Thursday marked one of the biggest days on the legislative calendar: the emptying of the suspense files in both houses of the Legislature. Any bill with a price tag more than about $250,000 gets sent to the suspense file, and hundreds of bills are killed in one fell swoop on the day the file is emptied in a marathon session.
San Diego Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez chairs the powerful Assembly Appropriations Committee, and coincidentally, all of her bills made it through – just one had a modification. Other local lawmakers saw their bills significantly changed or scaled back, if they made it through at all. Over in the Senate, San Diego Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins only had three bills in the suspense file; they all survived.
- Atkins’ SB 1, a sweeping bill to address sea-level rise, passed the committee, as did SB 9, a controversial measure that would allow duplexes and four-plexes on single-family lots. That bill died at the last second in the last legislative session. Another Atkins bill aimed locally would let the California Transportation Commission relinquish parts of Coronado Route 282 and portions of Route 75 to the city of Coronado also passed.
- Seven of Sen. Ben Hueso’s bills passed (one with amendments), including a measure aimed at ensuring vulnerable communities can access outdoor spaces, and one establishing an Office of California-Mexico Affairs. Two of Hueso’s measures were held and killed.
- You might remember Sen. Brian Jones offered to take Darrell Issa and Carl DeMaio off-roading when he ran against them for Congress – a stunt meant to remind people that neither was from the district but Jones was. Jones’ interest in off-road vehicles is going strong: His bill to create a system for off-highway vehicle contests passed the committee.
- Pat Bates’ bill that would forbid a judge from closing to the public a sexually violent predator’s civil commitment hearing tied to a petition for release passed the committee. The measure is sponsored by San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan.
- Gonzalez had a good day before her own committee: Some of her bills that made it through include measures to rein in use of police projectiles (think tear gas, rubber bullets), allow direct deposit of unemployment benefits, expand paid family leave and paid sick leave, and criminalize employer wage theft.
- Assemblywoman Tasha Boerner Horvath’s bill to fund an early warning system for sea bluff collapses was stripped of … the funding part. Another bill to incentivize e-bike purchases was similarly stripped of some of its most significant pieces.
- In his first suspense file outing, Assemblyman Chris Ward saw seven of his measures pass – although most were amended in some way. His bill to forbid sales of so-called ghost guns at gun shows, for example, was changed to a two-year measure.
- It was a mixed bag for Assemblyman Brian Maienschein: Two of his bills passed with amendments. One allowing community colleges to collect per-student apportionment funding for courses taught on military bases passed outright and another requiring local agencies to report to the state the status of their PPE supplies was converted to a two-year measure.
- Assemblywoman Marie Waldron’s showing before the appropriations committee reflects a growing interest in prisons over the last couple years. Her bill creating a grant program for counties that can be used for drug treatment-related programs for incarcerated individuals passed, a bill to deem incarcerated individuals eligible for Medi-Cal 30 days prior to their release passed with amendments and a bill expanding services to incarcerated women was converted to a two-year bill.
The County Is Spending Big on State Lobbying Efforts
When Democrats took over the County Board of Supervisors late last year, they promised to make major changes and undo some of the programs championed by their Republican predecessors. Since then, they’ve laid the groundwork for legal cannabis sales, a new office of labor enforcement and more.
One of the other things they did, although it got less attention, was rewrite the county’s playbook when it comes to lobbying state and federal governments. This move may sound trivial, but it does reflect a shift in the county’s values.
Major corporations like Amazon and Walmart aren’t the only ones hoping to influence lawmakers in Sacramento. In fact, the county is among the biggest spenders on lobbying groups, and the amount it’s dedicated to lobbying has increased in recent decades.
In the first three months of 2021 alone, the county spent $90,000 on a pair of firms in Sacramento. Another $122,000 went to other groups that try to sway lawmakers one way or another, including the California State Sheriff’s Association, California Association of Health Facilities and California Assessor’s Association.
Michael Workman, the county’s communications director, attributed the increase to a growing focus on new areas of policy, including homelessness, and the “changing state landscape” after a realignment in 2011 of state program responsibilities and revenues to local governments. He also noted in an email that the secretary of state requires municipalities to report the dues paid to associations that are registered as lobbyist employers.
State records show that the county spent $2.9 million during the 2019-20 legislative calendar on firms and association dues.
In a January letter to his colleagues, Board Chairman Nathan Fletcher said the county’s legislative priorities that had accumulated over the past 30 years were “outdated and reflect ideologies that are antithetical to the views of the majority of the Board of Supervisors.” He continued: “These policies include promoting extreme fiscal conservatism, creating higher barriers to voting, interfering with the sovereignty of local tribes, anti-state rhetoric, and excluding individuals from county services to protect against mostly unfounded fears of fraud and abuse.”
Two weeks later, all members of the board, including its two Republicans, agreed to revise and cast aside parts of the county’s legislative program. It now includes, among other things, support for the rights of workers to organize.
The county’s lobbyists spent the first few months of 2021 on fire safety regulations and more than a dozen bills, offering support to several members of the San Diego delegation in Sacramento, including:
- AB 257 by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, which would establish a “fast-food council” tasked with creating industry-wide minimum standards on wages, working hours and other working conditions. It’s passed two committees so far.
- AB 341 by Assemblywoman Tasha Boerner Horvath, which would add social media posts to the list of evidence protected by California’s rape shield law, effectively preventing defense attorneys from arguing that a complaining witness was somehow “asking for it” because of, say, a photo online. It passed the Assembly last month.
San Diego County’s lobbyists also advocated for legislation to establish statewide racial equity policies, extend Medi-Cal benefits to immigrants and stop transfers to Immigration and Customs Enforcement for anyone eligible for release from California state prisons or local jails.
That last one in particular shows how far the county has come. Only a couple years ago, the county supported the Trump administration in its lawsuit against the California Values Act, which limited interactions between local law enforcement and immigration authorities.
Meanwhile, over at the city …
In the first three months of the year, the city reported spending $42,000 on state lobbying efforts by contractor Platinum Advisors. It also reported another roughly $137,000 in spending on membership dues typically paid by city departments to organizations that do some lobbying of their own, including the League of California Cities, the California Water Efficiency Partnership and the WateReuse Association.
The city lobbyists’ 2021 priorities were finalized with a January City Council vote. Those priorities included COVID-19 relief and recovery efforts, homelessness, housing development, wildfire prevention and recycling policies.
Adrian Granda, Mayor Todd Gloria’s director of government affairs, said extensions of the state eviction moratorium, relief for renters, homelessness funding and legislation to encourage housing production were among the city’s more specific priorities in the initial months of the year.
Most of those issues have remained top priorities.
In more recent months, city lobbyists and Gloria have engaged more on state budget issues, particularly on investments to help cities address homelessness.
Gloria was among a coalition of mayors across the state that called for Gov. Gavin Newsom and state lawmakers to commit to $4 billion in annual funding for homelessness for the next several years. Gloria and other big-city mayors previously sent an April 8 letter to legislative leaders and budget committee chairs calling for a four-year funding commitment they argued the federal American Rescue Plan and the state’s budget surplus made possible. Legislative leaders later released plans that include $20 billion in homelessness funding over five years, and Newsom committed to $12 billion at a San Diego press conference flanked by Gloria and other local leaders.
While Gloria leaves most lobbying to the city’s paid team, Granda said his previous gig as a state assemblyman who got to know other elected leaders at the state Capitol has helped the city push its legislative agenda.
“There’s obviously relationships that already exist so we’re able to leverage that and really advance city priorities,” Granda said.
— Jesse Marx and Lisa Halverstadt
Golden State News
- Speaking of lobbying, teachers unions spent more than even Big Oil companies to influence lawmakers last year. (Bay Area News Group)
- The California Air Resources Board adopted rules mandating that ride-share services convert their fleets to electric vehicles. (Reuters)
- Schools that don’t fully reopen in fall could lose lots of money under Gov. Gavin Newsom’s latest budget plan. (Sacramento Bee)