Legislative Update

March 2019

By Brian White, KP Public Affairs, FLC Legislative Advocate and Larry Camp, FLC Legislative Committee

There will likely be updates in the next couple of weeks and the FLC Legislative Committee will provide updates as quickly as they can through email broadcasts and posts on the website. Should you have questions, direct them to legchair@forestlandowners.org.

“School is back in session” is often a common statement made around the State Capitol when the Legislature returns from a long break. Such was the scene on January 7 when legislators returned to work after the November 2018 elections. Governor Newsom was also sworn in and took the oath in front of several constitutional officers, legislators and hundreds of staff to become the state’s 40th Governor. They all witnessed history being made with his immediate ascension to power. This is because it was the first time in a hundred years in California’s history where a Democrat Governor followed another Democrat Governor into power as he followed four-termed Governor Jerry Brown who was the longest serving governor.   

Besides his ability to sign or veto bills, Governor Newsom will have two key duties – signing a state budget and appointing numerous staff and officials to carry out his objectives. During the next four years, Governor Newsom will have the opportunity to appoint more than 3,000 people to various government agencies such as Cal Fire, Board of Forestry, State Water Board, Fish and Wildlife and many others impacting landowners. He has already appointed key staff to help carry out ambitious budget and policy goals to tackle issues such as health care, housing, homelessness and early childhood education. This, combined with the PG&E bankruptcy and ongoing wildfire threats facing the state, is sure to shape the priorities and actions of both Newsom and the State Legislature. Governor Newsom already issued an executive order in January asking Cal Fire to issue a report within 45 days outlining ideas to address wildfires. That report is complete and is pending review in the Governor’s Office.

Meanwhile, legislators and staffers will be working earnestly during the next seven months to push ideas important to them and their constituents. February 22 was the official deadline for legislators to introduce bills during the 2019 legislative session. At last count, there were approximately 2,600 bills introduced with about 1,800 coming from the Assembly and another 800 coming from the Senate. They touch on a range of topics but issues like wildfires, utility infrastructure, insurance, privacy, cannabis, climate change and health care seem to be dominating the docket for now.

Several Capitol observers have noted that in the last ten years it’s the most bills that have been introduced in the first year of a two-year session. But hundreds of them are so-called “spot” bills, which have little to no substance to them and are introduced for various reasons, ranging from innocuous to nefarious. They will be amended with more details during the next 30 days or risk being left on the sidelines for committee review. Full policy committee hearings will start to take shape in late March and mid-April before bills can head to fiscal committees for further consideration. We’ll be reviewing them and will compile a legislative update seeking positions from FLC for the most important bills.

One final note – when dealing with legislation, it’s hard not to consider the politics at play. Democrats currently hold a two-thirds supermajority vote in the 80-member Assembly and in the 40-member Senate. Given these dynamics, some legislative Democrats will want to flex their muscles after taking a back seat to Governor Brown for the last eight years. Ultimately, a two-thirds supermajority in both houses means it will be harder to stop negative legislation impacting landowners, agricultural interests and other business groups. It could also have a significant impact on whether Democrats are able to pass new or increased taxes without any pushback from Republicans.

Time will only tell where these bills end up and it’s still early in the process. But I regress back to famous legislative quotes, and there’s a famous one by Otto von Bismarck who said, “If you like laws and sausages, you should never watch either one being made.”  Well, folks should get ready because it could get a bit messy!