By Matthew Allen and Gail Delihant
The California Legislature completed its annual business in the early morning hours on September 16 and have departed Sacramento for the remainder of the year. At the time of this writing, those bills that have passed out of the Legislature have now been submitted to Governor Jerry Brown’s desk for his review. He has until October 15 to issue his signature or veto.
This turned out to be an extraordinarily active year for the California Legislature. Longtime capitol insiders have said they cannot recall a session that has dealt with the same high volume of bills and contentious issues that have been a hallmark of this legislative cycle.
This frenetic pace was driven by several factors including the election of President Trump, a two-thirds Democratic supermajority in the Assembly and Senate, and the limited presence of the moderate Democratic Caucus bloc, as it continue searching for a way to redefine itself and its message. Each of these factors had a clear impact on shaping the issues and challenges that WG and our industry faced this year.
The reaction of California legislators to the election of President Trump was immediate and swift. Legislators introduced many bills to voice their opposition to his new policies and to “safeguard” California from potential federal rollbacks on environmental, immigration, labor and water policy.
The long-simmering debate on whether to make California a sanctuary state became a priority issue and led to the Legislature passing Senate Pro Tem Kevin De Leon’s SB 54, which places limits on how law enforcement agencies in California can work with federal immigration enforcement.
Unfortunately, the debate did not stop there. Assembly member David Chiu (D-San Francisco) authored AB 450 to force private employers to require immigration agents to have a judicial warrant prior to entering their worksites and to require a subpoena prior to granting those agents access to employee records. The bill was also layered with other requirements that would have put employers in direct conflict with federal law. Recognizing that there was no pathway to stop the bill in the Legislature (many moderate Democrats did not like the bill but supported it anyway), and the likelihood that AB 450 would be signed by Governor Brown, WG worked closely with other industry partners and the business community to amend the bill to eliminate the clear conflicts with federal law and to reduce liability exposure for our members.
WG was also part of a coalition that helped to defeat SB 49, which was another bill by Senator De Leon that would have blanketed many federal laws that were in effect under the Obama Administration onto California without a case-by-case analysis on the merits.
Although 2017 was not the first time that the two legislative houses have had a two-thirds supermajority of Democrats, it is the first time that the Governor and Democratic leaders actually utilized that supermajority to pass several bills on issues that likely would have failed in previous years.
One such example is the passage into law of the WG-opposed gas tax (SB 1), which increases several taxes and fees to raise the equivalent of roughly $52.4 billion over 10 years in new transportation revenues.
The Governor and Legislature also came to an agreement this year on renewing the Cap and Trade program in order to meet the state’s legally-mandated climate change reductions post 2020.
Unfortunately, the sheer number of two-thirds bills that legislators were forced to deal with, combined with a lack of prioritization by the Legislature concerning which bills had the most merit, was enough to overcome the tremendous amount of hard work and effort by WG, other agricultural organizations and the environmental justice community in fighting for the passage of SB 623 by Senator Bill Monning (D-Carmel). Through a modest fee on agricultural, urban and industrial water users, SB 623 would help ensure necessary upgrades to infrastructure and financial assistance for the operation and maintenance of drinking water systems in communities in need of safe and clean drinking water. This is a critically important issue for farmers because it would protect agricultural operations from being subjected to enforcement actions for exceeding nitrate levels in groundwater as long as the existing permit requirements are being followed. WG and the supporters of this bill will continue to work over the fall to garner more support for SB 623 and remain hopeful that the bill will proceed through the legislative process next year.
As we enter fall, we look back over 2017 trying to identify patterns that may help us decipher what the 2018 legislative year may bring. That has become increasingly difficult given that 2017 made the predictable, unpredictable. However, we welcome that challenge and look forward to continuing to represent your interests in Sacramento.
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