By Gregg Fishman.
September 11, 2015, 10:00 a.m. in Sacramento. On this last gasp of summer, the mercury is rising to a high of about 102, the fourth day in a row of triple-digit heat. It’s the last day of the legislative session and lawmakers are facing decisions on nearly 100 bills on everything from climate change and medical marijuana to assisted suicide.
CSAC legislative staffers were here late Thursday tracking last-minute amendments and dashing across the street to the Capitol to confer with legislators or their staff on priority issues. Two big items, transportation funding and fixing the MCO tax, won’t happen this week. Both needed a two-thirds vote, and neither one got it despite several decent proposals. There are special sessions for both issues so today’s deadline doesn’t apply and the work will go on into the fall. It does make you wonder if a real deadline isn’t good to have sometimes.
Another big issue, a three-legged stool called SB 350, is aimed at reducing greenhouse gasses. One of the legs, cutting reliance on fossil fuels for transportation by 50 percent, is off the table. The oil industry put a huge effort into killing that part of the bill and the kabuki dance on that issue is over. The two remaining legs of the bill would increase energy efficiency in buildings and increase the amount of renewable energy California utilities have to provide to their customers. Those legs are still moving through the process.
At 12:30 many legislators take a break to join the thousands that have gathered on the steps of the Capitol to celebrate the three “Hometown Heroes” who foiled a terrorist attack on a French high-speed train. It is no coincidence that this date was chosen for the parade and rally as it is also the 14th anniversary of the 9-11 terrorist attacks. It is against this backdrop of pride and patriotism that the last day of the session is playing out.
At 1 p.m. CSAC Legislative Director DeAnn Baker and I are with about 10,000 other Sacramentans who are mobbing the west steps of the State Capitol as the three heroes are feted in grand style. Dozens of Legislators have taken time out from the frenzy inside the Capitol to participate in a wholly different kind of frenzy out here. Leadership from both houses and the Sacramento Board of Supervisors participate. It’s hard to pass up a photo-op with real-live heroes!
We return to the office to meet with the rest of the CSAC legislative staff in the conference room for a strategy session and we join them in polishing off some Chinese food for lunch. The big screen TV is tuned to the Assembly floor where the acting speaker is trying to get enough members into the room for a quorum. He succeeds, and by about 1:15 work continues with the drone of floor speeches and votes—they are back in stride.
The CSAC legislative staff is busy for a couple of reasons. A lot of things can happen in the waning hours of the session. There are still bills in play, and there is still time to have some influence. And, they are also writing to report out on issues that have been decided. What they do in the Capitol is important. So is making sure people in counties know about it.
Later in the afternoon, I confer for a few minutes with legislative representative Dorothy Holzem about SCA 8. It’s dead—but just like Wesley in the “Princess Bride,” it might be only mostly dead! SCA 8 would have required several large counties to increase the size of the Board of Supervisors. CSAC is opposed because this should be a local decision, not one driven from Sacramento. The bill “died” yesterday, but could get resurrected. It would take Miracle Max, but it could happen. CSAC is working with key legislators to hold the line on votes and Supervisors from impacted counties to make direct calls to their legislators. Together, we all have fun storming the castle. It’s all about the relationships.
I get a media call about the medical marijuana deal. A reporter from a financial trade publication wants to know what CSAC thinks about the local tax provision. The problem is, the “deal” isn’t in bill form yet, and we can’t take a position based on what’s trending on Twitter.
Karen Keene is plugged in to this issue. She gets the bill language as soon as humanly possible, but it’s still too late for the reporter’s deadline. He’ll have to wait till next week. But soon Karen puts out an analysis that says the compromise looks OK to us. It does include local taxing authority—plus several other things we have been advocating for. We both agree that the term “marijuana deal” doesn’t mean what it used to.
It’s almost 5 pm and Karen is at the Capitol “doing marijuana.” Too many good lines to pass up on this issue. She is testifying in favor of SB 643, one of three bills that comprise the deal. Karen is trying to make sure that what we like in the bill stays in the final version. What do we like? Well, it’s all right here in our “joint marijuana letter.” Sorry, I just can’t help myself. On this issue we worked very closely with our sister organizations: the Urban Counties Caucus and Rural County Representatives of California — hence the “joint letter” reference.
SB 406 is on call on the Assembly Floor—and Faith Conley is hoping it stays that way until midnight. She’s spent days working to ensure it dies where it is. “On call” means it fell short of enough votes when it first came up, but the author put it on hold, hoping to corral a few more aye votes. The bill would expand the Family Medical Leave Act. That doesn’t sound so bad, but it would mean the same employee could get 24 weeks of paid leave to take care of multiple family members. I sympathize with someone in that position, but counties — especially smaller rural ones — can’t afford that. They just can’t!
Darby Kernan just let me know that sometimes “droning on” in the Capitol is a good thing. CSAC is in strong support of SB 168 which “creates a crime for unmanned aircraft system (UAS) interference with firefighting activities and grants civil immunity to public entities, public employees, and unpaid volunteers and private entities acting within the scope of authority who damage a UAS in the course of providing a variety of emergency services.” That means it would be illegal for some idiot to fly a drone into a fire or other emergency scene and get in the way of people trying to help. And, if the first-responders happen to damage or destroy the drone, tough luck! It passed out of the Assembly Privacy Committee.
It’s about 6 pm, and Farrah McDaid Ting just let me know that the Senate Health Committee approved the Medicaid waiver stopgap bill and it’s going to the floor for a vote tonight. I know that approving the Medicaid waiver stopgap bill is a good thing, but I couldn’t tell you why exactly. Farrah can—so if you need to know, I’m sure she’d be happy to tell you. Or you can find our letters and the bill history here. To be honest, some of the health policy stuff is so deep in the weeds you need a hula-hoe to dig it out.
At 7 pm the halls of the Capitol are crowded with staffers, lobbyists and journalists. If you can imagine a herd of cats, half with a bell tied to their tails and the other half with a mouse tied to theirs, and they all have cell phones, that’s sort of what it feels like. Half the cats are chasing the other cats, ringing their tails and talking on the phone. A few cats might be chasing their own tails. It’s hard to tell.
Most of the Legislators are “on the floor.” No, not passed out; it means they are in session on the respective “floors” of the Senate or Assembly Chambers. Lobbyists aren’t allowed in, so any influence has to go through staffers. It’s a tense, difficult and also exhilarating time to be in the Capitol.
It’s about 7:30, and pizza has just arrived at the CSAC conference room. It’s going to be another long night. There are about a dozen legislative staffers here and they dig in while working on the remaining priority issues and watching the Senate floor action on the big screen TV. Senator Mike McGuire is rising to speak in favor of two of the marijuana bills. They pass pretty easily. For some reason, the third one is late getting back over from the Assembly. After some technical hang ups, the third bill eventually comes back and passes before midnight.
Cara Martinson is following SB 350 in the Assembly, so she’s around the corner in her office watching on her computer. The two remaining legs are not nearly as controversial as the fossil fuel provision that was removed, so it too passes relatively easily. And just like that, the session is over. Somebody hits the “send” button, and the official CSAC end-of-session memo is out!
I didn’t stay till the bitter end but several CSAC staffers did stay because even up to the last minute, things can change. And besides, sometimes, you just have to see it through!