State Bills in Brief: May Suspense File

May 17, 2023

A weekly primer on the bills and committee hearings that have a direct impact on cities

Thursday marks the first part of a twice-yearly legislative tradition: the demise of hundreds of bills. Known as the suspense file, the rapid-fire process allows the appropriations committees to review the fiscal impact of hundreds of bills before they go to the floor for a full debate.

Holding a bill on the suspense file is effectively a death sentence. During the appropriations committee hearings, lawmakers can also amend measures before moving them to the floor or designate them as two-year bills, which pauses the proposal until the next year. Any bill that makes it through the May suspense file has to do so again in August in the other legislative house.

The League of California Cities anticipates that a significant number of bills will be held due to the state’s uncertain fiscal future and the sheer number of measures introduced this session.

As in previous years, Cal Cities will release a report next week on the top measures that met a grisly end or lived to fight another day. You can also contact your regional public affairs manager to learn which bills advanced out of suspense. In the meantime, here are the top 15 bills city leaders need to know about that are scheduled for a suspense file hearing.

To learn more about bills scheduled for a suspense file hearing, keep reading. To learn what each section means — or to access a previous State Bills in Brief — visit the archive page.

Top housing and homelessness bills

In recent years, voters and city officials rank housing affordability and homelessness as the top issues facing the state. So too has Cal Cities.

Crucial changes to the behavioral health care system could increase access to care

  • What are the changes? SB 43 and SB 363 — both by Sen. Eggman — would make it easier to provide behavioral health care. SB 43 would update the definition of “gravely disabled” and SB 363 would create a real-time dashboard of available beds in psychiatric and substance abuse facilities respectively. Cal Cities supports both measures.
  • Why it matters. For unsheltered individuals with severe behavioral health needs, access to care can be essential to addressing their homelessness.

Will the state continue the trend of overriding its own mandated housing plans?

  • What now? SB 423 (Wiener) would expand SB 35 (Wiener, 2017) to nearly all cities, allow the state to approve housing developments on its own property, and eliminate SB 35’s sunset date. Cal Cities opposes SB 423.
  • SB 35 sounds familiar. The 2017 legislation is one of the highest-profile housing laws in recent memory. SB 35 forces cities to approve certain multifamily housing sites. The law’s many requirements and exemptions are detailed on page six of a 2018 Cal Cities publication.

Speeding up utility connections could energize housing development

  • Here’s what the bill would do. AB 50 (Wood) would decrease the time it takes to connect new projects to the electrical grid and improve information sharing between utility companies and local officials. Cal Cities supports AB 50.
  • You’re saying this could increase housing production? Not just housing! Many local governments have been told it will take anywhere from two to seven years to improve electrical grids. These arduous timelines have resulted in delays to housing, economic development, electric vehicle, and decarbonization projects.

Well-intended bill would make it nearly impossible to approve adaptive reuse projects

  • What does the bill do? AB 1490 (Lee) would require a city to allow adaptive reuse affordable housing projects on infill parcels regardless of local plans and policies. Cities would also be prohibited from requiring additional requirements, such as maximum density requirements or additional parking.
  • So, what’s the issue? The bill also gives cities just 30 days to issue permits and entitlements and preemptively waives all building and permitting fees. This is not nearly enough time to review projects and would force local agencies to subsidize project costs imposed by state, federal, and local laws. Forcibly upzoning a project, regardless of public transit availability, will also create problems. Cal Cities opposes AB 1490 unless it is amended to address those concerns.

Top fiscal sustainability bills

Economic headwinds, labor shortages, and a prolonged federal debt ceiling fight have caused no shortage of fiscal concerns. Cal Cities supports a broad package of measures that would protect and support local fiscal sustainability.

Proposed bill would streamline environmental grant programs

  • This sounds great. What is the bill number? AB 972 (Maienschein) would create a statewide, cross-agency workgroup to coordinate, align, and streamline certain local government assistance resources. Cal Cities is sponsoring the measure.
  • Why do cities need this? Nearly all state grant programs have widely varied procedures for their grant programs. Cities often lack the resources, staff capacity, or expertise needed to apply for competitive funding.

AB 573 would increase flexibility for organic waste procurement

  • What sort of flexibility is being proposed? It’s narrow but important. AB 573 (Garcia) would allow some cities to send organic waste to out-of-state compost facilities to meet their SB 1383 (Lara, 2016) procurement requirements. Cal Cities supports the measure.
  • Why do cities need this? Some cities, especially rural and border cities, must purchase and deliver compost hundreds of miles to comply with the law. This drives up both greenhouse gas emissions and ratepayer costs. The state needs 50-100 new facilities for SB 1383 to be successful. These facilities are several years away from becoming a reality.

Two new ways to expedite construction projects

  • What are the bills? AB 400 (Rubio) would permanently allow local governments to use design-build processes for infrastructure projects. SB 706 (Caballero) would allow cities to use progressive design-build for all public projects over $5 million.
  • This sounds very wonky. It is! The very short version is that both processes create more flexibility for contractors, encourage greater collaboration among stakeholders, and keep costs low. Existing law restricts the use of these processes. Cal Cities is the sponsor of both measures.

An ambiguous ethics law is driving up project costs. This bill could change that

  • A well-intended law. A conflict-of-interest law inadvertently precludes design professionals from bidding on successive phases of public works projects. AB 334 (Rubio, Blanca) would clarify that those professionals are not subject to that law, in part because of case law. Cal Cities supports the measure.
  • Why it matters. The public is at great risk if the most qualified consultants and contractors are prohibited from working on certain phases of infrastructure projects. The law would also help lower costs. Cities are currently forced to spend more money on training and site visits as new design professionals are brought on for each stage of the project.

SB 252 (Gonzalez) would require CalPERS to divest from fossil fuels by 2031

  • Fiscal sustainability is paramount. It is critical that CalPERS and CalSTRS have healthy investment returns. Divestment makes achieving the returns needed to maintain the plans’ fiscal health more challenging. Cal Cities opposes SB 252 (Gonzalez).
  • Budgets are tight. With employer contribution rates stretching employer budgets thin, it is not prudent to take action that would further increase employer contributions and put continued strain on local budgets.

Top public safety bills

Increasing public safety through a wide range of strategies is one of Cal Cities’ top advocacy priorities for 2023.

Cal Cities-sponsored measure would enshrine cities’ right to deliver emergency medical services 

  • How is this even an issue? AB 1168 (Bennett) would reconcile City of Oxnard v. County of Ventura, which ruled that Oxnard lost its authority to provide prehospital EMS after signing a joint powers authority agreement (JPA) with the county.
  • Why is local control important here? The Oxnard decision fundamentally misconstrues the plain language of the EMS Act — which governs the EMS system — as well as the nature and purpose of a JPA. Signatories to JPA agreements should not lose their rights because they cooperated with other public agencies to provide better service to residents.

Bill would ban police canines for crowd control and arrests

  • Are there any other restrictions? Yes. Under AB 742 (Jackson) police canines could not bite under any circumstance. Cal Cities opposes the measure.
  • Their bark is worse than their bite. Data from cities shows high surrender and apprehension numbers with very low bite ratios and even fewer incidents with canines result in significant injury. The bill’s overly broad restrictions would leave law enforcement officers with limited options for prevention or intervention.

SB 719 would make police radio communications publicly available to the media in real-time

  • This seems contradictory and unnecessary. SB 719 (Becker) runs contrary to state standards. Moreover, all radio communications are already available through existing regulations. The measure is also overly broad and would allow anyone with a podcast or social media to claim media privileges. Cal Cities opposes the measure.
  • Accountability matters. But so too does public safety. Cal Cities supports related oversight. However, this bill would compromise the effectiveness of law enforcement and potentially put people in harm’s way.  

Other top bills

Cal Cities engages on hundreds of bills each year that could impact cities. Here are some of the top ones that fall outside the 2023 Advocacy Priorities.

Two labor bills to watch

  • What are the bills? AB 1484 (Zbur) would mandate that temporary employees be automatically included in the same bargaining unit as permanent employees. AB 504 (Reyes) would allow public employees to participate in strikes even if they are not members of the striking union by declaring sympathy striking a human right.
  • What is Cal Cities’ position? Cal Cities opposes both measures. Both bills would make it harder to provide essential services. AB 1484 in particular would make it difficult to staff for seasonal or surge needs, including health care, elections, and summer recreation services.

Lawmakers weigh restrictions to logistic centers

  • What does the bill do? AB 1748 (Ramos) would require minimum setbacks from homes, schools, and other “sensitive receptors” and create new requirements when siting logistics centers, warehouses, and related infrastructure.
  • What is Cal Cities’ position? Cal Cities has not yet issued a position on this measure. However, Cal Cities opposes a much more restrictive version of this measure, AB 1000 (Reyes), while acknowledging the need to discuss setting minimum standards that protect public health and economic development.

View all bills to act on

View all tracked bill hearings