In January, I joined the California State Assembly delegation to Washington, D.C. in order to connect one-on-one with House and Senate leaders. We met members of the energized and emboldened California freshmen class, including Reps. Katie Hill, Mike Levin, Harley Rouda and Katie Porter, as well as our more seasoned representatives, Rep. Adam Schiff and Speaker Nancy Pelosi. In these meetings, we discussed issues specific to our districts and state, as well as those affecting the nation.
As a country, we are facing numerous challenges, many of which come with a ticking clock. We know we must act swiftly and definitively in order to find and implement solutions.
One of the most interesting conversations we had was with Lee Saunders, president of the prominent labor union AFSCME. This informative exchange covered everything from the jobs of the future and the struggle to retain a healthy middle class, to workers’ rights, paid family leave, and our work to prevent sexual harassment. In recent years, the state Legislature has passed measures that raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, increase paid family leave and disability benefits, and implement new workplace equity protections. We also discussed how we will move forward after the California Supreme Court’s Dynamex decision, which established a new “ABC Test” that determines whether a worker is an employee or independent contractor, an issue to be addressed this year by my colleague Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez’s AB 5. The meeting helped me better understand organized labor’s priorities, and the state’s role as a defender of working Californians.
In our discussion with Rep. Jimmy Gomez, we focused on our state’s role in immigration. In recent years, California has made it clear we stand with our immigrant population. Gomez shared an update on the status of SB 54 (De León); a measure passed in 2017 that regulates the cooperation between local law enforcement and federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement. We discussed our commitment to maintaining the temporary protected status of countless people who call our state home.
Gomez then joined us for a conversation with Rep. Zoe Lofgren focused on the impact the 2020 Census could have on California’s voice and federal financial allocation. For the first time ever, the Census will be conducted primarily online, which presents a unique set of challenges for many states. We are also currently locked in a legal battle with the federal government alongside several other states over a new citizenship question that could discourage many Californians from responding to the Census, potentially decreasing both our representation and funding.
While we have our differences with the current administration, it is crucial that we are able to cooperate and coordinate with the federal government. We had a productive and pleasant meeting with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Undersecretary Jim Hubbard, who is charged with overseeing the U.S. Forest Service, the federal agency responsible for wildfire prevention and recovery. We discussed California’s current efforts to lower wildfire risk, with Hubbard giving a very positive review of our partnership and our state’s practices. Our relationship with federal partners is key to our ability to tackle the challenges wildfires present. Forest lands make up one-third of all land in California. Of that land, 57% is owned and managed by the federal government; state and local governments combined only account for 3%. As the chair of the Assembly Natural Resources Committee, I look forward to working with the federal government to explore all the options available to develop more effective wildfire mitigation and response efforts.
Our two-day trip was packed with too many meeting to highlight in this brief space. Other topics discussed included gun control, internet privacy protections, payday lending and water resources. So what did I learn? First, it’s abundantly apparent there is an incredible amount of talent, determination and passion in our current class of congressional representatives. The Assembly stands as a ready and able partner to partner on a host of issues.
Most importantly, this delegation reminded me of the incredible privilege and responsibility our state possesses. Over the last few years, we have made big, bold efforts to tackle some of our most difficult challenges. We should all be proud. That pride should empower us to continue to lead the charge, and with it, recommit to working tirelessly to ensure that our communities, state and nation are the best they can be for all people. I know my colleagues and I stand ready, energized and willing to do just that in the months ahead.