We’ve reached the home stretch of the legislative year at the state Capitol, with hours left until tonight’s midnight deadline to pass bills.
That means hallways packed with fretting lobbyists, hundreds of rapid-fire votes and late-night debates on the Senate and Assembly floor.
We’ve been updating this post throughout the week as bills are passed, killed or changed.
Update, 11:40 a.m. Friday: No Later Start Time for Middle and High Schoolers
Moments after passing a series of landmark housing bills, the State Assembly threw cold water on a measure that would given given middle and high schoolers a little more sleep, by pushing back school start times in California to at least 8:30 a.m.
Senate Bill 328 was defeated Thursday night on a 26-29 vote.
Studies have found that adolescents require more sleep as they develop, but the idea of a single, state-mandated start time drew bipartisan opposition.
“Each local district should be able to incorporate what are the local pressures on young people’s schedules,” said Assemblyman Matthew Harper (R-Huntington Beach).
The average high school start time in the state is currently 8:07 a.m. SB 328, carried by Sen. Anthony Portantino (D-Pasadena), would have enacted the first such statewide start time in the country, beginning in 2020.
During a lengthy floor debate in the Assembly, members with experience on local school boards argued that the bill would create a logjam of early morning school bus pickups, and inconvenience parents who need to get to work.
Supporters of the measure said the focus should be squarely on the kids who need the sleep, not parents or administrators.
“We need to make sure that we’re really thinking about what’s beneficial for our children,” said Assemblywoman Shirley Weber (D-San Diego).
Weber said leaving the decision to districts would be fruitless, as individual school boards would have to contend with angry parents and the difficulty of synchronizing extracurricular activities with neighboring schools that remained on a different schedule.
Update, 10:15 a.m. Friday: Bridge Toll Measure Would Raise Billions for Bay Area Transportation; Passes Over Objections from East Bay Legislators
If you live in the Bay Area, you’ll be hearing a lot about Senate Bill 595 over the next year or so. The bill by state Sen. Jim Beall, D-Campbell, won final Senate passage Thursday and now awaits the governor’s signature.
SB 595 provides for a vote in the nine Bay Area counties next year to raise tolls on the region’s state-owned bridges — that’s all of them, except the Golden Gate — by as much as $3. If the Bay Area Toll Authority, the agency that oversees the bridges, seeks that maximum $3 increase, tolls on the bridges would be $8 to $9. (We still wouldn’t be in Verrazano-Narrows Bridge territory, though; the cash toll on the span between Brooklyn and Staten Island rose to $17 earlier this year.)
The higher tolls would raise something like $375 million a year, according to the latest legislative analysis, and pay for nearly three dozen transit and highway projects totaling $4.45 billion.
BART would get $500 million to help pay for its expanded fleet of new-generation rail cars, and $50 million for preliminary design and engineering work on a second transbay crossing. The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority would get $375 million, part of what it needs to build a planned BART extension to downtown San Jose. Some $325 million would go to a long-dreamed-of Caltrain extension from San Francisco’s far-South of Market to downtown. The Bay Area’s Water Emergency Transportation Authority would get $300 to pay for new boats and dock facilities.
On the highway side, $300 million in toll proceeds would go to building new paid express lanes on Bay Area freeways, and another $1.1 billion would go to rebuilding interchanges and improving the most heavily traveled highway corridors.
Another major feature: In a provision put forward by longtime BART critic Sen. Steve Glazer, D-Orinda, the measure creates a new inspector general position that would have sweeping authority to watch over the agency’s finances and performance.
A long list of local officials, unions, business and urban planning groups supported SB 595 as crucial for dealing with current and future transportation challenges in the Bay Area.
“This bill gives the Bay Area the bold plan it needs for the future,’’ Sen. Beall, the bill’s sponsor, said in a statement after the proposal finally made it through the Assembly on Wednesday. He added that the measure is especially important in Silicon Valley.
“On weekdays, an average of 602,000 vehicles enter and exit the Bay Area,” Beall said. “With the expansion of tech firms, such as Google and Apple, those numbers will grow. Let’s take action now to curb traffic before it becomes worse.”
So, what’s not to like in this picture?
Several Contra Costa County legislators — Assemblymember Tim Grayson and Congressman Mark DeSaulnier among them — opposed SB 595, saying that it’s 1) a regressive tax and 2) a ripoff for the residents of the East Bay.
Their main argument — both DeSaulnier and Grayson penned op-ed pieces for the East Bay Times — is that residents of Alameda and Contra Costa counties will pay significantly more in increased tolls than their communities will get back in benefits.
Grayson said after SB 595 passed the Assembly that while he understood the need for infrastructure upgrades in the Bay Area, “there is a fundamental lack of equity in this proposal. … East Bay commuters deserve a better and far more just measure.”
DeSaulnier, who has vowed to fight the toll increase when it appears on the ballot, said he feels the long shopping list of projects in SB 595 is the result of what he termed a politically driven planning process on the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.
“It’s frustrating that such an innovative area is so backward when it comes to transportation,” DeSaulnier said.
Update, 8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 14: Bill to Seal Court Records of the Unconvicted
A bill that could help thousands of Californians overcome a persistent obstacle to getting a job or housing is heading to Governor Jerry Brown’s desk.
SB 393 aims to address problems faced by people who were arrested but not convicted of a crime, yet still find that potential employers, landlords and others have access to their court records.
Under Senate Bill 393, the so-called California Arrest Record Equity (CARE) Act, most of these people will be able to file a petition asking the court to seal their records.
The bill was sponsored by San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon. The measure’s author, Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Los Angeles, says people who were not convicted deserve a chance to live life free from the stigma of prior arrests.
“This now creates a clear uniform process to allow the judge to finally once and for all seal this record so that people can move on with their lives and not be trapped in this paper jail,” Lara said.
SB 393 is one of several criminal justice bills heading to the governor’s desk this session.
Update, Noon Thursday, Sept. 14: Bill to House Homeless Medi-Cal Recipients Heads to the Governor
As the state Legislature considers a number of high-profile bills to address the state’s affordable housing crisis, a measure to help house chronically homeless Californians is heading to the governor’s desk.
Assembly Bill 74, from San Francisco Assemblyman David Chiu, would provide rental assistance to homeless Medi-Cal recipients. It passed out of the state Assembly on Wednesday on a 60-18 vote.
“California is home to 20 percent of the nation’s homeless population and one-third of the nation’s chronically homeless population,” Chiu said in a statement. “We need to bring significant and innovative solutions to address this crisis.”
The legislation takes a ‘housing first’ approach, with the idea that permanent housing will provide a stable setting where homeless Californians can access medical and supportive services.
The bill initially sought to use state general fund money to pay for the rental assistance, but that Assembly proposal didn’t survive negotiations with the governor and Senate.
Instead, funding in the bill will come from the federal Housing Trust Fund program, which could place the initiative on shakier ground.
The Housing Trust Fund sent $10.1 million to California last year, but the Trump administration has proposed eliminating the program from the Housing and Urban Development Department budget.
Still, advocates remained optimistic that the bill will promote the cooperation between housing and health care agencies that they believe will benefit homeless residents.
“Having a home of their own will provide the stability they need to pursue regular, preventive and effective care and that means healthier people and lower costs,” said Sharon Rapport, Associate Director at the Corporation for Supportive Housing, in a statement.
Update, 5 p.m. Wednesday: Landmark Prescription Drug Measure Heads to Governor’s Desk
A bill to increase transparency on prescription drugs passed out of the Senate over the strong objections of the pharmaceutical industry and now heads to Gov. Jerry Brown.
If Brown signs Senate Bill 17, it will require drug makers to give advance notice before they raise prices and force health plans to report how much they spend on prescription drugs.
It was Sen. Ed Hernandez’s second run at the issue; a similar measure was changed so dramatically in the Assembly last year that Hernandez abandoned his own bill.
But this year, on the heels of public outrage over soaring drug prices — including the EpiPen — the powerful drug lobby was unable to stall the bill.
“Honestly, I think the biggest difference [this year] is the consumer is concerned about the costs of prescription drugs and they’re telling their elected officials,” Hernandez said shortly after the bill cleared the Senate floor.
Pharmaceutical industry representatives said the bill will do nothing to drive down prices and accused Hernandez of making false promises. His response?
“Well, if it’s not going to do anything to impact drug prices, why do they fight so hard against it?” Hernandez said.
He said having an even better sense of how drug prices are impacting healthcare costs could put pressure on the market. And, he’s hopeful that California’s lead could help consumers in other states as well.
“I hope it spreads to the federal government,” Hernandez said, but he added that even if Congress doesn’t act, “I think this is going to make a national impact because California, being such a big market, it will send shock waves throughout the country.”
Update, 3:45 p.m. Wednesday: Bills to Expand ID Options for Nonbinary Californians Pass Assembly
A pair of bills aiming to make life easier for Californians who identify as neither male or female sailed to passage in the state Assembly.
Senate Bill 179 would allow Californians to have a “nonbinary” designation displayed on state identifications like drivers licenses and birth certificates.
California joins Oregon as the only states to allow this third gender on drivers licenses.
“We want to keep California on the leading edge when it comes to the LGBTQ rights movement,” said Assemblyman Todd Gloria, D-San Diego.
Supporters said the option will help transgender and nonbinary residents avoid delay and harassment when using their identification on a daily basis.
The measure was opposed by conservative groups like the California Family Council, which argued that gender is a medical fact, not a choice. Only Democrats supported the legislation.
The Assembly later passed a separate bill, also by San Diego Senator Toni Atkins, that will make it easier for California prisoners to change their name and gender while incarcerated.
Both bills head back to the Senate for a final concurrence vote.
Update, 9:15 p.m. Tuesday: Senate Rejects Safe Injection Sites
The first-in-the-nation idea was modeled after a program in Vancouver, where users of drugs such as heroin can shoot up under the supervision of trained staff in a designated facility.
The goal of Assembly Bill 186 was to connect users in the “consumption sites” to medical treatment and other social services, while making sure they are not overdosing.
To opponents, the measure was little more than a step toward supporting illegal drug use.
“Why are we condoning the illegal drug use of heroin, which leads to other opiate addiction problems?” asked Jeff Stone R-Temecula.
The bill, which is expected to be taken up on a reconsideration vote later this week, would have allowed local governments in Alameda, Humboldt, Los Angeles, Mendocino, San Francisco and San Joaquin counties to establish four-year trial runs of the consumption sites.
Senators in both parties criticized that provision for not weighing the desires of the local governments chosen in the bill.
North Coast Democrat Mike McGuire said Humboldt County was not consulted before they were included in the project.
Lawmakers in Fresno also chafed at the idea, leading to the county being removed from the list of potential pilot sites.
In 2015, 4,000 people in the state ended up in the emergency room because of an opiate overdose.
“The approach we’ve been using, it’s a failure,” said Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco. “Why wouldn’t we want to try new things?”
Update, 7 p.m. Tuesday: Effort to Lower Voting Age Fails in Assembly
A proposal to lower California’s voting age from 18 to 17-years-old failed to pass on the Assembly floor.
Assembly Constitutional Amendment 10, from Assemblyman Evan Low (D-Campbell), did not receive the two-thirds vote it needed to advance towards a future statewide ballot.
California would have become the first state in the country to allow 17-year-olds to vote.
“This is a bold idea,” said Low. “But bold ideas are required to make significant change.”
Proponents of ACA 10 argued that high school seniors are well-positioned to take on the responsibility of voting. Many are enrolled in history or civics classes, and unlike some college freshmen, they don’t have to vote as absentees from other states.
Critics pointed out that California has already settled on 18 as an age of responsibility for other thresholds, such as getting married and entering into contracts.
“This schizophrenic lawmaking does not make any sense,” said Assemblyman Matthew Harper (R-Huntington Beach).
A lengthy floor debate on the idea saw several members call on personal experience to inform their decision on the measure.
Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez (R-Lake Elsinore) indicated that the thought of her own 17-year-old child was enough to make her vote against the bill.
Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher said Melendez doesn’t speak for all mothers in the Assembly.
“I’ve had a 17-year-old who, unlike other people on this floor, I actually would very much trust to vote,” she responded.
Low’s office says he plans to bring the measure back on a reconsideration vote later this week.
Update, 2 p.m., Tuesday: Assembly OKs Parental Leave Law Extension
The State Assembly has passed legislation to expand parental leave law to cover California businesses with between 20 and 50 employees. Other states including New York, Oregon and Washington have protections similar to Senate Bill 63, which guarantees a worker’s employment upon return from leave but does not provide pay.
“Moms are only trying to bring their baby into the world and stay home for a certain amount of time,” said Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, D-San Diego. “We need to catch up to the rest of the nation.”
The measure passed on a 45-12 vote, with five Republicans voting in favor.
An earlier version of SB 63 passed the state Senate in May.
Last year, Santa Barbara Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson pushed for a similar expansion of the state’s current law, which only applies to businesses with more than 50 employees.
That bill was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown, who was concerned that small businesses couldn’t afford to defend potential lawsuits brought by workers who could claim that they were not given proper pay or returned to a similar position.
Negotiations with the governor’s office this year resulted in the creation of a proposed mediation pilot program, in which disputes can be heard before they end up in court.
That amendment — added to the bill last week — was not enough to stave off opposition from the measure’s most powerful opponent.
The California Chamber of Commerce says the mediation program is toothless, because an employee has the option of terminating the process and heading straight to court.
The bill now heads back to the State Senate for a final concurrence vote.