Newsletter: Five days, 684 bills left in the California Legislature’s work for the year
California has had a full-time legislature since 1967, but the governing season actually ends each summer, an annual tradition of 11th-hour arm-twisting and late-night votes on scores of proposed laws that plays out again this week in Sacramento.
There are 684 bills that, as of Monday, are eligible for a vote before the final gavel falls in either the state Senate or the Assembly. Our team of Times journalists in the capital city bureau is closely watching about one-quarter of those, including some of the ones that have sparked intense debate over the past few weeks.
MARQUEE MOMENT: VACCINE EXEMPTIONS
Two bills have commanded much of the attention in recent weeks, drawing large crowds of protesters to the state Capitol. Protests aside, the odds seem strong that both proposals end up on Gov. Gavin Newsom‘s desk once the Legislature adjourns on Friday. And Newsom has made it clear that he intends to sign them.
Not that it’s always been clear where Newsom stood on one of them: the effort to impose new oversight of medical exemptions from vaccinations required of California schoolchildren.
There was considerable drama last week over the fate of the vaccine crackdown, Senate Bill 276. Remember that Newsom first expressed skepticism — catching everyone off guard — in June. But after the bill was amended in July, the governor said he’d sign it. Which is why so many people were surprised when he suddenly changed his mind and demanded additional changes.
Friday’s final agreement may satisfy neither vaccine supporters nor critics. And the negotiations were so tense that neither Newsom nor legislators seemed entirely sure the deal would hold. With the changes contained in a second bill, legislators insisted Newsom sign SB 276 before they send him a second bill with the new modifications — while the governor insisted both houses pass the second bill before he signs SB 276.
MARQUEE MOMENT: WORKER CLASSIFICATION RULES
It also looks as though Assembly Bill 5, the nationally watched plan to lay out clear rules for what triggers status for a worker to be an actual “employee,” will pass both houses this week.
The final amendments to AB 5 were filed on Friday and did little to change the fundamental shape of the bill, an attempt to codify a 2018 employment ruling by the California Supreme Court that sharply curtails the use of independent contractors in a variety of industries. Labor unions and business groups have clashed all year over the bill, and Newsom has already indicated he’ll sign it.
The bill will be voted on this week first in the state Senate, the only real place its opponents could block it. But conversations with several Capitol sources last week suggest AB 5 won’t struggle to get the necessary 21 votes from Senate Democrats. Nor is it likely a second bill to address the tech industry’s demands for worker flexibility will emerge before Tuesday’s deadline for bill amendments — an idea pretty much quashed by Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) in an interview with The Times last week.
WHAT ELSE WE’RE WATCHING
A number of other interesting bills will be closely watched the next few days:
-- Gun violence: Several bills seek to expand California’s rules governing gun violence restraining orders. We’re also closely watching a gun control bill that would ban the sale of semiautomatic weapons to anyone under the age of 21.
-- Rent control: There’s agreement on a sweeping bill to impose new rules on rent hikes across the state, but key to the issue might be whether reaction to how it will actually work heads off potential new fights over rent control next year in the Legislature or the ballot box.
-- The Trump environmental backstop: There remains some real uncertainty about the fate of Senate Bill 1, an attempt by Atkins to ensure current federal environmental rules are enforced by the state in the event the administration of President Trump rolls any of them back. Our latest look at SB 1 shows it’s now ensnared in the long California fight over water policy.
-- What else? We’ll also be watching key bills on immigration, on workplace sexual harassment and even a surprisingly strong effort to lower the voting age in California to 17. Some of these could go down to the wire, and end-of-session dramas — where Capitol watchers try to fill the time during long private caucus meetings — are common.
-- Newsom’s support of a ban on fur trapping for animal pelts will make California the first state in the nation to outlaw the centuries-old practice.
-- Legislative action is also on the way in Washington. Gun legislation and averting a government shutdown are among the top items on Congress’ agenda for its three-week run.
-- After Trump claimed that he had canceled a secretly planned meeting with the Taliban and Afghanistan’s president, he faced bipartisan criticism and questions as to whether the gathering was ever really in the works.
-- Mark Sanford, the former South Carolina governor and congressman, joined the Republican race against Trump on Sunday, setting out on what he admits is a remote path to the presidency.
-- He makes the field: San Francisco billionaire Tom Steyer qualified over the weekend for October’s Democratic presidential debate.
-- Does a candidate speaking Spanish make a difference to voters who know the language? The answer can be as nuanced as the Latino electorate.
Essential Politics is written by Sacramento bureau chief John Myers on Mondays and Washington bureau chief David Lauter on Fridays.
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