Police shootings. Sexual harassment. Homeless. Wildfires. Rape. Water. Marijuana. Veterans. Mental illness.
What do these topics have in common?
If you said, “Issues confronting society,” you wouldn’t be wrong.
If your answer is, “Issues tackled in Sacramento by our state representatives from the Valley,” you’re right on the money.
It’s good to know that our state legislators, for the most part, are in tune with ills confronting our families, and that they’re trying to fix some of them. New laws passed in the year’s recently concluded legislative session are a step in the right direction.
For example, it’s about time that training requirements for law enforcement were updated specifically to reduce chances that an officer will mistakenly kill an innocent person. Sen. Anna Caballero’s work on Senate Bill 230 — initially viewed as weak-sauce detraction from a stronger, farther-reaching bill — evolved into important, milestone legislation when the two merged. The result should help protect all Californians, and officers too, and is viewed as a model across the nation.
Another example is Sen. Cathleen Galgiani’s SB 530, one of several bills addressing sexual harassment in the wake of the #MeToo movement. She got a shout-out from Governor Gavin Newsom and his “first partner” wife, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, for legislation requiring sexual harassment training in the building trades.
Some efforts from area lawmakers make good sense, although they got little or no publicity.
Assemblyman Adam Gray’s AB 1588, for instance, enables veterans who gained expertise with water and sewer systems in the military to secure certification in those fields for civilian jobs. That seems a no-brainer.
And why did leaders ever remove foot surgery from a list of medical services covered by Medi-Cal, a few years ago? Thankfully, Assemblyman Heath Flora reversed that with AB 678.
Galgiani and Caballero get extra points for moving the most bills among our Valley contingent through the Legislature, and for seizing on timely and topical problems. Galgiani’s 2019 portfolio ranged from wildfires and spousal rape to mental health among prison inmates, while Caballero’s addressed hemp and mentally ill homeless.
So far, we’ve looked mostly on the bright side of this legislative season. Now for a reality check.
Newsom ended up signing 870 bills and vetoing 172. That’s a success rate of 83.5% for legislation passed by both the House and Senate and reaching his desk, for all legislators across California.
Here in the Valley, our five representatives’ success rate was only 62%, meaning their failure rate was 38% compared to the 16.5% statewide average.
We’re curious; does Newsom have something against the Valley? Or are our representatives not all that effective?
When the governor rejects legislation, he issues a veto note explaining his reasons. A look at these notes suggests that Newsom doesn’t like piecemeal solutions to large problems.
The first would have addressed climate change threats to water storage, but Newsom wants bigger, bolder answers in a more comprehensive water portfolio. Gray said he’s “unsure what to make of the veto,” because Newsom has made climate change a priority. Apparently, that doesn’t apply to water storage, Gray said.
The latter sought a plan for aging and senior housing, but the governor wants much more addressed in a broader master plan. But, “his master plan does not focus on housing, which means that more of our older adults will be left behind,” Caballero said.
And small-step solutions proposed in Galgiani’s SB 706 (heart-risk data), Caballero’s SB 487 (snowpack survey), Gray’s AB 848 (Medi-Cal-covered glucose monitors) and Flora’s AB 1732 (Manteca homeless housing) all should be brought up in overall budget negotiations rather than in separate bills, the governor said. He doesn’t want someone handing him a few marbles now and then; he wants the whole bag.
Some vetoes, truth be told, make sense.
Who could argue against Flora’s idea to make it easier for society to care for aging veterans? Well, Newsom wouldn’t appreciate ceding control to the federal government; there is some logic to that reasoning.
Who could possibly have a problem with Manteca selling at a loss city-owned land, which has sat vacant for 15 years, to a nonprofit for homeless housing? Well, the state has offered $1 billion to local agencies for shelter construction, and the governor says Flora’s plan would only increase the state’s costs.
“The governor’s veto has only served to disrupt local efforts to combat homelessness and individuals with the most needs,” Flora said.
Harder to accept was Newsom’s veto of Caballero’s proposal to have the state finance aerial snowpack surveys. This brilliant move represents a paradigm shift in how we manage a significant portion of the state’s water storage, because new technology can pinpoint snow content. That’s compared to the current decades-old method of taking estimates with snowshoes and hollow aluminum tubes, which can be off by as much as 40 percent.
The Modesto and Turlock irrigation districts have benefited from these plane-mounted surveys, developed by NASA, and Caballero wisely wants to expand that to the entire state. The reward of knowing exactly how much water mountain runoff will produce would be worth more than building a new dam — think virtual storage, rather than actual storage.
But Newsom only sees the cost: probably $150 million over the next decade, and he said “no.” That’s a bad call, and Caballero and others should regroup and try again next year. Water availability may not be the sexiest issue, but it’s among the most important facing Modesto, the Central Valley and all of California.
|Modesto-area Legislators’ Bills||Passed||Vetoed|
Assemblyman Heath Flora, R-Ripon (district includes part of Stanislaus County)
Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced (part of Stanislaus County)
Sen. Cathleen Galgiani, D-Stockton (part of Stanislaus County)
Sen. Anna Caballero, D-Salinas (part of Stanislaus County)
Sen. Andreas Borgeas, R-Fresno (Tuolumne County/part of Stanislaus County)