Key Upcoming Dates
August 16 - Legislature reconvenes from Summer Recess
August 27 - Last day for bills to pass fiscal committees
September 10 - Last day for Legislature to pass bills for Governor’s consideration
September 14 - Governor’s recall vote
October 10 - Last day for Governor to sign or veto bills
Legislature Returns from Summer Break as Wildfires and Energy Reliability Top Priority List with Recall Election Looming
The 2021 legislative session is getting closer to wrapping up but not before the Legislature took its month-long summer recess which started on July 16. Prior to that, legislators debated several bills during a three-week period so bills could meet the July 14 policy committee deadline. Bills that did not pass out of the policy committees by July 14 will now become two-year bills unless they were provided special reconsideration. On August 16, the Legislature returned from its month-long summer break and now begins a three-week sprint to conclude its business by the September 10 end-of-session deadline.
While several ambitious wildfire bills introduced earlier in the legislative session have already been whittled down with many sitting on the sidelines, a handful of bills are still alive seeking to address various policy areas, including a bill to extend the 300-foot THP defensible space exemption for four years; a bill providing liability protection for fire suppression costs associated with prescribed burns; legislation providing two, two-year extensions for a THP approved between January 1, 2014, and December 31, 2015; a bill seeking to enhance fire safety building and home hardening standards; and legislation requiring the state to identify high and moderate fire hazard severity zones while expanding building standards to those new zones (see link below for chart). Most of these bills have moved to the respective fiscal committees where they will hold hearings in mid-August to consider the fiscal impacts and then must pass the fiscal test by August 27 for consideration on the Senate and Assembly Floors.
On the budget front, Governor Newsom signed a revised budget agreement the week of July 9 to reflect a $263 billion spending plan for fiscal year 2021-22. Lawmakers originally passed a 900-page budget bill (AB 128 – Ting) as a procedural move to meet the June 15 constitutional deadline. They followed that up with passage of so-called “budget bill junior” (AB 129 – Ting) and several other budget trailer bills that were signed by the governor as part of his “California Comeback Plan.” The revised budget provides increased funding for education, homelessness, small business relief, rent relief, water and utility bill payments, economic stimulus checks, and wildfire funding. While Democrats celebrated the increased spending for key programs, Republicans expressed concerns it fails to plan for future deficits and may require future tax increases to make up for future budget shortfalls. The increased funding in the budget was made possible due to a budget surplus of more than $60 billion, which relied on tax receipts from high-wage earners and the state’s progressive tax system. Pretty remarkable considering last year the state was facing a $54 billion budget deficit.
Despite enactment of the overall budget, dozens of budget trailer bills are still pending, and they could surface at any time up until the Legislature adjourns on September 10. This includes details on how to spend nearly $1 billion for various clean energy and transportation investments, including additional funding from the state state’s cap-and-trade program. There will also be follow-up details and agreements between the Governor, Senate and Assembly on how to spend funding for various wildfire programs as the state heads into the inevitable late summer and fall wildfire months. To date, the Legislature has appropriated $536 million in early action funding for wildfire prevention, natural resources, and forest resiliency for the 2021-22 fiscal year. The Legislature initially allocated $10 million as an early action item to fund the CFIP program with an additional $40 million as part of the overall 2021-22 budget.
Overall funding for wildfire, including the early action items, could reach $1 billion after details are worked out. The increased funding for wildfires and other resources areas to address drought, water conservation, water quality and climate change are in part an effort by the Governor to fund programs now and avoid the possibility of having the Legislature pass a potential bond for voter consideration in 2022. A full report on the Legislature’s budget actions can be found here – Floor Report of the 2021-22 Budget (see pages 79-81 for CalFire and wildfire funding dollars).
What About That Recall?
With Legislature back in session, more media attention is beginning to shift towards the inevitable recall election that Governor Newsom will face on September 14. With 1.7 million signatures agreeing to sign the recall petition, it was all but certain it had enough valid signatures and a recall would take place. The recall ballot will have two separate questions that will require majority approval from voters. At least 51% of percent of voters must agree to the recall and if successful, must then decide who should replace him by whoever captures the most votes.
Most political observers think Governor Newsom will beat the recall, however, recent polling shows the race is narrowing, which is causing alarm for Newsom’s supporters as a UC Berkeley poll indicates that 50 percent of most likely voters would retain Governor Newsom versus 47 percent saying they would replace him. Of equal concern for Newsom is his approval rating, which has taken a hit with 51 percent of registered voters disapproving of his performance and 48 percent approving. But given California’s overwhelmingly Democrat electorate and substantial resources at his side, the poll results could simply be a sign that more Republican voters are excited about the election right now and likely Democrat voters are not particularly enthused (at least not yet).
However, there are some other potential wildcards in the mix that could negatively impact Newsom’s fate other than low turnout, including the continued threat of wildfire outbreaks, drought restrictions and rolling blackouts due to extreme heat waves. While these are all things that may be directly out of his control, voters may not view it that way. In addition, Governor Newsom’s party identification will not appear on the ballot because he failed to meet a mandatory deadline for filing the proper paperwork that would have stated his party preference on the ballot. Officially, there are 46 candidates on the ballot with most of them listed as Republicans, including conservative radio talk show host Larry Elder who is getting the most attention followed by former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer. Ultimately, it remains to be seen how the vote turns out but only time (and money) will tell.
To track legislation, state budget information and fiscal/policy advisor information, visit these sites:
FLC Legislative Bill Chart – https://bit.ly/flcBillChartAug21
FLC All Bills Status Report – https://bit.ly/allBillsReportAug21
AB 129 (Ting) – https://bit.ly/AB129Ting
Floor Report of the 2021-22 Budget – https://bit.ly/FlrRpt202122budget
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: