Local state bills take shape

Friday, May 10, 2019

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s plans to boost funding for health care, education, elections and housing and homelessness in his revised state budget were largely welcomed by San Mateo County lawmakers Thursday as the Legislature sets its sights on finalizing the details of a projected $214 billion budget next month.

Including a projection of $3.2 billion in additional short-term revenue as compared to the budget proposal Newsom introduced in January, the governor’s plan to dedicate the unanticipated funds to reserves, debt repayment and schools was lauded by Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, D-South San Francisco.

Included in Newsom’s May revisions was an additional $150 million pegged for local governments’ efforts to provide homelessness emergency aid, bringing the total dedicated to efforts combating homelessness to $1 billion. The revised state budget also provided for an estimated $5,000 more per pupil than eight years ago, proposed an expansion of Medi-Cal coverage to young adults regardless of immigration status and extended the state’s Paid Family Leave program so each parent of a newborn is allowed to take up to eight weeks of leave after the birth or adoption of their child, according to Newsom’s office.

For Mullin, Newsom’s approach toward the unanticipated revenue balanced a continued focus on fiscal responsibility with targeted investments in the state’s residents through expansions in funding for homelessness, early childhood education and health care spending, among other priorities.

“He’s approaching it in a prudent way, but he is making significant investments,” he said. “He’s definitely showing where his priorities are in terms of working families.”

Assemblyman Marc Berman, D-Palo Alto, was encouraged by Newsom’s decision to dedicate an additional $87 million to bolster the $134 million provided last year to replace and upgrade county voting systems. Acknowledging several counties in the state are home to aging voting systems, Berman emphasized the importance of ensuring voting systems are protected from outside influences.

He also looked to Newsom’s allocation of $1 million to establish a state computer science coordinator to increase access to computer science education for all students in the state.

“We have a huge equity gap in our schools in terms of the types of schools and the types of students who have access to computer science,” he said. “All of the students, regardless of where they live, should have access to higher quality education.”

State Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, was impressed with the Newsom administration’s examination of a range of line items and was glad to see the revisions affirm the governor’s commitment to education and housing and homelessness. From a focus on early child care education to a proposal to provide two years free community college tuition, Newsom’s revised budget represented an investment in all levels of education — a breath of fresh air for Hill.

“Education has been underfunded for so long,” he said. “If we don’t do something soon, we’ll never maintain our status as the innovation capital of the world.”

Though Mullin acknowledged the merits of Newsom’s budget proposal, he felt the revisions didn’t adequately address the deficiencies in overall funding for the services supporting individuals with developmental disabilities. He said he plans to work with members of the Democratic caucus to advocate for increased reimbursement rates for those services, which he noted have not kept pace with the high cost of living in places like San Mateo County.

Legislation shapes up

Newsom’s budget revisions come at a time when legislators’ bills are being shaped by various Assembly and Senate committees, which determines whether they will be put to a vote later this year. Mullin said he is continuing to stay focused on improving the state’s elections processes, proposing an amendment to the California Constitution allowing 17-year-olds to vote in primaries or special elections if they will turn 18 by the time the next general election is held. Mullin also hoped Assembly Bill 1217, which would require specific disclosures by major funders of issue advocacy advertisements, would help the public understand who is trying to influence legislation as it is crafted.

Mullin counted Assembly Bill 571 — which would align the limit on campaign contributions to elective city or county offices with the cap set for elective state offices — as among his efforts to encourage cities to adopt their own campaign contribution limits and reduce campaign spending.

Though Mullin had hoped Newsom would take the opportunity to restore redevelopment agencies in his first few months in office, he remained optimistic the topic would be taken up again next year as part of a larger effort to address the state’s housing crisis. He also pegged 2020 as a critical year for a conversation on comprehensive tax reform, noting efforts to split commercial properties from Proposition 13 protections could mark an opportunity for legislators to begin comprehensive tax reform before a major recession strikes.

Though Berman has been tracking the hundreds of housing bills moving through committees, he is hoping Assembly Bill 302, which would allow community college students to sleep in their cars overnight on campus, continues to gather bipartisan support in the coming weeks. Berman is also monitoring Assembly Bill 521, a bill he proposed to fund a firearm research center and develop physician training for firearm-related injury prevention.

From a proposed ban on flavored tobacco sales to teens and young adults to ending an exemption for clergy on mandated child abuse reporting, Hill has set his sights on a wide array of issues. By proposing Senate Bill 38, which would prohibit sales of flavored tobacco to people under 21 years of old, Hill is hoping to keep teens from developing addictions to tobacco at an early age.

Senate Bill 360 is aimed at including clergy among the professionals required to report suspected child abuse or neglect to law enforcement and amend a law exempting clergy from such reporting if they learn of suspected crimes during “a penitential communication.”

Hill’s Senate Bill 425 will require hospitals, clinics and other health facilities to report allegations of patient sexual abuse and other sexual misconduct by medical professionals. Hill said he would continue to focus on efforts to hold Pacific Gas and Electric accountable for its role in major wildfires that have taken shape across the state, having proposed several bills aimed at protecting the utility’s ratepayers from rate hikes in the event of a bankruptcy and ensuring there are strong safety components in place in the event of a utility acquisition or bankruptcy.

Hill has been pleased with the variety of issues Newsom has taken on in his first few months as governor and his personal involvement in conversations ranging from high-speed rail, the twin Delta tunnels and the death penalty. Hill appreciated Newsom’s frame of reference on many of the issues he’s taken on and commended Newsom for his willingness to engage with legislators regularly.

“He’s been extremely accessible and wants to be engaged in our Legislature,” he said. “That, I think, has been welcome and definitely necessary today because of the complexity of these issues.”