The California Capitol building / Image via Shutterstock

Well, that was memorable.

In a few ways, the latest legislative session ended exactly how you might expect: with another housing production measure failing and continued bitterness over AB 5.

But other developments, of course, took everyone by surprise. Let’s dive in.

Police and housing reforms fail, again.

When SB 50 failed for the second time last year, state Senate President Toni Atkins vowed to take a leading role in passing legislation to spur more housing production. SB 50 would allow more dense housing production near transit, and has been killed off by housing opponents for years and held up by NIMBYs and even President Donald Trump as a danger to neighborhoods.

To help deliver on her promise, Atkins carried SB 1120 herself – one of the few measures she signed her name to this year. It would have allowed duplexes on any single-family lot, and let owners of single-family homes split their lots into two without requiring special permission.

But it failed in bizarre fashion: It passed both houses, but before it could be sent back to the Senate for a final sign-off, the deadline for all bills to pass expired. Atkins characterized the bill as a victim of a timing failure and foot-dragging by the Assembly, which didn’t allow it enough time to get that final Senate vote. But Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon disputed that assessment: “We certainly didn’t run out the clock. That’s nonsense,” he told the Sacramento Bee.

Two major policing reforms also failed to get a vote in time.

SB 731 would have created a process to decertify officers who commit major misconduct. AB 66 would have reined in the use of rubber bullets and other non-lethal weapons on protesters.

Atkins promised later in the week to prioritize the decertification measure in the next session.

“Two things are true regarding SB 731: cops guilty of misconduct should be held accountable, and good bills sometimes hit unnecessary roadblocks. This year’s constitutional deadline for the bill has passed, but the Senate’s commitment to improving public safety and protecting our communities, particularly communities of color who face such disproportionate impact, remains strong,” she wrote in a statement. “As we did with AB 392, the Senate will work with Assemblymember Shirley Weber and the California Legislative Black Caucus, and all stakeholders to carry the momentum behind SB 731 through to the next legislative session.”

She’s referring to Weber’s measure to change the standards guiding police use of deadly force, which failed the first time it was introduced but eventually passed. But as Atkins’ vows on SB 50 and housing production have shown, a promise to prioritize a measure doesn’t necessarily mean it will become law.

AB 5 is still the source of intense division.

If you’d asked me in January what the biggest story in Sacramento would be for the year, I’d have told you it was continued bitterness and confusion over AB 5, the labor law passed last year by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez that limits when employers can classify workers as independent contractors.

Despite an epic global pandemic and an unprecedented reckoning with systemic racism, AB 5 is still in the running for the biggest story in Sacramento.

When the session ended for the year, California Senate Republicans sent out press release devoted solely to their hatred of the law and laying out their attempts to repeal it. It included statements from every single elected Republican senator, disparaging the measure.

The statement didn’t include any priorities, accomplishments or concerns beyond AB 5 in an election year in which the world has been disrupted by multiple crises – a powerful testament to their laser focus on the law.

“The flexibility and success currently enjoyed by millions of independent contractors in California will be lost forever unless AB 5 is overturned,” Sen. Brian Jones said in his statement. “Today, Senate Republicans attempted to cut into AB 5 with a series of exemption amendments to a companion measure – AB 2257.  While Senate Democrats and Governor Newsom blocked our amendment efforts, we did lay the groundwork for voters themselves to permanently shelve AB 5 in the November election.”

He’s referring to Prop. 22, the measure being bankrolled by Uber and Lyft to exempt rideshare drivers from AB 5.

The Legislature passed AB 2257, the measure that included a number of fixes and changes to AB 5.

It can always get more dramatic.

Last year’s legislative session memorably ended with parts of the Capitol being evacuated after a protester threw menstrual blood on lawmakers.

So it was a bit of a surprise that this year’s session ended just as dramatically.

The COVID-19 pandemic had already upended the legislative session by causing multiple shutdowns and forcing legislators to abandon most of the bills they’d planned for the year. But it caused even more chaos over the last week after Jones announced he’d tested positive for the coronavirus, and virtually the entire Republican caucus was forced into quarantine. That forced Atkins to allow those senators to vote remotely.

Being outside the Capitol, though, didn’t stop Republicans from successfully derailing the proceedings on the final night of voting. Atkins and Democrats attempted to limit the number of speakers on each measure, a move intended to save time. It had the opposite effect after Republicans protested the move. Sen. Melissa Melendez proclaimed, “This is bullshit!”

“The casualties of the flap turned out to be a mix of proposals that died without votes,” the Sacramento Bee noted.

The fact that many Republicans voted remotely was significant in another way, too.

Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks, who gave birth to a daughter just a month ago, requested permission to vote by proxy, but was denied. She ended up bringing her infant into the Capitol to vote in person – a stark image on its own, but one made even more stunning when contrasted with the Republicans who were allowed to vote from home.

Wicks’ appearance and her impassioned late-night speech for Atkins’ housing bill while masked and holding her daughter ended up being the most dramatic moment of the night in an evening full of them.

New Report Finds Continued Disparities in Police Stops

The statewide group that advises officials on racial profiling in law enforcement have joined activists’ calls to defund the police.

The Racial and Identity Profiling Advisory Board was created as part of a 2015 law passed by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber intended to collect data detailing the scope of police racial profiling and create policies to address it.

“Leaders of the Civil Rights movement have long advocated for shifting funds away police to social services that better address the communities’ needs rather than for example criminalizing homelessness or mental health,” a draft report of the group’s yearly findings read.

The board released the annual draft report this week. The draft described racial disparities in police encounters last year from an analysis of close to 4 million police stops statewide, and ended with recommendations for both local and statewide improvement.

The RIPA board’s concrete recommendations for shifting focus away from police are still under development, according to the report. It argued, however, that research shows most calls for service can be better handled by social agencies.

It also analyzed San Diego Police Department and San Diego County Sheriff’s Department policies for reducing racial bias in policing, commending both for improvements from last year but noting that the Sheriff’s Department still has no way of reviewing or supervising police stops to ensure fairness.

But what about the good stuff? What did the data show?

More than eight out of every 10 stops statewide last year were for traffic violations, such as speeding. Next up, and the only other major category, was reasonable suspicion at 12.1 percent. Reasonable suspicion, the report noted, can’t be based on a “hunch or instinct;” only on observable facts that could lead a reasonable person to suspect criminal activity.

Black people were the most likely to be stopped under reasonable suspicion rather than traffic violations, although they were the least likely to be found actually committing a crime, the report said. Local research into police stops has reached similar conclusions.

The report found that people officers perceived as Hispanic were overall stopped the most, making up close to 40 percent of all stops. Those perceived as White made up a third of stops and those perceived as Black made up 15.9 percent.

Compared with their share of the population, “black individuals were stopped 140.9 percent more frequently than expected,” the report said.

Racial disparities also increased or decreased depending on how dark it was outside, which the report suggested could be because some people were stopped more often when officers could more easily perceive their race or ethnicity.

Meanwhile, perceived transgender women, out of all transgender and cisgender people, were most often stopped due to reasonable suspicion. They were also the most likely to be searched, detained or handcuffed; the most likely to be stopped after someone else called law enforcement; and the most likely to be arrested, rather than ticketed, after a stop, the report said.

Kate Nucci

Golden State News

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

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