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California Legislature moves hundreds of bills on final day

The fate of bills that passed the Senate and Assembly now rests in the hands of Governor Gavin Newsom, who has one month to sign or veto the measures.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — A festival-like atmosphere began to appear in the State Capitol at times on Thursday as California state representatives tackled some the session's most-watched measures on the final day of the 2023 legislative session.

Cheers periodically escaped from a large meeting room where senators gathered during the dinner break. Senator Steve Glazer, a Contra Costa Democrat who stood at the dais for much of the day, wore a tuxedo.

Activity in the Assembly and Senate ramped up in advance of Thursday’s deadline. The hectic final day of the session follows marathon sessions to decide the fate of some of the state's high-profile measures. The Senate and Assembly moved through over 200 bills in the day, and have tackled over 2,000 since the session began nearly nine months ago. Bills passed on this last day will head to Governor Gavin Newsom's desk, where he will have until Oct. 14 to sign or veto.


With both the Writers Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists currently on strike, union rights have been thrust into the spotlight.

Passing in a 27-to-12 vote, Senate Bill 799 would enable striking workers to access unemployment insurance benefits.

Senator Anthony Portantino, the Burbank Democrat who authored the bill, said its passage would have a minor impact on the unemployment fund. However, its recipients would feel a significant effect.

“We want people to pay their rent,” Portantino said. “We want people to put food on the table, whether they’re on strike or whether they’re not on strike.”

People would have to strike for at least two weeks before becoming eligible.

Several senators opposed the bill. Dahle, a business owner, said he pays into the unemployment fund. He called it “the most crazy thing I’ve ever seen.”

“I’m surprised we even have a bill of this magnitude in this chamber,” he said.

Dahle added: “This is a labor dispute, not an unemployment dispute.”

Senator Brian Jones, a San Diego Republican, pointed to some $18 billion the state owes to the federal government. He wouldn’t support any bill that adds to that debt.

California in June 2020 began borrowing from the federal government to maintain the unemployment insurance fund’s solvency. It’s estimated that could be paid off by 2032, if nothing new impacts the fund.

Senator Shannon Grove, a Bakersfield Republican, told the chamber that the money it spends is generated by businesses, including those that are already struggling.

“This is just an extension of a tax and people don’t call it that,” Grove said.

She added: “It’s a choice to go on strike,” adding that the state would be paying employees to bargain against their employers.

Minimum wage

A bill that would set a $20 minimum wage for qualifying fast food workers was tossed back to committee Thursday, leaving its fate unknown by press time.

In addition to setting a $20 minimum wage, Assembly Bill 1228 — written by Assemblyman Chris Holden, a Pasadena Democrat — would strip the Fast Food council, created in a law passed year, of some of its power.

The wage would become effective April 1. The council could implement annual increases at no more than 3.5%, until Jan. 1, 2029, when the council ceases. The bill would become effective only if a referendum focused on fast food workers is withdrawn by Jan. 1.

The bill had passed the Senate earlier that evening and returned to the Assembly for a final vote. However, a procedural move punted it to the Assembly Committee on Labor and Employment. It then returned to the full Assembly after a 5-to-zero vote.

Senator Maria Elena Durazo, a Los Angeles-area Democrat, said the legislation would immediately benefit people.

Senator Brian Dahle, a Bieber Republican, opposed.

“It may be dubbed a happy meal, but when you get the price for that meal, you’re going to be scared,” he said.

The bill then advanced to the Assembly in a 32-to-8 vote and continued its circuitous path that led to the late-night committee hearing.

Constitutional amendments

Assembly Constitutional Amendments 1 and 13 already had passed the Assembly by two-thirds and had to garner the same threshold on Thursday in the Senate.

ACA 1, expected to reach the November 2024 ballot, would reduce the vote needed at the polls from two-thirds to 55% in local elections for general obligation bonds and some special taxes for housing and infrastructure. Supporters have said local governments need the lower threshold, as a two-thirds majority is too high. Additionally, requiring that high a percentage of votes to pass is undemocratic.

Opponents called ACA 1 a direct attack against Proposition 13, the 1978 voter-approved initiative that requires a two-thirds vote in many cases.

“ACA 1 does not raise taxes,” said Senator Scott Wiener, a San Francisco Democrat. “It does not even change the law.”

He added: “Colleagues, our communities are in dire need of affordable and supportive housing.”

Senator Susan Rubio, a Baldwin Park Democrat, said ACA 1 ensures that a majority of voters’ voices would be heard.

“Do they want this?” Rubio asked. “It’s up to them, not up to us.”

Many Republican senators rose in opposition to the legislation. Senator Roger Niello, a Fair Oaks Republican, agreed with Wiener that ACA 1 would raise no taxes.

“But it does make it easier to raise taxes,” he added, saying there is good reason a supermajority is currently required for these tax measures to pass.

Senator Janet Nguyen, a Huntington Beach Republican, called ACA 1 a direct attack on Proposition 13. Californians already pay the highest taxes in the nation, she said.

The measure passed 29 to 10.

Its author, Assemblywoman Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, a Winters Democrat, was on the Senate floor as the Senate debated her bill. She praised its passage on X, formerly called Twitter.

“I am extremely overwhelmed and grateful to my colleagues, sponsors, stakeholders, and advocates for their unwavering support of ACA 1 throughout these years,” her account posted.

ACA 13 — which would require a ballot measure proposing to increase a vote threshold needed for a future initiative to meet that same higher threshold — passed 28 to 9. Supporters want it to be on the March ballot.

Glazer said the process to bring an issue to the ballot has seen abuse. Senate President pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins referenced a proposed ballot initiative that, if passed, would require a two-thirds vote of both chambers of the Legislature, as well as a majority vote of the people, for any new or higher taxes.

Senator Kelly Seyarto, a Murrieta Republican, opposed the bill. He said local governments can continue to place certain taxes on the ballot as general taxes, which require only a simple majority. Specific taxes require a two-thirds vote.

The California Chamber of Commerce has said ACA 13 would limit voters’ ability to reduce taxes. It said the initiative would affect citizen-proposed ballot measures, requiring the higher vote threshold. However, it wouldn’t affect those put on the ballot by the Legislature or local governments.

Categories:Government, Law, Politics

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