The California state capital building in Sacramento, Calif., on March 11, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
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Approximately 300 bills failed to pass California’s Assembly and Senate Appropriations Committees on May 18, with lawmakers potentially eyeing the state’s $31.5 billion deficit in failing to advance the legislation, following Gov. Gavin Newsom’s May budget revision announced a week before.
The bills were part of what is known as a suspense hearing, with the Senate referring any proposals with a minimum $50,000 effect to the committee, while the Assembly committee considers those exceeding $150,000. Those that survive are reviewed by the other house’s appropriations committee before being sent to the floor for final consideration.
When Assembly Bill 335 targeting retail theft failed to pass, author Assemblyman Juan Alanis (R-Modesto) expressed his disappointment with the decision.
“Instead of doing the right thing, the appropriations committee turned their back on a bipartisan proposal that was negotiated in good faith, which earned bipartisan support when it passed
unanimously from the Public Safety Committee, and instead they shamelessly kicked the can down the road once more,” Alanis said in a press release. “The inaction today by the appropriations committee isn’t just shameful, it’s harmful to all of California.”
Alanis questioned the rationale behind the decision to kill the legislation.
“There is absolutely no fiscal or non-political argument the appropriations committee could make as to why [the retail theft] bill should not have been sent to the floor for a full vote,” Alanis said. “Californians, and our retail businesses, deserve to know the real data behind retail theft.”
More than 1,100 bills were considered in the fast-paced sessions, with many decisions made prior to the hearing. The few that required roll call votes were often split by party line, and the Democratic party’s supermajority voted in unison in most instances, allowing contested bills to proceed.
Nearly 900 bills were passed by the committees, with the Senate approving 71 percent of those considered and the Assembly approximately 78 percent.
During a press conference announcing the May budget revision, Newsom advised caution when passing bills.
“We’ve got all these amazing bills, but we’ve got to get this done in the budget,” he told lawmakers. “We have a collective responsibility … I want a deeper understanding of the nature of the budgetary restraints.”
Progressive Bills Delayed
While no mention of the budget deficit was made in either hearing, cuts to the Democratic majority’s long-sought-after legislation promoting abortion access, climate initiatives, gun control, and homelessness suggest lawmakers are mindful of the predicament.
“It is a different time that we have to operate in, so it is a lens that we have to look through all the bills,” Assembly Appropriations Committee Chair Chris Holden (D-Pasadena) told reporters after the hearing. “To the extent there were some real pressures that we thought we needed to address, we did.”
Proposals that failed to proceed included 25 climate-related bills, signaling that even efforts supported by lawmakers and the governor are subject to cuts given the current state of the budget.
Attempts to improve electric vehicle infrastructure were struck down in both houses, as were bills that would allow for electric vehicle charging payment and sharing service grants—which provide funding for companies that have zero emissions vehicles for ride-sharing at low-income housing facilities.
Incentives and tax exemptions for transition to zero emissions vehicles and multiple pieces of legislation tied to hydrogen fueling stations were also denied.
Bills Targeting Oil Industry Failed to Pass
Decarbonization plans were not spared either, with Sen. Dave Min’s (D-Irvine) Senate Bill 527—establishing a program to further limit carbon emissions—and Senate Bill 12, introduced by three Democratic lawmakers aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, failing to pass.
SB 12 sought to further reduce carbon emissions by 55 percent of 1990 levels by 2030 as compared to the 40 percent currently mandated by law, and its failure was met with stiff resistance from climate advocacy groups.
“SB 12 would have brought California closer to our allies on the global stage, created hundreds of thousands of jobs in the clean energy sector, and channeled investment toward climate solutions,” Nicole Rivera, government affairs director of the Climate Center—a climate solutions think tank based in Santa Rosa, California—said in a statement on May 18. “The world is desperate for climate leaders like California to step up—SB 12 was a chance for us to answer that call and the Appropriations Committee let us down.”
The failure of Sen. Lena Gonzalez’s (D-Long Beach) Senate Bill 556—imposing penalties of up to $1 million for health-related issues associated with nearby oil and gas wells— left the author of the bill equally frustrated with fellow colleagues’ decision to shelve the proposal.
“I am extremely disappointed that SB 556, to hold oil and gas companies accountable for health harms they cause, will not be moving forward this year,” Gonzalez said in a statement released after the hearing. “Today, we missed a key opportunity to advance legislation … but today’s decision does not mean we stop here.”
Oil industry experts welcomed the wins and noted the costs to Californians if SB 556 had passed, with litigation estimates running from hundreds of million to several billion, according to industry analysts.
Opioid Crisis Response Stalled
Bipartisan fentanyl bills were also stalled by the committees, with three pieces of legislation denied. This follows the majority of fentanyl proposals failing to pass public safety committees earlier this year.
Those that did not pass the appropriations committees include Assembly Bill 675, introduced by Assemblywoman Esmeralda Soria (D-Fresno), which would have prohibited the simultaneous possession of fentanyl and a loaded firearm.
A proposal to require bars, gas stations, public libraries, and hotels to stock overdose reversal drugs and post instructions for employees about when and how to administer an opioid antagonist like naloxone—Assembly Bill 24—met the same fate, as did Sen. Melissa Hurtado’s (D-Sanger) Senate Bill 472, also targeting overdose prevention by requiring all public schools to stock at least two doses of naloxone for opioid overdose reversal medication.
Before the bills were killed, Democratic lawmakers on both the Assembly and Senate Public Safety Committees voiced their approval of the overdose prevention approach as opposed to increased enforcement measures.
While many key pieces of legislation were sidelined, the committees approved hundreds of bills that were contested by lawmakers and public advocacy groups.
Senate Bill 94—allowing for the reconsideration of sentencing and parole hearing for murderers sentenced to death row—will potentially become law after passing by split party vote.
A bill opposed by law enforcement agencies across the state that prevents the use of K-9 officers when making arrests or controlling crowds was also approved.
With nearly 900 bills approved, concerns about the budget will be debated by the Legislature in the coming weeks, with the governor leading the discussions by demanding prudence and telling lawmakers to not pass bills they know will not be signed into law.
“It is misleading people,” Newsom said when announcing revisions to his budget proposal on May 18. “It makes them think when something passes it is going to happen, when in fact it doesn’t line up with budgetary realities.”