House passed a disaster aid bill that would deliver long-sought relief to farmers, victims of hurricanes and floods, and rebuild southern military bases.

-- House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal issued subpoenas Friday for six years of Trump’s tax returns.


Essential Politics is written by Sacramento bureau chief John Myers on Mondays and Washington bureau chief David Lauter on Fridays.

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