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California lawmakers send final push of bills to Newsom’s desk

The final day of the legislative session saw lawmakers tackling the biggest issues facing the state, from climate change and abortion to incarceration reform.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — The final day of the 2022 legislative session in California saw a flurry of bills sent to Governor Gavin Newsom, many affirming his visions for handling homelessness, climate change and abortion. 

Ahead of Wednesday's midnight deadline, the Democrat-controlled chambers pushed bills like Assembly Bill 1279, the California Climate Crisis Act. It codifies policy to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045, and ensure that by the same year human-caused greenhouse gas emissions are reduced to at least 85% below 1990 levels. 

Senate Bill 1020, called the Clean Energy, Jobs and Affordability Act of 2022, also passed to the governor. It makes the California Air Resources Board responsible for monitoring and regulating sources that greenhouse gases, planning for “maximum technologically feasible and cost-effective reductions in greenhouse gas emissions” and conducting public workshops — including for communities of color and low-income communities. It also sets interim targets to reach 100% carbon neutrality by 2045 — with goals to reach 90% neutrality by 2030 and 95% by 2040.

Lawmakers also pushed through a significant bill among several designed to increase protections and support for people seeking abortions and reproductive health care in California. Assembly Bill 1242, sponsored by state Attorney General Rob Bonta, would protect digital information about reproductive health handled by companies in California and prevent turnover of information in an investigation of any abortion legally performed in the state. 

It would prohibit arresting anyone for aiding or performing a lawful abortion in California and blocking state law enforcement from sharing information or assisting in an investigation of a lawful abortion with out-of-state agencies. The bill would require out-of-state law enforcement agencies seeking records from California to prove the investigation does not involve any crime related to an abortion that is legally sought in California. 

“We are forced to choose whether to stay complicit or stand up for women’s rights in California,” the bill’s author, Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan, a Democrat from Orinda, said on the Assembly floor Wednesday. “We will do everything here in California to stand up.”

The bill passed without any Republican support.

"California will not stand idly by as anti-choice states across the nation take radical action to criminalize reproductive rights. Abortion is fully legal in California and we'll fight to protect all who access reproductive healthcare in our state," Bonta said in a statement Wednesday.

On the criminal justice front, Assembly Bill 2632 will limit how long an incarcerated person can be kept in solitary confinement, making the maximum period 15 consecutive days, and at most 45 total days within a 180-day period. The bill would prohibit prisons from keeping people in isolation if they have mental or physical disabilities, or if they are under 26 or over 50 years old.

Republicans like state Senator Jim Nielsen of Tehama opposed, saying those placed in isolation are “the greatest problems within the institution.”

“This is not about cruelty to well-intentioned individuals, or even who made an error in their lives and are now paying the price,” he said. “They’re individuals who cannot even behave by society's rules in custody.”

State Senator Nancy Skinner, a Democrat from Berkeley who carried the bill, said it follows standards set by the United Nations called the "Nelson Mandela Rules," to prevent unlawful cruelty to people who are incarcerated.

“Beyond that, the U.N. has indicated that it is torture and should be outlawed,” Skinner said.

The Legislature also passed Senate Bill 1338, codifying Newsom’s CARE Court framework for addressing homelessness and requiring people to get medical treatment. It creates a system to hold local governments accountable for not complying with court-ordered treatment plans, while connecting people in crisis with court-ordered care — including short-term stabilization medications and connection to wellness support and social services like housing — for up to a year.

California will invest $14.7 billion in funding for housing and homelessness support and more than $11.6 billion annually in mental health. 

“Today’s passage of the CARE Act means hope for thousands of Californians suffering from severe forms of mental illness who too often languish on our streets without the treatment they desperately need and deserve,” Newsom said in a statement. “CARE Court is a paradigm shift: providing housing and services in the community, where people can heal – and not behind locked walls of institutions and prisons.”

Killed bills

Despite heavy amendments, lawmakers ultimately voted down Senate Bill 918. The bill would have brought new requirements to obtain concealed-carry permits for firearms in California.

Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer, a Democrat from Los Angeles who carried the bill, argued “SB 918 strikes the appropriate balance between people’s right to bear arms and the right to safe streets. Passing this bill does not take away from our state’s effort to hold criminals accountable.” 

But the bill faced opposition from Republicans and failed to pass the two chambers despite going for reconsideration.

Assembly Bill 1608 would have separated the offices of sheriffs and coroners, to increase transparency and prevent conflicts of interest during death investigations.

“When the sheriff is also the coroner, there is also an inherent conflict of interest,” said state Senator Richard Pan, a Democrat from Sacramento, reminding his colleagues that he was speaking as a practicing physician. “That conflict of interest undermines trust in the justice system.” 

The bill split Democrats in the state Senate on Tuesday, with some Democrats like Senator Bill Dodd of Napa arguing it could burden the state’s counties in costs and procedures. Republicans also opposed the bill, with state Senator Jim Nielsen of Tehama noting the coroner-sheriff system has worked for decades and called the bill an “insult” to elected sheriffs performing their duties.

An attempt at statewide cash bail reform, Senate Bill 262, also failed. 

SB 262 would have set bail at zero dollars for misdemeanors and “low-level felonies,” and required the refund of bail money if an arrestee made all their court appearances, the charges were dropped or their case was dismissed. State Attorney General Rob Bonta supported the bill and noted that 31 counties with zero-dollar bail in place have seen crime rates remain steady. It drew staunch opposition from the bail industry, the California District Attorneys Association and Crime Victims United.

After being turned down last year, SB 262 went back to the Assembly floor last week with amendments — but ultimately did not succeed. 

The Legislature also turned down an attempt to allow their own staff to unionize and participate in collective bargaining.

Senate Republicans all abstained from voting on Senate Bill 1577 while some Democrats argued their staff should have the same protections that many other public employees have. 

“It’s a bit hypocritical that the Legislature claims to fight for workers but we continue to not grant our own employees the ability to organize and collectively bargain,” said state Senator Scott Wiener, a Democrat from San Francisco. 

But other Democrats like Senator Ben Allen of Santa Monica said new amendments from the Assembly could cause issues — and their staff could strike during critical work periods, like the final day of the legislative session.

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