California Legislature gets back to work

California Legislature gets back to work

From CalMatters’ state Capitol reporter Sameea Kamal

The California Legislature returns today for the final five weeks of the session — and Gov. Gavin Newsom has some marching orders.

He popped into a background briefing with reporters Friday to outline his priorities: mental health reform, education and gun safety. 

  • The governor said to look for amendments Tuesday to the Mental Health Services Reform Act, a proposal to redirect money from the state’s millionaire’s tax towards housing assistance. The amendments aim to address concerns raised by advocates and an analysis from the Legislative Analyst’s Office that some county-run mental health programs could lose out. Asked about criticism that the program may not include enough local flexibility, Newsom replied: “I’m not interested in failing more efficiently.”
  • Newsom will be visiting schools and high school career academies around the state — including today in Elk Grove — to emphasize career pathways. The governor, who is helping lead recent efforts against book bans, also pushed back on the narrative from “outside agitators” on classroom culture wars, saying that parents are involved in the educational process. A parental rights rally is set for the Capitol today. 
  • The governor plans to keep pushing his proposal to amend the U.S. Constitution on gun control. Today, Assembly Public Safety Chairperson Reggie Jones-Sawyer and Senate Public Safety Chairperson Aisha Wahab are to highlight a joint resolution that would call for a constitutional convention. The amendment, which Newsom is pursuing through his Campaign for Democracy PAC, would ban assault rifles, raise the federal minimum age to buy a firearm to 21 from 18 and mandate universal background checks, as well as institute a “reasonable” waiting period.

    Newsom said he plans to build a coalition with other states: “They’re coming after our laws. They’re rolling them back. What can we do about it? Nothing in the absence of fundamentally changing the construct they’re using to do just that.”

Newsom said while he didn’t expect clawbacks on the budget deal, he might veto spending proposals, as he did last year.

And he pushed back on criticism that his M.O. is to jam his initiatives through the Legislature, such as mental health reform.

  • Newsom: “I’m not interested in tinkering around the edges. I have a sell-by date, I’ve got three-and-a-half years left.”

While the Legislature was on vacation, Newsom signed some bills and vetoed a few. But there are many, many more that legislators must decide before they adjourn Sept. 14.

By the numbers (courtesy of longtime lobbyist Chris Micheli):

Of 1,770 Assembly bills introduced this session, 1,055 have been sent to the Senate and nearly 90 have already gone to Newsom’s desk.

Of 890 Senate bills introduced, about 660 have been passed to the Assembly and nearly 50 to the governor.

About 390 Assembly measures and 290 Senate bills are before the other chamber’s appropriations committees this week as they move toward the dreaded “suspense file” at the end of the month. 

Gut-and-amend: And while it’s too late in the session to introduce entirely new legislation, there is a work-around. Lawmakers can “gut” an existing bill that is still alive and “amend” it with a completely different proposal.

That’s the plan on a measure to allow striking workers to collect unemployment benefits, Politico reported late last week. The bill is backed by the California Labor Federation, whose leader Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher unsuccessfully pushed the idea in 2019, when she was in the state Assembly. 

While Politico reports that the California Chamber of Commerce and other business groups are already gearing up to stop the bill again and only New York and New Jersey offer jobless benefits to strikers now, the bill’s supporters hope to capitalize on the momentum created by the “hot labor summer” in California


CalMatters covers the Capitol: CalMatters has guides to keep track of your lawmakers, explore its record diversity, make your voice heard, understand how state government works and follow the state budget process

CalMatters is hosting more events: The next one is Tuesday and focuses on whether the electric vehicle transformation can help bridge California’s economic divide. Sign up here to attend in person at our Sacramento office or online. The one after that is scheduled for Sept. 19, on Newsom’s push for rehabilitation over incarceration. Register here.


A key lawmaker on criminal justice

Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer on a site tour with CSU Inc., Conscious Capital Investments, and GROW in Los Angeles on Aug. 1, 2023. Photo by Lauren Justice for CalMatters
Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer on a site tour with community nonprofits in Los Angeles on Aug. 1, 2023. Photo by Lauren Justice for CalMatters

Speaking of the Legislature’s return, CalMatters’ state Capitol reporter Alexei Koseff interviews Los Angeles Democrat Reggie Jones-Sawyer, chairperson of the Assembly Public Safety Committee and founder of the reconfigured Legislative Progressive Caucus.

Referring to himself as a “practical progressive,” Jones-Sawyer has been steering the public safety committee for seven years. He often finds himself under fire, butting heads with Republicans and even with some of his Democratic colleagues, for his tendency to halt bills that would enhance sentences or create new crimes. This session, he caused public outcry related to his handling of fentanyl and child sex-trafficking measures. 

Due to term limits, Jones-Sawyer has a little more than a year left in office. To understand his approach to criminal justice — and why some view it as ineffective or controversial — Alexei spoke to Jones-Sawyer and other Democratic and Republican legislators about his tenure so far. You can read the rest of Alexei’s Jones-Sawyer profile here.

What he says about his positions:

  • Jones-Sawyer: “I’m really a New Testament kind of guy — that God believed in forgiveness. That’s what we balance with public safety…. I’m not naïve in believing that everybody is redeemable. I’m not saying everybody’s bad. Also not saying everybody’s good. I’m saying everybody needs a chance.”

What Anthony Rendon, the former Assembly speaker who appointed Jones-Sawyer chairperson  in 2016 and other Democratic supporters say:

  • Rendon: “The policies he’s pursuing, the general direction, are where we want to go as a society…. We know we’re not safe, and I don’t think it’s because we haven’t thrown enough people in prison. We’ve tried that. It didn’t work.”
  • Assemblymember Tina McKinnor of Los Angeles, on the heated 2020 campaign against Jones-Sawyer’s reelection by prison guard and police unions: “I love how he stuck to his gun, stuck to his values through all of this. I don’t know if anyone could fill his shoes.”

What Republicans say:

  • Assemblymember Juan Alanis of Modesto, vice chairperson of the public safety committee: “I see us catering more to criminals than to victims. I don’t like when we look out in the audience and we see faces that say, ‘You failed us.’”

Women rake in campaign cash

Assemblymembers Sabrina Cervantes and Rudy Salas chat during the floor session on August 12, 2019. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

Fueling historic diversity, the 2022 election resulted in a record 50 women in the Legislature, up from 39.

And if early fundraising is any indication — and campaign cash is often a key factor — the outlook for 2024 is positive for female candidates as well.

In the first half of 2023, of the top 10 fundraisers for open legislative seats, seven are women; of the top 20 fundraisers, 12 are women and 10 are women of color, according to a study by Close the Gap California, an advocacy group that recruits progressive female candidates.

Topping the list are Yvonne Yiu, a Monterey Park City Councilmember who ran unsuccessfully for state controller last year and who reported raising $856,000 in the Senate District 25 race, and Assemblymember Sabrina Cervantes, a Corona Democrat who said she brought in $704,000 in Senate District 31.

  • Susannah Delano, Close the Gap executive director, in a statement: “The fact that so many diverse women are raising significant amounts of early money is a strong sign that we are leveling the playing field for all women and are on the path to parity.”

The Legislature is now 42% female, and Close the Gap says that women need a net gain of 10 seats in 2024 to reach gender parity for the first time. But that will require winning many open seats: Six women will leave their seats in 2024, either hitting term limits or seeking another office. Also, four female Assemblymembers are running for state Senate, according to Close the Gap.

Ailing hospitals find lifelines

Medical personnel working in the nurse’s station in the Emergency Room unit of Hazel Hawkins Memorial Hospital in Hollister on March 30, 2023. Photo by Larry Valenzuela, CalMatters/CatchLight Local
Medical personnel working at Hazel Hawkins Memorial Hospital in Hollister on March 30, 2023. Photo by Larry Valenzuela, CalMatters/CatchLight Local

Hospitals across California, especially those serving rural communities, have been struggling to keep up with rising costs and staffing shortages. In response, the state has set up a $300 million, interest-free loan program to stave off closures. But as CalMatters’ health reporter Ana B. Ibarra explains, potential deals with private health systems could help three struggling hospitals find a longer-term solution.

Madera Community Hospital and Beverly Community Hospital could find their savior in Adventist Health. Madera Community, located in the San Joaquin Valley, closed in January. It’s working with Adventist to secure a management agreement. If this deal goes through, the hospital could reopen in six to nine months, and Adventist would have the option to purchase the hospital after three years.

Beverly Community serves the city of Montebello, east of L.A.,and filed for bankruptcy in April. The hospital is expected to run out of cash by September, but Adventist may step in as a potential buyer. The hospital is expected to present a deal proposal to a bankruptcy court judge on Thursday.

Then there’s Hazel Hawkins Memorial Hospital, located in San Benito County. It filed for bankruptcy in May, and recently announced a proposed partnership with Modesto-based American Advanced Management. The company could lease the hospital for up to 10 years and then purchase the hospital afterward.

None of these proposals are close to completion, but with two of the three hospitals being the sole medical providers in their counties, these potential deals could help reduce the medical risk for residents who would have to travel farther if their local hospitals closed permanently.

  • State Sen. Anna Caballero, a Democrat whose district includes Madera and San Benito counties: “This is really great news. There will be a number of stages, and the first stage is for (partnering chains) to indicate their interest. Now there’s a lot of work that has to happen in a very quick period of time.”


CalMatters Commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: California’s economic outlook is muddy and mediocre even as the U.S. economy may escape recession.

CalMatters commentary has a new California Voices page with previous op-eds and columns, plus picks by editor Yousef Baig. Give it a look.


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