The end of California’s legislative session was beleaguered by COVID-19, wildfires, a tanked economy and a looming eviction crisis. Tempers also flared Monday night, forcing multiple breaks from debate as Senate Republicans — already quarantined and forced to vote remotely over Zoom — complained they were being silenced by the Democratic supermajority.
Motivated by a pile of bills to push through and slow-moving deliberation, Senate Majority Leader Bob Hertzberg motioned to limit debate to two speakers per bill, who would be allowed to speak for two minutes each.
Republicans objected — “This is bullshit,” Sen. Melissa Melendez was heard saying over a hot mic — but were overruled.
After a dinner break, GOP lawmakers found they were not allowed to unmute their Zoom microphones without permission.
“The Democrats in the California state Capitol have banned us from the building and now they have banned us from participating in debate,” Republican Senate Leader Shannon Grove said in a Facebook live. “The Democrats have completely locked us out.”
After nearly 90 minutes, leaders from both parties agreed to a “reset” and withdrew motions limiting debate. However, things got tense again near the end of the night: The Senate attempted to pass a bill as the clock struck midnight, and Republicans raised constitutional concerns.
This night’s showdowns came after nearly all GOP senators were forced to participate and vote remotely, due to Republican state Sen. Brian Jones testing positive for the coronavirus last week. Jones had attended a floor session and an in-person Republican caucus lunch, exposing all his party colleagues, except Sen. Jim Nielsen, who for nearly a week has been the only Republican on the Senate floor.
In another apparent first, Asm. Buffy Wicks was debating bills while holding her new baby. Assembly leaders had paved the way for proxy voting after members and staff tested positive for the coronavirus earlier this summer, but a Wicks aide said the Assemblywoman was denied permission to participate remotely.
Still, each chamber worked through roughly 100 bills on their final day, before adjourning after midnight. The Senate kept passing bills until shortly after 1 a.m.
The following is a look at some of the bills lawmakers sent to Gov. Gavin Newsom, and others that didn’t:
Lawmakers passed and Newsom signed AB 3088 — one of the most closely watched bills during the session’s homestretch — extending a halt to evictions for unpaid rent as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a statement late Monday, Newsom said the bill was a “bridge” and called on the federal government to step in to help stabilize housing markets.
“We need a real, federal commitment of significant new funding to assist struggling tenants and homeowners in California and across the nation,” he said.
The state’s eviction moratorium was set to expire this week if lawmakers didn’t take action.
Newsom and legislative leaders announced a deal on AB 3088 late last week. It pauses evictions through January 31 as a result of unpaid rent during the first six months of the pandemic. To be eligible for the protections, renters would have to fill out documents certifying they were impacted by COVID-19. Tenants would also have to pay at least 25 percent of their rent starting in September.
The bill, however, does not forgive any missed rent payments. Landlords could recoup any unpaid sums in small claims court starting in March.
Evictions not related to unpaid rent — for example, as a result of nuisance complaints or the owner remodeling, for example — could restart when the current eviction moratorium ends September 2. The legislation would also offer some foreclosure protections for small landlords.
Democratic Asm. David Chiu, who carried the bill, acknowledged that the proposal is a short-term fix that will have to be revisited in the new year — a sentiment reiterated by other lawmakers who spoke on the legislation.
"This bill is an imperfect but necessary solution to an enormous crisis,” he said while speaking on the floor.
Despite a strong push for an array of police reform bills, some sweeping proposals sought by advocates (and celebrities) stalled on the final night of the session as the clock ran out.
Lawmakers did not debate SB 731, which would have created a process to strip the badges from officers convicted of certain crimes or hit with misconduct charges. California is one of only a handful of states without such a process.
Time also ran out for SB 776, which would have made more complaints of police violence subject to open records laws and require those complaints, which are currently retained for five years, to be retained indefinitely.
Both bills were targeted by three of the state’s largest law enforcement groups last week, which sent a joint letter calling for more time and vetting for the proposals. “Unfortunately, these two proposed bills were crafted virtually overnight and in silos — and would have unknown impacts to public safety, some of which could place both officers and members of the public in real danger,” the statement read.
Another bill, AB 66, which would have banned rubber bullets, tear gas, and other “less-lethal” crowd control tactics on protestors, also failed when time ran out.
But lawmakers approved other, more moderate reforms aimed at stepping up oversight and accountability in police departments.
AB 1506 would require state-led investigation into police shootings of unarmed civilians and would allow local governments to request an investigation into other killings. Democratic Asm. Kevin McCarty has been pushing the bill for years, even before Stephon Clark was shot and killed by police in his grandparents’ Sacramento backyard in 2018.
“We’ve seen too many families grieving senseless killings of African Americans and people of color by law enforcement and this must stop,” said Democratic Senate sponsor Bill Dodd.
Both chambers also approved a wholesale ban on police use of the carotid and other chokeholds through AB 1196.
AB 1185 would allow counties to implement sheriff’s review boards or an inspector general to oversee the department and launch investigations, legislation that directly responds to tensions in Sacramento County between the sheriff and the inspector general.
Another measure sent to Newsom, AB 1299, would make it more difficult for police departments to hire officers with marks on their records.
Other COVID-19 Bills
Hospitals, nursing homes and other medical practices are required to keep a stockpile of personal protective equipment for their employees under SB 275. The measure comes after complaints poured in from hospital workers who said their employers did not provide adequate PPE in the early months of the pandemic.
The Senate kept working after midnight to pass certain bills that didn’t fall under the Aug. 31 deadline, including SB 1447, which extends tax credits up to $100,000 for small businesses who hire new workers. Sponsor Sen. Steven Bradford said it was aimed at businesses — largely minority-owned establishments — that did not receive federal Paycheck Protection Program loans.
AB 5 Update
Under AB 2257, musicians, journalists, real estate appraisers and a slew of other professionals would get exemptions from AB 5, a law signed last year that required the reclassification of many contractors to employees.
As employees, those workers would get workplace benefits, like health insurance, and protections, like workers’ compensation. But some groups of professionals objected, claiming they lost work because employers did not want to bring them on as employees.
The passage of the bill caps off a long, and at time contentious, series of negotiations over who should get a carve-out from the law, and what that would look like.
Flavored Tobacco Ban
Despite intense lobbying from the tobacco industry, California now has one of the strictest laws on flavored tobacco products.
SB 793 was inspired by widespread reports of lung injuries linked to e-cigarettes and vaping that began to surface in 2019. It bans all flavored vape cartridges and other tobacco products including menthol cigarettes — only providing exemptions for hookah products and premium cigars.
Newsom signed the bill Friday, hours after it was approved by the Senate. But by Monday night, a referendum had already been filed over the bill.
Other Misc. Bills
AB 1876 would extend a tax credit for lower-income earners to all undocumented immigrants. In June, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill to extend the Earned Income Tax Credit, worth hundreds of dollars for eligible families, to undocumented immigrants with children under 6. Now he’ll have to decide whether to extend it to all undocumnted immigrants who meet the income requirements. The California Budget and Policy Center estimates 500,000 to 700,000 people could benefit from the expanded tax credit.
As firefighters work to contain massive and fast-burning wildfires without the help of inmate ground crews sick with coronavirus, lawmakers approved AB 2147. The measure will allow nonviolent offenders who volunteer for the firefighting crews to have their records expunged.
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