Friday is the deadline for lawmakers to submit new bills to be considered this session.
There is some wiggle room, of course. After the deadline has passed, legislators can still tackle new subjects by simply taking out what’s in an existing bill and filling it with entirely new language, so long as it’s done with enough time for lawmakers to read the new material before they vote on it. Assemblywoman Tasha Boerner Horvath, for instance, has left open the possibility of regulating short-term vacation rentals by introducing a bill that for now only includes minimal “intent” language.
But the Friday deadline does provide a good opportunity to take stock of what legislators have set as their priorities moving forward. (Note: I’ve left resolutions, which often honor a person or cause, out of this tally and focused solely on bills.)
Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins: 6 bills
Atkins’ bills mostly address climate change – specifically sea-level rise and how it will impact California cities – and housing. On the housing front, she’s proposed a housing bond measure as well as a bill that would allow duplexes to be built on single-family lots without having to receive special permission.
Atkins has also written a bill that would allow the State Highway Commission to relinquish portions of the Silver Strand and the Coronado Bridge to the cities of San Diego, Coronado and Imperial Beach.
Sen. Pat Bates: 10 bills
Bates, who represents portions of northern San Diego County and southern Orange County, has revived some of last year’s bills, including one that would create a task force to study Southern California’s fentanyl crisis.
Another bill seeks to keep court proceedings open for certain criminal offenders who’ve been committed to a state hospital.
Bates has long opposed the state’s Motor Voter program, which automatically registers people to vote through the DMV. She’s written a measure this year, joined by several Republican senators, that would require courts to send information about jurors to state election officials, “and would further require a county elections official to use that information to cancel the registration of a person who is ineligible to vote,” according to the bill.
VOSD’s MacKenzie Elmer examined Bates’ bill to address coastal erosion here; and Bates disputed her characterization of the bill, then an environmentalist fired back at Bates.
Sen. Ben Hueso: 10 bills
Hueso is sticking with many of his favorite subjects this session, including bills addressing public utilities access and the Salton Sea.
One bill would expand the Moore Universal Telephone Service Act, which provides low-income families with access to telephone services.
Two of Hueso’s bills seek to address equity issues: One seeks to ensure residents have equal access to the state’s natural resources like its outdoor spaces, another is the Racial and Economic Equity Bond Act of 2021, the details of which have not yet been hashed out.
VOSD’s Jesse Marx last week explored Hueso’s bill that would allow for medical marijuana use within hospitals.
Sen. Brian Jones: 21 bills
Jones, who represents Santee and portions of East County, has the largest bill package of the San Diego delegation.
Jones, who contracted COVID-19 last year following a gathering of Republican officials, has been outspoken about his desire to rein in Gov. Gavin Newsom’s powers throughout the pandemic. To that end, he’s introduced a bill that would require social workers to be included in the top tier of emergency workers who can receive protective equipment and medicine (presumably vaccines), and one that would require the state to keep churches open even during a state of emergency.
Other bills from Jones would exempt certain sexual offenders from laws facilitating the early release of elderly prisoners, impose much harsher penalties on people who steal packages outside of people’s homes.
Assemblywoman Tasha Boerner Horvath: 14 bills
Many of Boerner Horvath’s bills deal with environmental and transportation issues, including measures to address coastal erosion and sea-level rise.
One bill would allocate $5 million “to conduct a study of higher speed and safety alternatives for the Los Angeles-San Diego-San Luis Obispo passenger rail corridor in the County of San Diego.” Others would address electric vehicle grid integration and electric bikes.
In 2019, amid the Varsity Blues college admissions scandal, Boerner Horvath requested a state audit on admissions within the University of California system. She’s co-written a bill with Assemblyman Kevin McCarty that addresses some of the audit’s findings and would establish certain admissions protocols.
Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez: 18 bills
Gonzalez’s bill package largely focuses on vulnerable members of the workforce: Her bills would bolster paid sick leave and family leave, allow legislative staffers to unionize, strengthen protections for warehouse workers, offer direct deposit of unemployment benefits and offer yet-to-be-determined protections for fast food workers.
On other fronts, she’s attempting to address the learning loss that’s taken place over the course of the pandemic, and has revived a bill reining in police use of non-lethal projectiles.
Assemblyman Randy Voepel: 11 bills
Two bills from Voepel address schools: One would establish a pilot program to teach students financial literacy, another would ensure the availability of school meals.
On the health front, one of Voepel’s bills is a direct response to the pandemic – it would impose certain COVID-19 death reporting requirements on hospitals – and another would require the Department of Health Care Services to post information and notices about ovarian and cervical health care screenings.
Assemblywoman Marie Waldron: 8 bills
Republican lawmakers have seized on problems within the Employment Development Department and used them to argue Democrats are ineffective leaders. Waldron is one of many Republican lawmakers who’s written bills reforming the department’s practices. Her measure would set tight deadlines by which the department must respond to claims.
Over the last year, Waldron has also become outspoken on Twitter about mistreatment of state prisoners, though she’s declined requests from VOSD to interview her about those concerns. One of her bills would make changes to the California MAT Re-Entry Incentive Program, which can reduce parole periods for certain offenders who enter treatment programs.
Assemblyman Chris Ward: 15 bills
Ward, the San Diego delegation’s newest member, told us at the beginning of the session that he was focused on housing, and his bill package largely reflects that.
One bill would allow the Department of Transportation to sell excess property in order to construct affordable housing, one would create a middle-income housing pilot program for the city of San Diego and two housing-related bills include minimal intent language that will presumably be filled in later.
Other bills from Ward include one that would establish regional authorities to help address climate change and one that would prohibit the sale of so-called ghost guns at gun shows.
Poor Residents Bear the Cost Burden of Clean Energy Shift
Guess what: California’s pedal-to-the-metal clean energy shift (well, faster than most other U.S. states) means we’re using less, conserving more and even generating our own from rooftops. But that doesn’t mean we’re going to pay less for it.
The amount Californians pay for energy is expected to skyrocket – especially for San Diegans – and be dumped largely on poorer people if something isn’t done quickly, according to the state’s public utilities regulator.
In a new report, the California Public Utilities Commission decided to take a deeper dive than normal into what’s behind ever-increasing electric and gas bills.
Basically, the CPUC found that as richer Californians start to shift away from purchasing power from utilities and instead electrifying homes and businesses with renewables (because they can afford to), poorer residents will be left on the hook to pay for the increasing cost of the grid. And the grid needs a lot of work to prevent wildfires from sparking and support other green goals like electric cars.
They warn if these costs aren’t “managed correctly” it could make already cash-strapped customers prone to pay more, even in the near future.
“It will be essential to employ aggressive actions … to protect lower-income ratepayers from cost shifts and bill impacts,” the report reads.
Since 2013, energy rates charged by San Diego Gas and Electric have risen 48 percent. That’s the highest among the state’s three investor-owned utilities. And it’s mainly due to building out distribution lines (low-voltage lines that carry energy from substations to homes or businesses), the report says.
But CPUC warns the high cost utilities have calculated to battle wildfires under state orders to do so are another looming cost burden that ratepayers haven’t really felt yet. That, plus the cost to build out infrastructure to support electric vehicles, which Gov. Gavin Newsom has made a top priority. He mandated all new in-state car and truck sales to be zero-emission vehicles by 2035, for instance.
In the next decade, SDG&E’s rates are expected to increase by almost 5 percent each year on average. The other two utilities are expected to charge 3.5 percent more each year.
The average energy bill for a San Diego homeowner on a hot day was $270 a month in 2020. By 2030, the CPUC expects it could average $421 a month, according to the report.
SDG&E spokeswoman Helen Gao said in an email that the utility shares the CPUC and others’ concern about the “upward pressure” on rates from multiple policy mandates and the impact that higher utility bills have on working families struggling to pay the already high cost of living in California.
“For several years now, SDG&E has advocated for rate reform to reduce inequity on issues such as the high usage charge, seasonal rates and the cost shift associated with self-generation,” Gao wrote.
The CPUC and representatives from the three utilities are meeting publicly Feb. 24 to discuss the report’s findings and future of utility rates.