October treats for cities as Governor takes final action on 2021 bills

Oct 13, 2021

The Governor took action on several high-profile broadband, Brown Act, public safety, and recycling bills in the days leading up to his sign/veto deadline. 

With a few strokes of his pen, Gov. Gavin Newsom closed out California's 2021 political year over the weekend. This year’s legislative session was much less chaotic than the last, which ended with a crying baby, a cursing legislator, and bills that died as the clock ran out — a fitting end for 2020. Lawmakers were more focused this year, introducing a whopping 2,421 bills, far more than in 2019 or 2020. Of the 836 bills that reached the Governor’s desk, 92% were signed. He vetoed just 66 bills, a relatively paltry percentage when compared to his first two years.

Here are some of the key bills that met a grisly, October end since Cal Cities’ September 29 update — and those that sailed safely into the Secretary of State’s office to be chaptered into law.

Key broadband bills compliment largest ever public broadband infrastructure investment

The pandemic shined a spotlight on the state’s lack of high-quality, equitably distributed, and affordable broadband in rural, urban, and suburban communities — something Cal Cities has advocated on for many years. This year, the state made significant progress on closing the digital divide by passing a landmark $6 billion broadband infrastructure package,, as well as AB 14 (Aguiar-Curry) and SB 4 (Gonzalez). The two Cal Cities-supported measures prioritize the broadband needs of California's unserved and underserved communities and make important, separate tweaks to the California Advanced Services Fund surcharge program.

The bills’ passage was accompanied by a welcomed veto of SB 556 (Dodd), which would have forced local governments to make space on public infrastructure available to telecommunications providers. The Governor’s veto message largely mirrored Cal Cities’ arguments, with the Gov. Newsom noting that provisions of the bill “conflict with and complicate some of the FCC requirements.” He also stated, “part of our achievements laid out in the broadband budget bill… enables and encourages local governments to take an active role in last mile deployment and, in doing so, drive competition and increase access.”

Brown Act bill gets last-minute ax

After nearly two years of successfully operating in a virtual environment — facilitated in part by two executive orders and the recently passed AB 361 (Rivas, Robert) — Brown Act modernization was top of mind for many lawmakers and city officials. As one of his last actions, the Governor vetoed AB 339 (Lee), a Cal Cities-opposed bill that forced telephonic or internet-based call-in options for city councils in jurisdictions with a population above 250,000 people.

The Governor shared many of Cal Cities concerns, noting that the bill would “set a precedent of tying public access requirements to the population of jurisdiction,” “limits flexibility and increases costs for the affected local jurisdictions trying to manage their meetings,” and “puts the health and safety of the public and employees at risk.” Cal Cities continues to look at ways to revise and modernize the Brown Act to increase public access while protecting public health and safety.

Pandemic regulatory relief maintains local control

In a move to support California’s post-pandemic recovery, the Governor signed several pieces of legislation that build upon some of the state’s more successful pandemic-era rules: SB 314 (Wiener), AB 61 (Gabriel), and SB 389 (Dodd). All three Cal-Cities supported measures create some sort of regulatory flexibility or relief to qualified businesses serving alcoholic beverages in nontraditional spaces due to indoor dining restrictions. Cal Cities secured key amendments preserving local authority in SB 314 and AB 61.

Online sales tax study vetoed

During the pandemic, consumers flocked to online shopping as a safe alternative to brick-and-mortar stores, changing the flow of sales tax revenues across the state. SB 792 (Glazer), which would have better informed the public about online transactions and the flow of goods, seemed poised to go into law, thanks to a last-minute push from Cal Cities members and others. However, the Governor returned the bill to the Senate without his signature, noting that it creates a “burdensome and costly new reporting requirement for many retailers that is unrelated to their tax obligations.” Cities will have to continue relying on current analysis, which is constrained to modeling with transaction and use tax (district tax) data from about half of California’s 482 cities.

Recycling programs receive key modifications

The last two weeks resulted in some important, crucial tweaks to California's recycling programs and infrastructure. The Governor augmented the organic waste recycling funding found in a last-minute trailer bill by signing SB 619 (Laird). The bill gives local governments a pathway to compliance with SB 1383 (Lara, 2016) organic waste diversion regulations.   

The Cal Cities-supported AB 1311 (Wood) expands the number of beverage container redemption opportunities under the California Beverage Container Recycling and Litter Reduction Act, which will help create new opportunities for consumers to redeem their California Redemption Value and preserve the program's core functions.

SB 343 (Allen) clarifies which materials are suitable for recycling. Due to decades of greenwashing, many consumers wrongly assume that all materials with the word “recyclable” or the “chasing arrows” symbol are recyclable. These designations will be now reserved for materials that are truly recyclable and routinely sold to manufacturers to make new products. These changes will reduce contamination, lower waste volume, and improve recycling rates. SB 343 passed thanks to a coalition of nonprofits and local government partners and despite intense opposition from the American Chemistry Council, the Plastics Industry Association, and others.

High-profile police reform bills signed

The Governor waited until after the recall to take action on most bills, including a slew of peace officer certification and decertification bills. Cal Cities remained highly engaged on these issues throughout the year, negotiating changes that removed some of the more contentious elements for cities.

For example, Cal Cities removed its opposition to SB 16 (Skinner) after key amendments were made. As previously drafted, the bill would have made every incident involving unreasonable or excessive force and any sustained finding that an officer failed to intervene in such cases subject to disclosure. The bill now only mandates the disclosure of substantiated claims. Cal Cities also supported AB 89 (Jones-Sawyer) after amendments were made to address concerns about its impact on recruitment and a lack of access to higher education in some communities. The bill takes a nuanced, collaborative, and thoughtful approach to the law enforcement certification process. Both measures were signed by the Governor.

Cal Cities secured substantial amendments to SB 2 (Bradford), a decertification bill that addressed concerns related to liability under the Tom Bane Civil Rights Act. However, the bill missed the mark in several key areas, including the composition of the new Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission advisory board and the federally held doctrine of qualified immunity, which it undercuts. Despite strong opposition from Cal Cities and public safety organizations, the Governor signed SB 2 into law.

He also signed AB 48 (Gonzalez, Lorena), a measure opposed by Cal Cities that severely limits the tools at an officer’s disposal to protect public safety. Although the bill’s author made amendments to address the outright prohibition of chemical agents, its restrictions remained overly broad for public safety officers.

One of the last bills the Governor acted on was AB 603 (McCarty), which he vetoed. The measure would have required cities to post details about money spent on law enforcement-related settlements and judgments online. Cal Cities argued that the bill would both undermine trust — as most defendants settle with the plaintiff out of economic necessity — and impose a significant, non-reimbursable cost statewide. The Governor partially agreed with Cal Cities, noting that the information is already available and could “have potentially significant General Fund costs associated with [it].”  

What now?

These bills are just a few of the new laws that will impact cities going forward into 2022. Cal Cities will hold a webinar on priority bills that were signed by the Governor later this year. Officials unable to attend should look out for Cal Cities’ 2021 Legislative Year in Review, which will be published in the January 2022 issue of Western City magazine.

Next year will undoubtedly be another interesting year, with affordable housing, climate change, and COVID-19 still top-of-mind for lawmakers and the Governor, along the 2022 election. Whatever the new year brings, Cal Cities will continue to fight on behalf cities to ensure that their voices and needs are heard in the Capitol.