Occasionally on nights and weekends, you can catch Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher tweeting about a scary-sounding place called #AppropsHell.

April 2, the official start to Appropriations Hell. Just some light reading on this gorgeous San Diego day. #appropshell pic.twitter.com/Eyb43l2YSV

— Lorena (@LorenaSGonzalez) April 2, 2017

It’s too expensive. Cost too much. That is too much of a burden on the general fund. How do we pay for that? Are you on crack? #AppropsHell — Lorena (@LorenaSGonzalez) May 2, 2017

I talked with Gonzalez Fletcher this week about just what goes on in this dark place.

But first some background: This is Gonzalez Fletcher’s second session as chair of the powerful Assembly Appropriations Committee, a financial gatekeeper through which any bill that comes with a price tag of $150,000 or more must pass.

It’s a lot of bills – far, far more than any other committee deals with. This year, the committee had 959 bills on its plate.

Thus, #AppropsHell is the place where the reading and vetting of all those bills takes place.

Gonzalez Fletcher said she and her staffers read each bill and determine whether it would cost more than $150,000. If it does, it goes into the so-called suspense file. Those bills all get a hearing on one marathon day – it’s happening next Friday, May 26 – and about two-thirds make it out.

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When it comes to the suspense file bills, “it’s a determination on how much money things cost, and how we can reduce the cost of a lot of the bills,” Gonzalez Fletcher said. For example, if one bill proposes a pilot project in 10 counties at a cost of $10 million, the committee might try cutting it down to five counties.

“We do take into consideration what people’s priorities are and we try to get to yes, but we also know there’s only so much money to spend,” she said. “So we try to help the most amount of people and do the most amount of good with what we have.”

Gonzalez Fletcher said that some of her own bills get held or don’t make it through, but that there’s still a certain advantage in being chair.

“I try to ensure that my bills, a lot of them my costs will be reduced just like anyone else’s – we work through the costs analyses. But I get to be a part of that process in my own bills, whereas other people don’t get to be.”

Another advantage Gonzalez Fletcher said she didn’t expect: Because she sees virtually every lawmaker’s entire package of bills, she gets to understand their priorities and their approach to legislating in a way no one else does.

Still, that insight doesn’t necessarily stave off the emotions that come when she’s playing the decider.

“I’ve learned there’s just no way of making everybody happy. People are going to be upset. Outside interests will be upset; my colleagues will be upset. But that’s my job,” she said. “Everybody’s very nice during this time, and then afterward they’ll be very mean, and that’s fine.”

Brown Budget Funds Legal Help for Immigrants

Gov. Jerry Brown’s revised May budget includes $15 million to fund legal services for immigrants facing deportation.

“But while the total funds are enough to support existing services, policy analysts said lawmakers might need almost double this amount to fund the other new legal initiatives under consideration at the state Capitol,” reports the L.A. Times.

To that end, two bills from San Diego-area lawmakers are still alive.

SB 6 by Sen. Ben Hueso would provide $12 million for immigrants facing deportation proceedings, so long as they do not have a violent felony on their records. That provision, Hueso said at an earlier hearing, was not something he wanted but was put in to make the measure more palatable to wary colleagues.

“We have limited resources; it’s a large population and we want to extend this benefit to as many people as we can. … We’ve excluded people that have previously been convicted of violent crimes. I had a lot of heartache over doing that, I didn’t want to do that in the bill. But I also have to consider that under our previous president’s policies, anybody that was convicted of a felony or a violent crime was already deported,” Hueso said at a February hearing.

Hueso’s bill has passed the Senate and is moving through the Assembly.

A bill written by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, whose district overlaps with Hueso’s and runs along the U.S-Mexico border, would provide legal help to foreign-born U.S. military veterans who’ve been deported, pending funding from the state budget.

AB 386 passed the Assembly last week and is now in the Senate.

What San Diego Legislators Were Up to This Week

• Assemblyman Todd Gloria’s AB 901, the bill that would force all San Diego County elections to a November runoff, passed the Assembly this week.

• Sen. Joel Anderson is helping lead a push to put more contraband-sniffing dogs in state prisons. (AP)

 San Diego members split – and not along party lines – over a bill that would have let foster youth, English-learners and low-income students transfer to school districts that better serve their needs. Democratic Assemblywoman Shirley Weber and Republican Assemblyman Rocky Chavez, both of whom have advocated for education reform measures, voted yes on the bill; Democratic Assemblyman Todd Gloria voted no. The bill went down by a 4-3 vote in the Assembly Education Committee. (Folsom Telegraph)

• Book store owners say a California law that went into effect at the beginning of this year and cracked down on fraudulently signed memorabilia items is hurting them. Assemblyman Todd Gloria has written a bill to narrow the measure, and the San Francisco Chronicle editorial board calls it a “sensible revision.”

Golden State News

 There’s a battle brewing for chair of the state Democratic Party, and it could “recalibrate the direction of arguably the most influential state political party in the nation.” (L.A. Times)

• This is a timely profile of Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the Bakersfield Republican who has President Trump’s ear. (CalMatters/California Sunday)

 San Jose has voted to create a community choice energy program. For background on what that is, how it could upend power in California and where San Diego stands, check out this great guide by Ry Rivard. (Clean Power Exchange)

• Will this be the year that California finally stops employers from asking about job-seekers’ salary history? (National Law Review)

 The economic case for the sanctuary state bill. (CNN Money)

Sara Libby was VOSD’s managing editor until 2021. She oversaw VOSD’s newsroom and content.

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