California state lawmakers completed their two-year legislative session Wednesday night, capping months of debate over bills to address housing, labor, reproductive rights, climate, energy and more.
Those measures are now in the hands of Governor Gavin Newsom to sign or veto.
While the final night of the session lacked the drama of previous years, lawmakers considered a number of bills after their usual midnight deadline — the state constitution allows for later votes on certain bills, including those that require a two-thirds vote to pass.
Lawmakers gaveled down at 1:31 a.m.
The Legislature will look markedly different next year. Roughly two dozen lawmakers are term-limited, retiring or seeking other offices this year. Several have already resigned.
Here’s a look at some of the consequential measures passed in the final days of the session:
The Legislature overwhelmingly approved Newsom’s proposal to create a new civil court system to evaluate and require treatment for thousands of Californians suffering from addiction and severe mental illness.
Known as Community Assistance, Recovery and Empowerment Court — or CARE Court — the program would allow first responders and family members to petition a county judge to order treatment for people suffering from addiction or severe mental illness.
The state Senate approved it 40-0 in its final vote on Wednesday. But civil and disability rights groups, along with some advocates for unhoused residents, have argued CARE Court would violate civil rights and criminalize homelessness.
Speaking on Tuesday, Assembly member Al Muratsuchi (D – Torrance) said he reluctantly supported the bill.
“I’m not celebrating. I don’t think this is a great bill,” Muratsuchi said. “But it seems to be the best idea that we have at this point to try to improve a God awful situation.”
Supporters of the bill, including the governor, say it would be an alternative to a broken system that cycles people through jail, hospital stays and back onto the streets. Newsom’s administration estimates CARE Court would serve 7,000 to 12,000 people per year.
Damian Dovarganes / AP Photo
On Monday, lawmakers approved AB257, which would give stronger bargaining rights to the more than half-a-million fast food workers across the state. The bill would set up a fast food council made up of workers, franchise owners and franchising companies like McDonald’s. The council would negotiate employee wages, working conditions and hours at fast food and other fast-casual eateries.
The bill was amended to sunset in 2029, and also caps a new minimum wage for fast food workers at $22 an hour beginning in 2023. Labor groups backed the measure, which was opposed by restaurant and business interests.
A bill to allow state lawmakers’ staff to unionize, AB1577, was voted down Wednesday afternoon. Legislative staffers are the only public employees in California who are barred from unionizing. The bill was the latest failed attempt in recent years to give them that right.
Some lawmakers in the Assembly Public Employment and Retirement Committee argued it would not solve certain issues with how staffers are paid, which would require constitutional amendments.
Assembly member Jim Cooper (D – Elk Grove) was one of the ‘no’ votes. He said he had a problem with the bill being pushed through after spring deadlines.
“Assembly members are afraid to speak up because they don’t want to be seen as going against the unions or anti-union," Cooper said. "Nobody’s anti-union. People are just pro-process. You have to have a complete process with this.”
Cooper is leaving the legislature at the end of the year to become sheriff of Sacramento County.
AB2183 would allow farmworkers to vote to unionize by mail rather than just in person. The United Farm Workers union organized a 335-mile march from Delano to Sacramento in support of the bill, which was passed by the Legislature Monday. Newsom has said he does not support the bill, and likely would not sign it, citing concerns over the mail-in voting process.
Newsom will consider a pair of bills that would allow developers to circumvent certain permitting processes in order to build affordable and market-rate housing on underutilized commercial space.
Democratic lawmakers and housing advocates hailed AB2011 and companion bill SB6 as “monumental” steps to address California’s housing shortage. Assembly member Buffy Wicks (D – Oakland) estimates her bill could eventually lead to roughly 2 million new housing units.
Lawmakers also approved a bill by Assembly member Kevin McCarty (D – Sacramento) that would require the state’s Department of General Services to make a plan to turn underutilized state office buildings into affordable housing. According to the bill analysis, DGS has already identified 92 properties that could be suitable to transition into housing.
Lawmakers voted to place a constitutional amendment on the 2024 ballot that would repeal a requirement that publicly funded affordable housing projects receive voter approval.
Lawmakers sent Newsom all but one of the emergency climate-related bills he had asked for in the final weeks of the session, though several of the proposals scraped by with just little more than a majority of votes.
Taken together, the bills codify and tweak the state’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals, aiming to reduce emissions to 85% of what they were in 1990 by by 2045. The package includes a requirement for the state to set targets for carbon sequestration and set rules for carbon capture.
A measure that would have hiked the 2030 reduction goal from 40% to 55% failed in the Assembly just 20 minutes before the midnight deadline.
Lawmakers sent Newsom a measure that would ban the drilling of new oil wells within 3,200 feet — about 0.6 miles — from homes, schools, and hospitals, community centers and other protected spaces.
The final measure of the session was a proposal to extend the life of the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, which was scheduled to shutter in 2025. But Newsom, citing a strained electric grid during heat waves like the one forecasted to settle over the west until next week, offered a proposal to loan $1.4 billion to PG&E to keep the San Luis Obispo plant open until 2035. The bill passed both the Assembly and Senate after 1 a.m. with more than the required two-thirds vote.
Earlier Wednesday, Newsom made a final push for his climate package and extension of the nuclear plant as temperatures began to rise.
“This is critical in the context of making sure we have energy reliability moving forward,” he said. “That energy does not produce greenhouse gasses.“
Lawmakers also rejected a bill that would have required large corporations to disclose their emissions.
Andrew Nixon / CapRadio
Lawmakers approved more than a dozen bills and millions of dollars to expand access to abortion, which became a priority for Democrats as the U.S. Supreme Court considered and eventually overturned the legal right to an abortion, instead returning the issue to the states.
Legislative leaders and Newsom have hailed California as a “reproductive freedom state” and “sanctuary” for patients to come and receive care.
Lawmakers placed Prop 1 on the November ballot earlier this year, which would enshrine the right to an abortion in the California Constitution.
Newsom has already signed AB 1666, which shields doctors and patients who receive or provide an abortion in California from lawsuits in other states, as well as a bill to ban insurers from charging out-of-pocket payments for abortion services.
In the waning days of the session, the legislature sent Newsom bills that would allow nurse practitioners to perform first-trimester abortions without a doctor’s supervision, shield the medical records for patients against third parties and states with abortion restrictions, and ban prosecutors from investigating or charging a person who ended a pregnancy or experienced a stillbirth or miscarriage.
Lawmakers also approved tens of millions in late budget allocations for community abortion clinics, funding to recruit and train additional providers and grants for low-income patients seeking care.
Care for Trans Children
State lawmakers also approved SB107, a bill designed to protect out-of-state transgender children and their families from civil and criminal penalties when seeking gender-affirming care.
Other U.S. states have recently passed bills criminalizing puberty-blockers and hormonal therapy. But the bill’s author, Senator Scott Wiener (D – San Francisco), said in a press release his legislation will create a refuge in California for kids and parents who flee from Texas, Idaho or any other state that criminalizes gender-affirming care.
“If these parents and their kids come to California, the legislation will help protect them from having their kids taken away from them or from being criminally prosecuted for supporting their trans kids’ access to healthcare,” Wiener said in the release on Wednesday.
Lawmakers passed and Newsom signed a handful of new gun restrictions earlier this year, speeding up the proposals in the wake of the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, which left 19 children and two teachers dead. They include a measure modeled after the “bounty hunter” provision of Texas’ abortion ban, which would allow people to bring civil action against makers, sellers and distributors of illegal assault weapons.
Newsom also signed bills that open the gun industry to liability lawsuits if their weapons are used in crimes, to crack down on ghost guns and ban marketing of firearms to minors.
Lawmakers sent additional gun reforms to Newsom’s desk in the waning days of the session, including AB2870. The measure would strengthen the state’s gun violence restraining order law — also known as a “red flag” law — by adding roommates, dating partners and co-parents to the list of people who can petition law enforcement to confiscate weapons from someone they believe to be a danger to themselves or others.
COVID-19 and vaccines
A group of lawmakers earlier this year introduced several bills to require COVID-19 vaccinations in workplaces and schools, but one by one those bills were shelved as pandemic restrictions dropped and hospitalizations stayed beneath surge levels.
One of the last remaining bills from the COVID-19 vaccine workgroup was also shelved on the final day of the session: Sen. Scott Wiener’s (D – San Francisco) controversial bill, which would have empowered some teens to get vaccinated without parental consent, was pulled Wednesday morning because he said he wouldn’t have had enough votes.
The bill would have allowed people 15 and older to receive FDA-approved vaccines without the consent or knowledge of a parent or guardian. An earlier version of the bill would have applied to kids as young as 12.
Wiener also blamed harassment and misinformation from “a small but highly vocal and organized minority of anti-vaxxers” for withdrawing the bill.
He pulled the bill hours before a rally in front of the Capitol led by a coalition of vaccine skeptics and a group called the Freedom Angels that have been linked to far-right extremist groups. The group celebrated the bill’s demise, saying the “tide has officially turned in California.”
One bill that did pass would allow the California Medical Board to discipline doctors for pushing misinformation about COVID-19 and the vaccine by classifying it as unprofessional conduct.
Lawmakers also approved an extension to the state’s COVID-19 supplemental sick leave, which is set to expire on September 30, until the end of the year. Workers can use the sick leave if they are infected with COVID-19, to care for a sick family member or to receive a vaccination. The bill would also allocate an additional $70 million — on top of $250 million approved earlier this year — to aid small businesses in paying for the sick leave.
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