Legislative & Budget Update
April 10, 2020
By Brian White, KP Public Affairs, FLC Legislative Advocate and Larry Camp, FLC Legislative Committee
We hope this message finds you all safe and healthy during these uncertain and challenging times. This long message provides some insight into what is happening in Sacramento as we continue to adjust to a new normal in dealing with COVID-19. Below are some updates on future legislative and budget procedures that are in the works and the priorities legislators will focus on.
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Last week legislative leadership announced the Legislature will return to the Capitol on May 4th (this assumes shelter in place orders will be lifted) but this could change if social distancing is still mandated.
In terms of the Legislature's priorities going forward, it's safe to say everything is uncertain except for bills dealing with COVID-19, public health and most likely wildfire response. In fact, several policy committee chairs issued memos last week recommending that legislators should delay pushing most of their bills this year if they are not critical or relevant to COVID-19 response (see attached memos from Senate Leader Atkins and Assemblymember Friedman - links below). Right now each legislator is in soul searching mode to see which bills they will deem as priorities knowing they may only get to push only three to five bills each.
For example, in a conversation I had with Assemblymember Jim Patterson's office this week, his staff indicated Assm Patterson will not be pursuing the current language in AB 2468 which would have allowed landowners to file joint CFIP applications. However, Assm Patterson will continue to make funding for CFIP a high priority through the budget. FLC still has an opportunity to signal support for CFIP and I've reached out to the CA Farm Bureau and they indicated they're open to doing a joint letter to the Legislature so that's something we should pursue with them. Realistically, the Newsom Administration and Legislature will most likely have to defer action on CFIP funding until August when revenue numbers are updated (see State Budget below).
Meanwhile, Assm Patterson has indicated his bill to extend the 300 foot THP exemption for defensible space until 2026 will be a priority. That will be accomplished through either AB 3132 or AB 2468.
Legislative Remote Hearings and Voting
It should be noted the policy committees will be operating under a timing issue since the legislative calendar has now been shortened. Until the Legislature physically comes back in May, it's not clear if or when policy committees will hear bills. Since most bills introduced this year will not meet the April 24 policy committee deadline, unless legislative leadership extends the deadline, there is a possibility legislators could turn to budget trailer bills at the end-of-session to implement policies they weren't able to adopt in regular stand-alone bills. Stay tuned for more on this later . . .
In addition, it's unclear whether the Legislature will conduct remote hearings going forward. Both the Senate and Assembly are having discussions about devising a joint plan (one that addresses constitutional concerns) that would allow for remote hearings and voting while shelter in place and social distancing orders are in effect. In the meantime, the Senate already passed a resolution last month that authorizes the Senate to conduct remote hearings and voting; however, the Assembly held off on the approval. To be effective, both houses must agree on a plan for remote voting for full legislative action to take place. An analysis prepared by UC Berkeley Law's California Constitutional Center (see below) discusses the potential legal challenges of the Legislature conducting remote hearings during the COVID response. They ultimately concluded it's possible if the Legislature approves emergency orders that ensures the public has open access through live streaming and ability to comment, especially if the Legislature is taking votes.
Governor Newsom's Response and Legislative hearings on COVID-19
Governor Newsom has received fairly good marks at the federal, state and local levels for his response to COVID-19 by taking a proactive approach in securing supplies such as masks and ventilators, in addition to providing daily updates and issuing executive orders. But there are rumblings from some legislators that the Newsom Administration hasn't been as transparent with the Legislature as they would like, particularly with the spending of resources to secure supplies and other announcements. Before the Legislature adjourned due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they gave Governor Newsom authorization to spend up to $1 billion to address the response. To track how much Newsom has spent and what he has spent, you can view here - https://cssrc.us/content/covid-19-response-spending?utm_source=CSSRC+-+COVID+4.10.20&utm_campaign=CSSRC+-+COVID+4.10.20&utm_medium=email
In response to the growing spread of COVID-19 and the Legislature's desire to be proactive, Senate Leader Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood) issued a joint statement confirming the legislature will begin conducting COVID-19 oversight hearings. The bipartisan oversight hearings are expected to gather information on Governor Newsom Administration's spending in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The first hearing will take place in the Senate on Thursday, April 16th at 2 pm (remotely of course). The Assembly will hold a hearing on Monday, April 20 at 10 am.
Details on the hearings, where to watch them, and how to submit public testimony will be forthcoming but can also be found here -
With respect to the State's budget, it will not be pretty. The good news is the state has a budget reserve of about $20 billion to help weather the storm. The bad news is there are significant portions of the economy, particularly in tourism, restaurants and hotels that aren't expected to come back at full scale for quite some time which will significantly impact the state's General Fund, leading to an inevitable recession.
For now, all signs point to the Legislature adopting a so-called "workload budget" for the 2020-21 fiscal year to meet the constitutional June 15 deadline. As noted in the attached letter from Assembly Budget Chair Phil Ting (link below), this means the Legislature will adopt a bare bones budget based on 2019 budget allocations. This is being done because state dollars are being siphoned off to address COVID-19 response and the Governor's Department of Finance is unable to accurately calculate new revenues for the current fiscal year until after July tax filings are completed (the California tax deadline was extended to July 15).
After adopting a June workload budget, the Legislature will then wait for the Governor to issue the revised budget numbers in July and then they'll adopt another budget in August to provide more General Fund dollars for priority programs such as healthcare, wildfires, employment, education with other resource related programs being funded by special funds such as greenhouse gas reduction funds. All said, it will be an interesting and challenging budget year. But when there's chaos, there may be also be some opportunities to pivot for other important programs to address other crisis such as wildfire prevention.
Links to Documents
Senate Leader Toni Atkins Memo
Assemblymember Laura Friedman Memo
Assembly Budget Chair Phil Ting Letter
Appellate Decision on WFMP Case
Good News -- Exemptions and NTMPs
CAL FIRE has reversed its policy change regarding the acceptance of exemptions for NTMPs. Please refer to the link below to view the letter from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Ken Pimlott) to the California Board of Forestry and Fire Protection (Keith Gilless).
Should you have any questions, please send an email to the FLC Legislative Committee at email@example.com.
Letter and Supporting Content from CAL FIRE to Board of Forestry
Legislative Committee Assignments
Public Policy Institute of California
The Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) issued a report in mid-September on the status of forest health in the Headwaters Forests. On September 20, there was a panel debriefing on the report. Click on the links below to download the documents.
If you are interested in wathcing the panel debrief, the video is posted on the PPIC's website: