Newsletter: Important bills, surprising moments in the California Legislature’s final hours

Essential Politics

There was a sense among watchers of the California Legislature that the final hours of the 2019 session would be a bit of a letdown. After all, many of the contentious bills had already been heard and passed.

But then came the protest that went too far in the state Senate. And a surprising schism between Gov. Gavin Newsom and legislative Democrats. By the time the sun rose on Saturday, the last dash had been one of the unusual in recent legislative history.



Protests are common at the state Capitol. But protests over the past few weeks by those outraged over legislation to impose new oversight of medical exemptions for vaccinating schoolchildren were different. They kept showing up long after the bills passed and Newsom signed them. They yelled and screamed from the visitors galleries of the Assembly, surprisingly without much reprimand by the house sergeants at arms. They blocked entrances to the building and were arrested.

And on Friday, during debate over a bill about workplace sexual harassment, one vaccine protester “stood up and threw a feminine hygiene device with what appeared to be blood onto the Senate floor” from the above gallery, according to a statement from the California Highway Patrol.

Democrats and Republicans alike denounced the dangerous incident, which forced senators to finish their work in a cavernous committee hearing room nearby.

“A couple hours of sleep since our Senate adjournment around 3am and I’m at a doctors appointment to follow safety protocols from blood exposure,” state Sen. Steve Glazer (D-Orinda), one of those hit with the liquid, tweeted on Saturday. “Thankful that none of my Senate colleagues appear hurt and we finished our work.”


Saturday might be remembered as the day the honeymoon ended between Newsom and Democrats in the Legislature.

Sure, there have been awkward moments on other policy issues in recent weeks. But what the governor did just hours after the Legislature adjourned for the year was as strong as it gets: a promise to veto one of the priority bills of his closest and most powerful legislative ally.

Newsom had sought changes in Senate Bill 1 for weeks, a proposal to provide an insurance policy of sorts in state law in the event federal environmental rules are rolled by President Trump. The governor sided with powerful water agencies worried about any changes that would limit their ability to pump water through the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

The governor has no more important Democratic partner than the author of SB 1, Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins (D-San Diego). His announcement of a veto puts Atkins and environmental groups in a tough spot, and raises questions about whether the honeymoon for Newsom is over in the Legislature.


In my Monday news analysis, I pointed out that many of the fights picked by legislative Democrats in 2019 are probably going to hang around into 2020 — battles that will play out at the Capitol or at the ballot box next November.

In all, our Sacramento team wrote almost two dozen stories about bills in the final week of the Legislature’s work. Some of the most notable:

-- Lawmakers sent Newsom a bill to cap interest rates on loans between $2,500 to $9,999 at 36%, financial arrangements that disproportionately affect low-income Californians.

-- A bill that won legislative approval could make it harder to fight the construction of new shelters and housing for homeless people in L.A.

-- How the mighty have fallen: After two decades of flexing its political muscle through lobbying and campaign contributions, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. couldn’t find many friends in Sacramento this year. An effort to ask the Legislature to help pay off its wildfire claims fell flat this year.

-- Legislation went to Newsom that would ban law enforcement from using facial recognition software on body cameras for three years.

-- Medical and legal professionals in California would be required to take implicit bias training to address unconscious racism under a set of bills awaiting gubernatorial action.

-- Lawmakers passed a bill targeting pornographic “deep fakes.” The technology has been used to digitally graft the face of a person into a pornographic film without the people involved knowing or consenting to it.

-- California would allow college athletes to earn money from the use of their names and likenesses under a bill passed by the Legislature on Wednesday.

-- A ban on marijuana use on party buses wins approval from lawmakers.

-- Legislators approved a package of reforms sparked by the recent college admissions scandal, including a bill that requires special admissions of students at public universities to be approved by three campus administrators.

-- One bill would temporarily lift the statute of limitations on claims for damages over sex-abuse allegations against former USC campus gynecologist George Tyndall, brought to light in a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation by The Times.

-- Employers, workers and teachers could petition the courts to remove guns from employees and students who are believed to be a danger under legislation ratified last week.

-- Californians would be barred from buying more than one semiautomatic rifle a month and those weapons would be off-limits to people younger than 21 under a bill approved on Friday.

-- California lawmakers challenge Trump’s bid to expand oil drilling and fracking statewide.

-- Lawmakers voted in favor of outlawing new mink coats and other new items made from the fur of undomesticated animals, including mink, rabbit and coyote.

-- California landlords would no longer be allowed to reject prospective tenants solely because they hold federal Section 8 housing vouchers under a bill passed by the Legislature.

-- Lawmakers approved a bid to renew local redevelopment, a program that pumped hundreds of millions of dollars a year into affordable housing and economic projects. But will Newsom sign off?

-- Lions, tigers and bears no more: Legislation to ban exotic animals at circuses went to the governor.


Legislative staffers in Sacramento rarely make news. Last week, E. Dotson Wilson was the exception. After 27 years as chief clerk of the Assembly — the longest consecutive service of anyone in California history — Wilson decided to retire, praised for his impartiality in a hyperpartisan political era.

“You just want the elected officials to do a good job,” Wilson told me recently.


-- Opponents of California’s newly enacted vaccine laws filed ballot referenda on Wednesday to overturn the two bills signed by Newsom.

-- A top California healthcare official announced her departure last week after calling vaccine bill protesters “flat-earthers” on Facebook.

-- President Trump vigorously defended Justice Brett Kavanaugh on Sunday following a new allegation of sexual misconduct during the Supreme Court jurist’s college years. Those allegations were also investigated by Jackie Calmes, White House editor for The Times.

-- Visiting a black church bombed by the Ku Klux Klan in the civil rights era, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden said Sunday the country hasn’t “relegated racism and white supremacy to the pages of history.”

-- The world is watching as California weighs a plan to save tropical forests.


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

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