Gov. Gavin Newsom has before him about a thousand bills approved by the California Legislature that now await his fate but some are far more explosive and politically consequential than others.
These bills in Newsom’s pile could reveal how the governor is evolving as a leader, and now he has less than a month to review them.
If recent history is any judge, there may be a bill that will catch public attention and push the governor where he doesn’t want to go, as we saw last fall when marches and protests in support of the United Farm Workers Union pressured Newsom into signing a bill that made it easier for farm workers to unionize.
Here are five bills that test Newsom on the issues and with his alliances and his own personal political considerations. Some could raise questions about whether Newsom is putting his own unspecified national political ambitions above public interests depending on how he wields his pen.
California is the epicenter of a pivotal industry strike between the Screen Actors Guild, the Writers Guild of America and the consolidating production industry, with names like Netflix. The strike began in May, with no end in sight as both sides appear to have dug in.
Senate Bill 799 by Anthony Portantino, D-Burbank, would tip the economic scales more in favor of strikers by paying them state unemployment insurance during disputes with employers. And with the United Auto Workers now on a national strike, the labor movement is on complete fire just as SB 799 reaches his desk.
This bill should be vetoed by the centrist Newsom. At present, only the states of New York and New Jersey offer unemployment benefits for striking workers. The state’s unemployment insurance fund is spectacularly overextended, with California needing to borrow $18 billion merely to keep it afloat. Creating a powerful new incentive to strike, for a long time, only threatens to make that problem worse.
Signing this bill would signal a massive shift in Newsom’s positioning within the party, moving him to the left with a more populist, anti-corporate platform. That’s not him, but he would have to weather intense pressure from within the party to stay true to years of a more centrist political course.
Newsom has already said he will sign the most controversial transparency bill in the stack (Senate Bill 253 by Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco) that will require more than 5,000 large companies doing business in the state to itemize their global greenhouse gas emissions. Left unresolved is whether Newsom will support a degree of transparency about his own administration.
Senate Bill 702 by Monique Limon, D-Santa Barbara, would require administrations to annually publish demographic information on appointments made by the governor during the previous year.
Newsom has twice vetoed similar transparency bills by the same author in the past two years. Last year, the governor wrote, “implementing this bill is estimated to cost millions of dollars not accounted for in the budget to update the appointments application system to track and report additional data points. With our state facing lower-than-expected revenues over the first few months of this fiscal year, it is important to remain disciplined when it comes to spending.”
Why it would cost the administration so much money to tabulate already-existing personnel information is unclear. But In signing the corporate emissions transparency bill, Newsom was perfectly comfortable imposing millions upon millions of dollars of costs onto large corporations to track their own emissions and of companies they contract with to do business. Newsom should sign SB 702 because it is a modest expense for meaningful information about who any governor personally selects for important state duties. The Legislature, which passed this bill unanimously, should annually send this to Newsom and his successor until it is finally signed.
California is only one of 18 states that does not require insurance companies to cover hearing aids of children whose need is diagnosed soon after birth. Newsom made it clear in 2020 that he would veto a bill passed unanimously by the Legislature and preferred a government-run program over an insurance mandate. Advocates are back with the same legislation in Senate Bill 635 by Caroline Menjivar, D-Van Nuys and Portantino.
There is strong evidence that a well-intentioned state-run program advanced by Newsom is not reaching the young children who need these devices. With approximately 1,000 newborns diagnosed in the state every year with a congenital hearing problem, this is not a huge pocketbook issue. But it is a life-changing matter for these children as to whether they get these hearing aids so that they fully develop speech skills or are hobbled for the rest of their lives.
Newsom should sign SB 635 even if it is a bit of an admission that he got this issue wrong four years ago. It’s the right thing to do, and it is just that simple.
Here is an obscure bill that will reveal a lot about how much Newsom listens to his inner circle or his own common sense.
Two water districts in Southern California want to switch water suppliers and leave the San Diego County Water Authority, the long-time primary provider for the region. The county’s Local Agency Formation Commission said yes, including an exit fee intended to address impacts to the SDCWA budget. Voters in these districts are set to decide in a Nov. 7 special election.
SDCWA came to Sacramento to turn upside down the county’s long-standing boundary-adjustment process. Senate Bill 399 by Tasha Boerner, D-Encinitas threatens to undo the local action by putting it up to a vote among all authority ratepayers as a way to kill the deal. If signed, the bill would take effect next year, after the two districts have held their elections.
Signing this bill would send San Diego’s water world into chaos. But the Water Authority and Newsom have a mutual friend by hire over the years, political consultant Ace Smith. Newsom shouldn’t listen to him or anyone who thinks Sacramento’s meddling in governance affairs in San Diego is of any value. This is veto material.
The landmark tax initiative Proposition 13, passed in 1978, has endured in its popularity over the years. It has required a two-thirds voter majority to pass most bonds and the taxes to pay them. That pillar of the proposition is called into question by Assembly Constitutional Amendment 1 by Democrat Ceclia Aguilar-Curry of Winters.
ACA 1 would lower the voter threshold to 55 percent to approve affordable housing and public infrastructure projects. It still would allow a minority of voters to control taxing policy in California. Newsom should help make a historic migration away from the 1978 rebellion and toward majority rule and support ACA 1. Local measures to advance affordable housing and customer-friendly transit will rely on new revenue sources.
It is shaping up to be a crowded ballot in November 2024 when it comes to state finance. Newsom will need to find a consistent, strong voice to help shape the outcome. Supporting ACA 1 ensures that the public investments he envisioned as governor can come to fruition after he leaves office.
And now, for Gavin Newsom, it is time to decide.
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