SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – A Southern California lawmaker’s effort to punish companies that build President Donald Trump’s $21 billion border wall narrowly cleared its first hurdle Tuesday, amid concerns it could inject politics into the state’s lucrative bidding process.
Under Senate Bill 30, state agencies would be barred from doling out new bids or extending contracts with construction companies that help build Trump’s contentious 2,000-mile border wall.
The proposal by state Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, cleared its first policy committee by two votes, buoyed by the support of Democrats and labor and environmental groups.
“By not supporting this bill you are consenting to the policies of hate and xenophobia,” Lara passionately told the Senate Governmental Organization Committee. “I’m asking you to be on the right side of history.”
Lara’s proposal is backed by a coalition of environmental and labor groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Service Employees International Union. They warned that enhanced border walls could decimate protected species no longer able to cross between Mexico and California, including the California bighorn sheep.
“The environmental impacts would be devastating if we were to continue to construct another 600 miles,” Kim Delfino from Defenders of Wildlife testified.
Backers also said Trump’s “big, beautiful wall” would delay cargo shipments and increase border congestion that already causes billions in economic damages to the state each year.
State Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, said the border wall would stunt his efforts to decrease wait times at the southern tip of California, which the Department of Homeland Security has pegged as a likely candidate for the wall’s first section. He said a bigger wall wouldn’t improve security at San Diego’s border crossings, which are among the busiest in the Western Hemisphere.
“We have a presidential administration that sees fit to waste approximately $9 billion into a project that will accomplish nothing in security,” Hueso said. “I think we have an obligation as a community and a state to fight for where our tax dollars are spent.”
The federal government says over 200 companies expressed an interest in submitting prototype designs for the border wall, but it is unclear how many actually submitted bids before the April 4 deadline. Contracts are supposed to be awarded and announced in June.
Critics said banning companies from state projects for participating in the wall would create a dangerous precedent and allow political intervention in future controversial projects. They also argued that increased border security is necessary despite the enormous projected cost.
“What we’re doing here is very dangerous in that we’re creating a slippery slope and handpicking projects that are not politically favorable to the California Legislature,” said Felipe Fuentes, lobbyist for the Associated General Contractors of California.
Fuentes, a former Los Angeles City Council member, said SB 30 would create a blacklist of contractors helping with border security and agreed with the opposition that it would be precedent-setting.
The bill advanced to the Senate Appropriations Committee on an 8-3 party-line vote. Three Democratic members did not take a position on the proposal which required simple majority approval.
The committee’s analysis of the bill raised similar issues that were highlighted by Republicans and the construction lobby.
“If the state of California is prohibited from awarding or renewing contracts with companies that have worked on the border wall, would that begin a slippery slope of adding other projects to that list? What would that mean for the competitive bidding process?” the analysis states.
A related bill in the Assembly would prevent the state’s massive pension funds from making new investments or renewing investments of retirement funds with a company that works on the new border wall. Assembly Bill 946 is scheduled for a committee hearing on May 3.
“The border wall is a symbol of bigotry, divisiveness and waste that goes against California’s values. We are determined to resist the wall and halt its construction by using all the leverage we have with pension fund investments and state contracting,” San Diego Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher said of AB 946.