SACRAMENTO - Welcome to the final countdown.
Today, state lawmakers will reconvene in Sacramento after a month-long summer recess — during which some traveled abroad on trips funded by special interest groups that lobby them on various issues — for the final, frenzied month of the legislative session.
Legislators face an Aug. 31 deadline to determine the fate of hundreds of bills. Hanging over the high-intensity process is the Nov. 8 general election, which could affect how some lawmakers — especially those vying for contested seats in the state Assembly and Senate — vote on hot-button proposals.
In a preview of the difficult decisions facing lawmakers, hundreds of fast food workers were set to rally at the state Capitol Sunday night in support of a bill that would permit the state to negotiate wages, hours and work conditions for an industry that employs an estimated 700,000 people. A similar measure failed to pass last year.
The proposal, backed by labor unions and opposed by business and restaurant groups, has divided Democrats, some of whom are wary of broadly extending liability for labor violations from fast food franchise owners to the corporate chains they work with, CalMatters reporter Jeanne Kuang notes.
But that’s just one of the many controversial bills before lawmakers, some of which face votes as soon as today. Here’s a look at some of the key bills CalMatters is watching, broken down by subject area:
- Abortion. With California voters deciding in November whether to enshrine the right to abortion and contraception in the state constitution, lawmakers are considering more than a dozen bills to increase access and strengthen protections. Perhaps the most contentious proposal is Oakland Democratic Assemblymember Buffy Wicks’ to prevent women from being held civilly or criminally liable for their pregnancy outcomes. Opponents have argued the bill would legalize infanticide, which Wicks says is categorically false.
- Guns. Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling dramatically expanding gun rights, Democratic lawmakers countered with a bill they said would comply with the opinion while also making California’s concealed carry law more restrictive. If passed, it’s all but certain to be hit with legal challenges from gun rights groups.
- COVID. Legislators still have to determine the fate of some of the most contentious bills introduced by Democrats’ vaccine working group, including proposals to allow kids 15 and older to get vaccinated without parental consent and another to categorize doctors’ “dissemination of misinformation or disinformation” related to COVID-19 as unprofessional conduct.
- Housing and homelessness. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s contentious proposal to force severely mentally ill Californians into treatment and housing is facing critical votes, as is a bill that aims to increase affordable housing construction but has divided influential labor groups.
- Nursing homes. Lawmakers will consider a bill to reform California’s nursing home licensing system, whose sponsors say it was watered down so severely they can no longer support it. After a CalMatters investigation last year, legislators warned that “people are dying as we wait.”
- Labor and workplace. Legislators have quite a few high-profile labor bills on their hands, including one to allow their own staffers to unionize and another to force companies to publicly disclose more data about pay gaps. They will also decide, after two Newsom vetoes last year, whether to allow farmworkers to vote by mail in union elections and to increase payments from the state’s paid family leave program so more low-wage workers can take time off to care for a newborn child or sick family member.
- Criminal justice. Amid an ongoing debate over criminal justice reform, legislators will consider a proposal to block prisons, jails and private immigration detention centers from holding people in solitary confinement for more than 15 consecutive days. They’ll also decide whether to limit prosecutors’ ability to seek either the death penalty or life without parole for accomplices in certain felony murders who neither killed nor intended to kill.
- Environment. Not long after Newsom signed a law requiring all single-use packaging and foodware to be recyclable, reusable, refillable or compostable by 2030, lawmakers will determine whether to force online retailers to reduce the use of single-use plastics such as bubble wrap and styrofoam peanuts.
- Internet and tech. The Capitol is bracing for a showdown over a pair of bills — both of which are facing intense pushback from the tech industry — to significantly expand kids’ privacy rights online and to allow public prosecutors to hold social media companies civilly liable for intentionally addicting youth. Lawmakers will also decide whether to slap regulations on the cryptocurrency industry. The votes come as some legislators are set to gather with tech lobbyists later this week at a Napa Valley resort for a two-day event billed by organizers as the Technology Policy Summit.
(Emily Hoeven writes the daily WhatMatters newsletter for CalMatters. Her reporting, essays, and opinion columns have been published in San Francisco Weekly, the Deseret News, the San Francisco Business Times, the Flathead Beacon, the Daily Pennsylvanian, and the Mercury News. Emily graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a BA in English and French and studied English at the University of Cambridge, England as a Thouron Summer Prize fellow. She speaks French fluently and spent a year teaching English in Châteauroux, France. This article was featured in CalMatters.)