This Legislative Update includes actions taken on bills in the second house prior to both the Assembly and Senate adjourning on July 17 for their official Summer Recess. The actions below reflect the status of bills in the policy committees of the second house with most awaiting hearings in the respective fiscal committees when the Legislature reconvenes on August 21. Once legislators return, they will rush to act on hundreds of bills within a three-week window to meet a September 1 fiscal deadline and a final September 15 deadline for passing all active bills out of the Legislature for the governor’s consideration. Bills that don’t pass by September 15 will either become two-year bills or die in the fiscal committees. In the past, the one wildcard to always be on the lookout for are potential “gut-and-amend” bills that can surface at any time. But due to a voter-approved initiative enacted last year, all bills will need to be in print for 72 hours before they can be acted upon. This could reduce the desire for surprise gut-and-amends on the last night of session but it will unlikely stop them from being introduced.
There are two issues that need to be particularly highlighted in this report that will have an immediate impact on forest landowners – one in a positive way and another in a potentially negative way if it is enacted. AB 398 (Garcia), which Governor Brown is expected to sign very soon, will extend the state’s cap-and-trade program until January 1, 2031. Just before the Legislature adjourned for Summer Recess, the governor and legislative leaders came to an agreement and secured the necessary two-thirds vote in both houses to ensure the controversial cap-and-trade program can continue past its 2020 expiration date while also withstanding potential legal challenges. To garner enough votes, particularly from Republican legislators, the Governor and Democrats agreed to include a provision in the bill that provides a 14-year suspension (until January 1, 2031) on the State Responsibility Area (SRA) fee. The fee, which is levied on nearly 800,000 rural California properties, has garnered significant opposition from landowners with several legislators seeking its repeal throughout the years, including a pending lawsuit that seeks to overturn it.
Although repeal of the SRA fee is a temporary victory for small landowners, it is a win nonetheless. To cover funding for fire prevention expenses, the SRA fee will be backfilled by funds from the cap-and-trade program that will be raised during the various auction proceedings. But several Republican legislators and taxpayer groups opposed AB 398 due to concerns about potential gas price spikes and there is no guarantee of how the funds will be used. While 60 percent of cap-and-trade revenues are already dedicated to programs such as high speed rail, other transportation-related projects and renewable energy programs, the remaining funds will be appropriated yearly during the budget process. However, Republicans did win another concession in AB 398 that will allow voters to decide on the 2024 ballot on how future cap-and-trade revenues will be used going forward. Other provisions in AB 398 will not directly impact forest landowners but it should be noted that several environmental justice groups, seeking to impose local air district regulations through a companion bill in AB 617 (Garcia), were not happy with the end result of AB 398 because they allege the bill reduced local air district authority over climate change policy even though local air districts primarily regulate criteria pollutants.
In other news, FLC-opposed legislation SB 49 (de Leon), which would require state agencies to adopt standards that are at least as stringent as the baseline federal standards based on a host of federal laws, continues to move through the process despite significant opposition from a coalition of business groups, agriculture, landowners, water agencies and many others. The bill is an attempt to take a swipe at the Trump Administration out of fear that federal agencies will be told to relax their standards or that Congress will pass legislation doing so. The most troubling provision in SB 49 includes a private right of action that will require the Attorney General to review 60-day notices of intent to sue by private citizens who allege that state and local agencies are not complying with the bill’s so-called “baseline standard” even though California already has more stringent laws than the federal government. If this bill passes and is signed into law, there will likely be a litany of litigation attempts to stop its enforcement due to federal preemption issues. The coalition will be working to keep this bill from passing the Assembly Floor since it will be much harder to stop in the Senate. Likewise, it’s unclear if the Brown Administration has a position on the bill at this time and business groups would rather not have it reach his desk.
AB 211 (Bigelow) SRA Fee Report – WATCH – Senate Appropriations hearing – August 21
AB 362 (Wood-D) CFIP Loans for Landowners – SUPPORT – Senate Appropriations Suspense File
AB 398 (Garcia-D) Cap-and-Trade Extension / SRA suspension – WATCH – Governor’s Desk
AB 288 (Obernolte-R) SRA Fee Payment Extension – SUPPORT – (2-year bill)
AB 425 (Caballero-D) La Malfa Exemption Roads Work – SUPPORT – Senate Appropriations Suspense File
AB 771 (Quirk-D) Prescribed Burn Template – WATCH – HELD IN COMMITTEE
AB 920 (Aguiar-Curry-D) Baseload Procurement Plans – SUPPORT – Senate Appropriations hearing – August 21
AB 1066 (Aguiar-Curry-D) Public Works and Tree Removal – NEUTRAL – Senate Appropriations hearing – August 21
AB 1433 (Wood-D) Cap-and-Trade Dollars to Protect Open Space – WATCH – Senate Appropriations hearing – August 21
AB 1391 (Patterson-R) CFIP Funds for Vegetation Management – WATCH – (2-year bill)
AB 975 (Friedman-D) Expansion of Wild & Scenic Rivers – OPPOSE – (2-year bill)
AB 1342 (Flora-R) Cap-and-Trade for Forest Projects – SUPPORT – (2-year bill)
SB 49 (de Leon-D) No Backsliding on Federal Laws – OPPOSE – Assembly Appropriations
SB 100 (de Leon) 100 Percent Renewable Portfolio Standard – WATCH – Assembly Appropriations
SB 473 (Hertzberg) California Endangered Species Act – WATCH – Assembly Appropriations
SB 775 (Weikowski) Cap-and-Trade – WATCH – (2-year bill)