SB 31 – Religious Freedoms Protections (hearing this Monday–call call call!)

Here’s another pointedly anti-Trump bill I’ve been meaning to write about. This one is another from Senator Ricardo Lara and following SB 30, his effort to make California a sanctuary state, and the “Religious Freedom Act” is in keeping with those principles.

The Basics…

are all I’m providing today, as I got the idea to write at happy hour, after seeing a press release that the bill’s hearing is set for this Monday, which makes it more timely than most of my “here is a bill that’s been introduced” posts.

– This bill would prohibit public entities from sharing information about individuals’ religious practices or beliefs with the federal government.

Here is the bill text.

– We don’t know for sure that Trump would try to create a religious registry and that if he did the courts would upholds it, so this bill could be largely symbolic in the face of a struggle that might not happen. That means that supporting the  bill (or opposing it) could have little or no fiscal effect. That said, if Trump does try to collect such info, it sets the stage for conflict between CA and the feds.

SB 584 – 100% Renewable Energy by 2045

Here’s a pretty big measure that has received surprisingly little coverage, at least from major news organizations (I have only linked the NY Times ‘California Today’ newsletter and the LA Times below, I didn’t have time to research into the energy-focused sources where I found other pieces to ensure they were sufficiently balanced). Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon has authored a bill to put California on track for 100 percent renewable energy by the end of 2045.

The Basics

  • The state’s Public Utilities Commission has a renewables portfolio: basically the standards for renewable energy it sets. The bill would revise those standards to aim for 100 percent of the state’s electricity products to come from renewable energy sources, such as solar power, wind power,

Who to call

In-Depth

This proposal is quite ambitious when you consider it in light of the existing expectation for the state to achieve 50 percent renewable energy by 2030.

The text of the bill alters legislative declarations and finding to accelerate the 50 percent benchmark to 2025, with the pipe dream of 100 percent renewable energy by 2045. The question I would try to answer as a reporter here–what I consider the crux of this debate–is whether or not it’s fair to call that goal a ‘pipe dream.’ The New York Times newsletter I linked to below addressed some of these considerations, but I still have some questions:

  • What qualifies as ‘renewable’? Hydroelectric power seems like a great source after our particularly wet year, but in drier years, will tapping into such a scarce resource be sustainable?
  • Are there penalties if we don’t meet the standards set by the renewables portfolio?
  • What are the cons to speeding up the schedule? Less sustainable development? Or is it simply a goal to work towards?

Still, like many recent bills, this one is just as much symbolic as it is practical. Even if you have concerns about the bill in its current form and aren’t settled one way or another, talking to your representation about it is a good way to have your voice heard on state energy issues. The outcome of this bold proposal will be a way to gauge where California is going in terms of renewable energy.

Media Coverage

AB 393 – Freezing college tuition in California

The Basics

  • Freezes mandatory tuition and enrollment fees for all Universities of California, California State Universities, and California Community Colleges until the end of the 2020 school year.

Who to call

In-depth

As an alumna, and possibly a future grad student of the UC system, I can’t pretend I don’t have a personal stake in this one, so keep that in mind. Over the four years I was a student at UC Berkeley, my tuition increased by about 50 percent. I chose Cal in part due to cost, and though it was still cheaper than a private university, and I was lucky to have the financial resources to continue my education in spite of the increases, the impact this may have on less fortunate students is concerning. California has one of the best public higher education systems in the country. We also have the largest population, and there’s something to be said about the pool of potential we tap into by providing education to those talented students who can’t afford the Ivies. As the UC’s are also huge research universities, funding for the system is in the public’s interest, and having the broadest pool of talent to conduct such research maximizes its benefits.

  • Here is the text of the bill. It currently sits in the Assembly Higher Education Committee, and the author (Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva), analysts, and advocates should be presenting reports on the cost of post-secondary education in the state, to give constituents a better idea of the financial situation California students face in seeking advanced degrees.

Media coverage

AB 250 – Affordable Lodging on the California Coast

As I mentioned in my last post, things have been pretty immigration-heavy, so I have a little California-specific environmental issue to switch it up.

The basics:

  • California has banging beaches. This bill would require the State Coastal Conservancy (an agency that works with the California Coastal Commission), to develop a low-cost lodging program–basically a five-year plan designed to increase the amount of budget lodging near the coast.

Who to call:

In-depth:

The full text of the bill is here.

This time last year, I was racing down the 101 to follow up on the first scoop I had as a state political reporter–the California Coastal Commission’s surprise termination of Executive Director Charles Lester.  I know, we all live and breathe following the twists and turns of state regulatory agencies.

I’m kidding–I get that not everyone actually knows or cares what the California Coastal Commission does, so let me explain why it matters. I grew up in an idyllic southern California beach town. My public high school had a nationally-acclaimed surf team and surf P.E. When I visited my cousins on the east coast, I was appalled that they PAID money to visit what seemed to be quite mediocre beaches. In short: I was privileged as hell.

So as I covered last year’s shocking movements at the Coastal Commission, I empathized with the environmentalists who treasured so passionately the incredible beach access that the commission’s existence has provided. But I know that such access is not as easy for all Californians as the two mile jog from my high school campus was for me. Both environmental advocates and commissioners who voted to remove Lester conceded this reality and the commission’s responsibility to remedy it.

This bill emerged in the aftermath of that controversy, and with a new executive director at the helm, it presents an opportunity for the commission to redeem itself.

Here are a couple questions I would ask if I was interviewing committee members, coastal conservation advocates, and the Commission itself:

  • What kind of proposals would the State Conservancy consider?
  • What role would the Coastal Commission or other agencies play in implementing such a plan?
  • How would you control for economic demand driving up the prices of lodging?
  • Will there be efforts alongside this development of low-cost lodging to make connections between lower-income inland communities and opportunities to explore the coast? (e.g. school trips, subsidized summer camps, public or low cost private transportation between inland communities and beaches)

News coverage:

SB 6 – ‘Due Process for All Act’

Since the start of the Trump administration, or really since liberals became aware there would be a Trump administration, there has been a deluge of pointedly anti-Trump, pro-immigrant legislation cropping up in Sacramento. If I wrote about each piece, this blog would be exclusively an immigration-focused place, and since I have neither the time, expertise, nor inclination to do so (not to say it’s not important, but I want the opportunity to explain other laws as well), I won’t. That said, there are a slew of important immigration bills up and coming, and I’ll do my best to keep you up to date, especially if anything is pending.

The Basics

SB 6, named the ‘Due Process for All Act,’ has taken on  a new sense of urgency, as President Trump’s executive orders have thrown some immigrants into legal limbo. As it is now, California entitles unaccompanied and undocumented minors to legal services when deemed appropriate and fiscally feasible. This bill would extend that privilege to individuals in removal proceedings who aren’t otherwise guaranteed legal representation.

Who to Call

  • Your state senator. The bill has advanced out of the judiciary committee and is in appropriations.

In Depth

One of the other reasons I’m not making this blog so entirely focused on immigration is it’s not exactly my area of expertise. As a credentialed capitol reporter, that was no problem, I usually just asked a staffer to give me the CliffNotes and I was set, but now is not the time (it’s 11 p.m. as I write, legislative offices are closed), these are the questions I would have asked. I’ve added the answers I could find doing my research the old-fashioned way–actually reading the bill–in italics.

  • The bill specifies legal services for people who aren’t otherwise provided one–does this mean it’s not for people charged with a crime, as they’re entitled a public defender? Or is a public defender a right only guaranteed to documented residents/citizens?
  • How will limited legal resources be allocated/prioritized? The contracts will be awarded to non-profits legal services partially based on whether or not they already receive state/local funding and in part based on characteristics of the individuals seeking legal services, like income.
  • What is the cost to the state? What department does it come from? How is that determined? Are local governments at all concerned about incurring costs? What about the judiciary? The bill establishes a treasury fund to which private donors and philanthropists can contribute. It does not specify what part of the budget other funding for the 
  • Was this an issue prior to the Trump administration? Have you seen an increase in need for legal representation among undocumented immigrants? Is it a quantifiable difference?

News Coverage

SB 562 – Single payer healthcare for California

The Basics

  • California state Senators Ricardo Lara and Toni Atkins have introduced a bill, SB 562, which aims to establish a single-payer healthcare system covering all California residents.
  • Full text of the bill is here. It’s sponsored by the California Nurses Association, and the bill as written is not yet complete. Lara and Atkins intend to make changes in the coming months, and I imagine input from constituents and other legislators will be a big part of that.

Who to call

  • Your state legislators. Normally, I would specify your senators specifically, as that’s the house to which this bill has been introduced, but this is such a far-reaching effort, it seems appropriate to call your assemblymembers as well and offer your thoughts. The bill should head next to the Senate’s health and appropriations committees.

News coverage

In-depth

It’s rare that I get an email press release that feels like actual news. Usually, it’s legislators and lobbyists trying to draw my attention to a photo op or their opinion on something newsworthy, but it’s seldom that the content of the release is in and of itself newsworthy. When I opened this one, I can’t say I was entirely surprised, but it is a doozy: Senators Ricardo Lara and Toni Atkins have introduced legislation to create a single-payer healthcare system in California. 

It’s not just the political muscle that progressives are flexing but also the timing that makes this bill newsworthy. With Republicans in control of Congress and the White House, the country is bracing itself for the gutting or likely repeal of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. State legislators in California have promised to shield the state from such a rollback, as its effect would be most significant in the union’s most populous state where lawmakers have leaned into the ACA, engaging in policies like the optional Medicaid expansion and creating a robust healthcare market known as Covered California.

Last year, MediCal, the state’s Medicaid program, celebrated its 50th anniversary, and I attended a panel on it in Sacramento. The general feeling among most of the folks I interviewed was that California is a leader in areas like healthcare. California isn’t the first state to try this, but most efforts have failed due to a lack of public support. Vermont was the only state that ever got to implementation of such a program but discontinued it in 2014.

It will be interesting to see how this one plays out. In the past, the political cost of such a system has been too steep for American politicians to pursue (consider the political capital President Obama spent to pass the modest reforms of the ACA), but Californian progressives seem ready for a fight. The state voted overwhelmingly against Trump and has largely been seen as a bastion of resistance to his policies, having hired former Attorney General Eric Holder in anticipation of legal fights with the administration.

 

 

HR 483 – No Funding for Sanctuary Campuses Act

My goal is to focus this blog primarily on state legislation, but if a bill will affect Californians’ daily lives in a tangible way, I’ll encourage you to educate yourselves and call up your federal government! Today is one of those bills that’s been introduced in Washington but could have a major impact here in California if it becomes law.

The Basics

  • HR 483 by Duncan Hunter (CA-50) would prohibit the federal government from providing funding for federal student aid to universities that ‘violate immigration law.’

In-Depth

  • Amends Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965 to deny funding to ‘sanctuary campuses.’
  • Title IV funding is generally sources of federal financial aid: Pell Grants, National SMART Grants, Academic Competitiveness Grants (ACG), direct loans, Federal Family Education Loans (FFEL), Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG), Perkins Loans, work-study (Source: Federal Student Aid)
  • The bill defines ‘sanctuary campuses’ as a higher education institutions that:
  • – have policies that prevent employees from sharing information about undocumented students with the federal government or that prevents federal agencies from accessing such information.
  • – allow immigrants who are in violation of any federal immigration policies to receive residency benefits, such as education, or ‘harbors’ illegal immigrants.
  • The bill would require the Department of Homeland Security to maintain a running list of ‘sanctuary campuses.’
  • According to KPBS, the author of the bill, Rep. Duncan Hunter (CA-50), and his staff consider the University of California sanctuary campuses.
  • Here is the official text of the bill from the House of Representatives.

Who to call

  • Your House of Representatives member. The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, so giving your two cents to any member of that committee, or a representative from a contested 2018 California district will pack exceptional punch.

News Coverage

Explanation and Expectations

Hi all–Just dropping a line to let you know that the initial goal I’m setting for this blog is to post two actionable pieces of legislation per week. I’m a journalist, so my goal isn’t to make you call one way or another but rather to encourage people to call their elected representation with an informed opinion of pending legislation. Obviously I’m posting bills I think are important or controversial, which likely means I have strong feelings about them myself, but I’m not going to be sharing those feelings or trying to sway you in my direction. I aim to provide information that allows my readers to draw their own conclusions.

I expect the quantity of posts will change, as my life and routine does, but expect two bills per week for now (should be posting one this evening, so keep your eyes peeled). There are ways to subscribe through WordPress to get my posts via email, and you can also follow me on Medium (@alexleedsmatthews) where I will repost all materials.

In the meantime, check out this snappy explainer on the state’s legislative processes from Capitol Weekly, the outlet where I used to work. Happy calling!

SB 30 – Get your say on the border wall

The Basics

  • CA voters would have to approve the construction of any kind of border wall through the state. I know we all are probably sick of ballot propositions, but we also probably have strong feelings about the border wall and the potential increase in tequila prices if we raise import taxes on Mexican goods to pay for it.

Who to call

In-Depth

  • You can keep up with the status and full text of the bill here. Specifically, the law would require any federally funded infrastructure along the border exceeding the cost of $1 billion to be approved by voters. Does not specify whether or not that cost is contingent on whether or not we get the official IOU from Mexico.

News coverage

 

SB 54 – Make California a Sanctuary State

Known colloquially as the ‘Sanctuary State law’ or formally as the ‘California Values Act’, SB 54 is authored primarily by Senate President pro tem Kevin de Leon. The fact that the bill is called the California Values Act is meaningful, as it says something about what immigrants mean to us as a state and how state lawmakers intend to approach immigration under the Trump administration.

Here are the basics (call your rep in favor if you support these general principles):

  • Repeal requirement for state law enforcement to report undocumented immigrants who commit ‘specific controlled substances’ violations to federal authorities.
  • Prohibit state, local, and educational bodies from using resources to investigate, interrogate, detain, detect, or arrest” individuals who haven’t committed a crime for immigration purposes (for example, if someone is providing evidence or is a witness in a crime and hasn’t committed a crime themselves, law enforcement can’t use state money or resources to report them to federal immigration authorities).
  • Require state agencies and the private vendors who collect Californians’ private information to review their confidentiality policies to ensure data collected is only used for the stated purpose. The state would reimburse local bodies for any costs incurred by these provisions.

Who to call:

  • Your state senator. As of Friday, February 3, bill is currently in the Senate Appropriations Committee and needs 2/3 majority of the Senate’s approval to continue on to the Assembly and then to the governor’s desk to become law. If it passes, it will become law immediately, as it’s an urgency statute.

This is the text of the legislation for those who want to know more about the specific provisions.

News coverage of the law: