By Dan Walters | CALmatters Columnist
The California Legislature’s 2019 session began last winter amidst great hopes and fears.
The hopes were strongest among advocates for social, medical and environmental causes and labor unions.
The state’s new governor, Gavin Newsom, was outwardly more supportive of those causes than predecessor Jerry Brown had been, Democrats had won even bigger majorities in both legislative houses, and the state’s political atmosphere was drifting leftward in reaction to President Donald Trump.
The fears were most evident among business groups because advocates for more vigorous economic regulation had been energized after years of frustration.
Presumably tanned, rested and ready — a phrase erroneously attributed to Richard Nixon — the Legislature reconvened this week for its month-long session finale to decree how many of those hopes and fears were justified.
There are nearly 1,200 bills still awaiting final action and while most are fairly mundane, there’s no shortage of high-profile, high-dollar issues, and the 1,000-plus lobbyists who work the Capitol on behalf of specific interest groups will be hustling.
This is a synopsis of issues with the most impact in the real world outside the cloistered confines of the Capitol:
HOUSING — A chronic shortage, particularly of low- and moderate-income rentals, has driven consumer costs sky-high and while Capitol politicians — Newsom especially — place it atop their agenda, nothing substantial has happened to kick-start construction.
Several attempts to overcome local not-in-my-backyard opposition to high-density housing have failed, but one measure, Senate Bill 330, has survived so far. It would declare a housing crisis and exempt some projects from local red tape but still faces stiff opposition.
Newsom, meanwhile, is embracing calls for statewide rent controls, although the details of what he wants are still fuzzy. However, rent controls could also discourage housing developers from investing, which is what SB 330 supposedly encourages, so there’s an obvious conflict between the two approaches.
EMPLOYMENT — The state Supreme Court tightened up the legal definition of employment, which may force contract workers, such as drivers for Uber and Lyft, to either become payroll employees or be fired.
Assembly Bill 5, now pending in the Senate, would carve out a few exemptions, but not nearly enough to satisfy employer groups. Unions see the Supreme Court ruling as a major boon because payroll workers can become union members, and they have a strong ally in AB 5’s author, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, a San Diego Democrat.
Gonzalez is also carrying Assembly Bill 51 to ban arbitration agreements as a condition of employment, reviving a measure that Brown vetoed, saying it “plainly violates federal law.”
REGULATION — While the Trump administration has been rolling back business regulations, Senate Bill 1 would give state regulatory agencies blanket authority to adopt pre-Trump standards, bypassing the usual processes for rulemaking. Environmental groups back the legislation, now pending in the Assembly, but business opposes it as an overreach.
RECYCLING — California’s long-standing program to reduce “solid waste” in landfills is gasping for air and two essentially identical bills, Assembly Bill 1080 and Senate Bill 54, would require manufacturers to reduce waste from packaging and certain plastic products, reaching a recycling rate of 75 percent by 2030. Business groups say it would impose a high-cost burden that would be passed on to consumers and is unrealistic.
EDUCATION — School unions are pushing legislation to make it more difficult to create charter schools, claiming that charters divert too much money, but the fates of Assembly Bill 1505 and other anti-charter measures are very uncertain.
It will be a busy month.
CALmatters is a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters.
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