Updated Sept. 10, 10:34 p.m.
California state lawmakers wrapped up their legislative session Friday night, after months of debating bills related to the COVID-19 pandemic, schools, law enforcement and just about every other issue facing the Golden State.
The Democratic-held Legislature passed roughly 900 bills this year and delayed hundreds of others until next year.
In a rare early finish, both chambers wrapped up their business before 9 p.m. The low-drama adjournment was in stark contrast to the past two years, which saw a menstrual cup tossed from the Senate gallery in 2019 and chaos stemming from tech issues and quarantined lawmakers in 2020.
Legislative leaders touted bills on police reform, drought and wildfire preparedness and a massive state budget surplus which funds progress toward universal pre-K, expanded health care coverage for undocumented immigrants, and projects to prepare for climate impacts like sea level rise.
“It’s huge,” said Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins (D-San Diego). “I think we’ve delivered for Californians at a time when need was at an all-time high and a pandemic and uncertainty reigned supreme.”
Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood) said legislators made “tremendous strides” toward meeting goals on police reform, access to broadband and other priorities but acknowledged “more work to do” in 2022. The end of the legislative session came days before voting ends in a special recall election that will determine the political fate of Gov. Gavin Newsom.
Rendon and Atkins both denied that the election played a role in which bills were successful. But Atkins said there may be an appetite among lawmakers to revisit the process to qualify a recall, which currently requires signatures from voters equal to 12% of those who voted in the most recent statewide election.
“We've heard that people want change and we in the Legislature will take a look at that,” she said.
Here are a handful of bills passed in the final days of the legislative session.
Senate Bill 2: The most closely watched police reform bill in the wake of George Floyd’s killing and racial justice protests in 2020, Senate Bill 2 would create a process for law enforcement officers to lose their badges if convicted of crimes or some forms of misconduct. In certain circumstances, such as if an officer is convicted of wrongful death, the bill would remove immunity protections, which shield public employees from civil lawsuits.
“Police have one of the most difficult jobs on the planet,” author Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena) said in a statement after it was passed. “A decertification system puts California back on track to restoring communities’ faith in men and women of uniform who do their job well.”
Other bills in the police reform realm include Assembly Bill 48, which bars police from using tear gas and “less-lethal” projectiles on protestors.
Assembly Bill 118, known as the CRISES Act, would create a pilot program for cities or counties to shift certain emergency response calls from law enforcement to community-based organizations.
State Sen. Sydney Kamlager, a Los Angeles Democrat who authored the bill, has argued that having community members and trained mental health professionals respond to issues involving mental health crises and unhoused individuals would reduce violent conflicts with law enforcement. If signed into law, the bill would provide grants of at least $250,000 to communities to pilot the program.
Assembly Bill 9: AB 9 would create a new state workforce to handle wildfire prevention responsibilities, including forest-thinning, prescribed burns and home-hardening. Right now, Cal Fire is largely responsible for handling prevention efforts — in addition to suppressing fires.
“Year after year, even though we have increased our firefighting force and resources, wildfire prevention work has had to take a back seat because our resources have been needed virtually full time to fight fires,” said Democratic Assemblyman Jim Wood, who authored the bill, in a statement.
Experts widely agree that decades of prioritizing fire suppression over forest management resulted in overgrown wildlands primed to burn out of control. To reverse this trend, they advocate for substantially ramping up forest-thinning and prescribed burning. California has entered into an agreement with the federal government to collectively treat 1 million acres of forestland per year — a target they remain well short of.
Senate Bill 62 bans piece-rate garment production, where garment workers are paid for each piece of clothing produced. Many advocates say it results in below-minimum wage earnings for those workers.
In a win for warehouse workers, the Legislature also approved Assembly Bill 701, which would prevent companies like Amazon from imposing quotas that interfere with an employee’s ability to use the restroom or take meal breaks.
Senate Bill 742: Following a protest that caused a Los Angeles COVID-19 mass vaccination clinic to shut down earlier this year, pediatrician and state Sen. Richard Pan proposed SB 742. The bill would make it a misdemeanor to intimidate, harass or obstruct patients and workers leaving or entering a vaccine site, punishable by a fine up to $1,000 and six months in jail.
Senate Bill 98: This bill would affirm journalists’ right to attend and cover protests, rallies and other events, even in an area that has been closed by law enforcement. It would prevent police from detaining, arresting or citing news media for failing to disperse. It comes after several California journalists were detained at protests, particularly in Southern California, in 2020.
A pair of housing bills that were a major priority for Senate Democratic leadership were approved before the final week of the session. The bills, part of a housing package put forth by Atkins, would reduce barriers for new affordable housing by allowing for denser housing like duplexes and multi-units to be built on single-family lots.
Senate Bill 9 would allow homeowners to split their lots and build additional units, including duplexes, on lots zoned only for single-family housing.
Senate Bill 10 would allow cities to zone for up to 10 housing units per parcel in urban areas or places close to transit, if they choose.
Defeated or Delayed Until 2022
Climate proposal Assembly Bill 1395 suffered a resounding defeat on the final day of the legislative session. The bill would have set a goal for the state to reach net-zero emissions by 2045. Many moderate Democrats did not vote on the bill and it failed without adequate support.
Hundreds of other bills were delayed until next year under a designation known as a “two-year bill,” meaning they will be taken back up in the second year of the Legislative session in 2022.
Among them are proposals to decriminalize certain hallucinogenic drugs, ban fossil fuel extraction within a certain distance from homes and develop resilience hubs, or places where community members can gather to escape climate disasters like heat waves and wildfires.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified the bill number for the CRISES Act. It is Assembly Bill 118.
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