Newsletter: California’s rent costs, privacy and vaccine rules take the spotlight in Sacramento
The numbers are daunting for the final month of the California Legislature in 2019: In 21 days of actual work in Sacramento, lawmakers will consider as many as 1,200 pieces of legislation. That work begins in a few hours, when both houses reconvene after a month-long summer recess.
The end-of-session frenzy is part of the ritual of governing in the state Capitol. While many of the bills will fizzle in the coming weeks, several big issues will make their way to Gov. Gavin Newsom‘s desk by adjournment on Sept. 13. How Newsom chooses to respond to the dozens of demands made by his fellow Democrats will reveal a lot about his long-term relationship with the Legislature and where he chooses to spend his political capital.
KEEP AN EYE ON THESE SACRAMENTO DEBATES
If history is any guide, some of the most controversial ideas won’t appear in the statehouse until late in the game, as lawmakers and interest groups routinely carve out the contents of existing bills during the final weeks and replace them with completely different proposed laws, the so-called “gut and amend” process that favors expediency over transparency.
Voters took action in 2016 to block the most egregious uses of that legislative maneuver, requiring bills be available for public inspection at least 72 hours before any final vote. Caveats aside, keep an eye on these big battles:
- Attacking the high cost of rent: There are a number of bills pending to address California’s housing crisis, but whether lawmakers will impose a new statewide rule to help renters may be the most interesting. When voters resoundingly rejected a rent control proposal on last November’s statewide ballot, elected officials promised that they’d roll up their sleeves to craft a better option. Last week, Newsom tacitly embraced Assembly Bill 1482. In its current form, the bill seeks to limit annual rent increases across the state to 7% plus inflation. The governor, though, said he’d like to see an even tighter cap. Other important bills still on the table include an effort to ban discrimination for renters who have housing vouchers and a potential late effort to address the patchwork of fees imposed on developers in communities across the state.
- An epic showdown over independent contractors: Perhaps no battle between organized labor and business in recent years has been as intense as the one sparked by last year’s California Supreme Court ruling that limits when an employer can classify a part-time worker as an independent contractor. Democrats in the Legislature are seeking to enhance and expand that ruling with Assembly Bill 5, whose impact might be most noticeable in jobs that make up the so-called “gig economy.” But a number of jobs could be reclassified as ones requiring full employee rights under the ruling, and a central question is whether liberal Democrats will hold fast on the bill’s language or agree to a compromise that seeks to carve out exemptions for some industries.
- New oversight of vaccine exemptions for school kids: No bill has created larger crowds in legislative hearing rooms this year than the proposal to give state health officials a role in reviewing doctor-approved exemptions for California students. Senate Bill 276 was revised in June to focus more on doctors who improperly grant those exemptions — an effort that did little to assuage vaccine critics. It might, though, have helped win Newsom’s eventual support.
- The push on privacy: Lawmakers enacted a sweeping expansion of California’s privacy rights last year to head off a ballot measure campaign on the topic. A half-dozen or more bills in consideration seek changes to the 2018 law before it takes effect in January. Other privacy bills seek to rein in facial recognition technology, the sale of a minor’s personal information collected online and the creation of fake videos that appear to show someone in a sexual situation.
- A challenge to charter schools: One key proposal would probably slow down the growth in charter schools across the state, a cause championed by the politically powerful California Teachers Assn. Newsom has embraced the idea of overhauling charter governance and has joined the negotiations over this bill — a fascinating development, given that the state’s charter school advocates backed his most powerful Democratic rival in the 2018 gubernatorial primary.
- A new focus on guns? After the deadly shootings in Gilroy, El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, state lawmakers may see a new urgency in further enhancing California’s reputation for strict gun laws. Several bills already sought to expand the use of gun violence restraining orders. Meanwhile, a Bay Area legislator has vowed to resurrect his stalled attempt imposing a $25 excise tax on the sale of handguns and semiautomatic weapons.
SPENDING MONEY ALREADY SPENT
Lawmakers will also consider Newsom’s new proposal for spending $331 million on legal aid for distressed homeowners and renters. The effort is long overdue. More than four years, in fact.
The 2012 settlement between five national lenders and attorneys general in 49 states was supposed to lead to a portion of the cash payment going to state-led efforts to help those caught up in the recession-era mortgage crisis. But California spent the money to pay off housing bonds — a decision state judges said was wrong. Last year, legislators and then-Gov. Jerry Brown went so far as to enact a law that said the court ruling was irrelevant.
But the California Supreme Court recently refused to hear the state’s appeal. And now, the $331 million must be repaid out of the state’s general fund. Newsom says he’s got a plan on how to help those in need, the details of which will be hashed out by the Legislature later this month.
TRUMP TO CALIFORNIA: TAX RETURNS? NOPE, SEE YOU IN COURT
Perhaps the least surprising thing President Trump has done in recent days is to file a federal lawsuit seeking to overturn California’s new law requiring him to disclose his tax returns for a spot on next year’s statewide primary ballot.
But Trump isn’t alone. There are now at least five separate legal challenges to the law written by legislative Democrats and signed last month by Newsom. No one is surprised that this one will be decided by the courts. The four lawsuits filed in federal court all focus either on the extent of a state legislature’s power to impose presidential candidate requirements or the rights of candidates and political parties to do as they like. The fifth lawsuit asks the California Supreme Court to block the law because it conflicts with election procedures laid out in the state Constitution.
Richard L. Hasen, a UC Irvine election law professor, is predicting Trump and his backers will seek an injunction to stop the law from taking effect and that a final resolution of the issue may take a couple of years.
-- To avoid officer-involved shootings and “suicide by cop,” some California law enforcement agencies no longer handle calls about lone people acting suicidal.
-- Some of those who attended San Francisco’s annual Outside Lands festival were part of a milestone moment over the weekend: the largest event in California, and the country, to allow legal sales and consumption of cannabis.
-- Some former law enforcement officials and Democratic lawmakers contend federal agencies have been caught flat-footed by a surge in mass shootings by white supremacists and other extremists targeting minorities, immigrants and religious groups.
-- Seth MacFarlane, creator of “Family Guy” and “American Dad!,” has given $4.6 million to Democrats, making him one of largest political donors of his generation in Hollywood.
-- California blocked more than 100 felons and other prohibited persons from buying ammunition in the last month using a new law requiring background checks. Is the state safer?
-- Newsom said last week that he’s not ready to back a legal “right to shelter” for those without housing, even though the idea was put forward by two key allies who lead his task force to help the homeless.
-- Some California freshmen members of Congress say the focus on the four progressive members of “The Squad” and their squabbles with Trump and Pelosi distracts from their message to voters as they try to keep their seats in swing districts.
-- Newsom granted pardons Wednesday night to seven people, including Susan Burton, a former inmate who now helps other women transition from prison to society.
-- Don’t call freshman Central Valley Rep. Josh Harder (D-Turlock) a city slicker. He’s spent his summer recess working on his district’s swamp rat problem.
Essential Politics is written by Sacramento bureau chief John Myers on Mondays and Washington bureau chief David Lauter on Fridays. It will be off Aug. 16.
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