The measures to watch after the session ends

Sep 13, 2023

Politics almost always comes down to the wire and the state Legislature is no exception. Lawmakers have just a few hours to pass any remaining measures.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has until Oct. 14 to sign or veto any bills that make it to his desk. But don’t expect him to sign hundreds of measures right away. The Governor likes to sign or veto bills in batches, meaning there’s still time for city leaders to make their voices heard.

Here are some of the top measures the League of California Cities is watching between now and Oct. 14.

Revenue measures clear key committee hurdles

ACA 13 (Ward) and ACA 1 (Aguiar-Curry) are by far Cal Cities’ biggest priorities. ACA 13 would require future ballot measures that increase voter approval requirements to also pass by the same margin — including the 2024 California Business Roundtable ballot measure. It would also preserve the right of local governments to place advisory questions on the ballot asking voters their opinions on issues.

ACA 1 would lower the 55% voter-approval threshold for public infrastructure and affordable housing special taxes and bonds — the same threshold as school construction bond measures.

The two constitutional amendments are moving quickly through the Legislature thanks to Cal Cities’ members who have been meeting, calling, and writing their Legislators. If passed, they would then go to the voters for approval in 2024.

Mental Health Services Act overhaul seems likely

Californians will likely get to vote on changes to the state's behavioral health care system next year. Legislators are poised to pass SB 326 (Eggman) — one of the Governor’s signature policy proposals. The measure would modernize the Mental Health Services Act to include treatment for people with substance use disorders. It would also prioritize investments in housing interventions for individuals experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness.

Sen. Eggman is also trying to get a related measure, SB 43, to the Governor’s desk. The bill would update California's 1967 conservatorship law by expanding the definition of "gravely disabled" to include conditions that result in an inability to provide for one’s personal safety or necessary medical care. The current law’s high threshold makes it difficult to provide treatment for people unable to care for themselves.

Cal Cities supports both measures.

Lawmakers approve SB 35 expansion

For several years, lawmakers have introduced an onslaught of bills that undermine local control and the state’s own housing laws. And for years, Cal Cities and other stakeholders sidelined the most egregious measures. But those old alliances are starting to change.

SB 423 (Wiener) is the epitome of what could be a shift in housing politics. The measure would expand multifamily housing streamlining requirements, bypass the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), and allow the state to determine local building requirements. Unlike many similar bills, Republicans and trade unions supported SB 423. In the past, both groups were leery of such measures, albeit for different reasons.

The Cal Cities-opposed measure is currently awaiting Gov. Gavin Newsom’s action.

Possible progress on long ambulance offload times and fentanyl

It could be easier for ambulances to transfer patients to the hospital in the coming years if AB 40 (Rodriguez) is signed into law. The bill would establish a statewide standard for ambulance patient offload time. It would also require a protocol to reduce ambulance patient offload time, should it exceed the statewide standard.

First responders have struggled with long wait times for decades. According to the Emergency Medical Services Authority, roughly 70,000 Californians wait over an hour to be moved to a hospital bed. This can lead to delays in care, poor pain control, delayed time to receive antibiotics, increased morbidity, and even mortality. Long wait times also effectively put affected ambulance units out of service.

Lawmakers are also set to pass one of the few remaining fentanyl measures. AB 701 (Villapudua) would fentanyl to the list of controlled substances for large-scale dealers. The Centers for Disease Control recently declared fentanyl as the deadliest drug in the United States. Fentanyl is often disguised as other drugs, a trend that has sparked a dramatic increase in overdose-related deaths.

Cal Cities supports both bills. AB 40 is currently awaiting the Governor's signature. Lawmakers still need to pass AB 701.

A hot labor summer could have a chilling effect on city services

Efforts to support striking workers could make it harder for cities to deliver critical services.

AB 504 (Reyes) would make sympathy striking and honoring the picket line a human right. This change would upend the bargaining process and undermine the ability of cities to provide certain services during a strike. Many local labor agreements have no-strike provisions in their contracts due to the vital nature of their jobs, which this bill would void in contracts going forward.

Another measure, SB 799 (Portantino), would allow striking workers to draw unemployment benefits after two weeks. The bill would strain local government budgets — which fund the state’s unemployment insurance fund — and the fund itself. A recent report from the U.S. Department of Labor found that California owes the federal government $18.6 billion for money borrowed during the COVID-19 pandemic to cover the fund’s budget shortfalls.  

It took a decade to pay back the $10 billion in debt incurred during the 2008 Great Recession. Expanding unemployment insurance without a solvent system will only make it harder to provide unemployment insurance during major economic downturns.

Cal Cities opposes both bills. At last check, neither had moved to the Governor’s desk.

Legislators polish last year’s plastics law

California cities will be at the forefront of another landmark recycling program thanks to last year's SB 54 (Allen). Time constraints prevented Sen. Ben Allen from adding agreed-upon language to the final bill. AB 1526, authored by the Assembly Committee on Natural Resources, would require plastic producers to schedule and remit funds owed to a local government to cover collection costs.

Another related bill by Sen. Allen, SB 665, would create a working group to develop a framework for evaluating single-use plastic alternatives. The framework would inform policy decisions regarding plastics marketing, handling, and treatment under the state’s existing laws.

In recent years, lawmakers have passed a series of laws aimed at making California a circular economy. However, these costs and processes are often higher and more difficult than anticipated. Having a framework would make it easier to proactively consider and respond to quickly evolving packaging types and forms.

Cal Cities supports both measures, which lawmakers have not yet passed.

Cycling on sidewalk bill crashes through the Legislature

A bill that would remove cities’ authority to prohibit cycling on certain sidewalks is likely headed to the Governor’s desk. Asm. Issac Bryan introduced AB 825 to reduce unnecessary stops of people of color.

However, this measure would do so to the detriment of pedestrian safety. AB 825 ignores well-documented safety risks — including those reported by federal and state agencies — associated with shared sidewalks. The bill’s author removed a series of safety provisions, including a set speed limit and a requirement that cyclists yield the right of way to pedestrians. Cyclists would not even need to use an auditory signal when passing from the rear, which is when the most dangerous collisions occur.

The bill would force many cities to make costly and perhaps unnecessary investments in cycling infrastructure. Even if cities made those investments, they could still be open to new legal risks. A plaintiff (pedestrian) and the defendant (cyclist) could both sue the city when there is a collision.

At last check, AB 825 passed out of the Senate and is now headed to the Assembly for concurrence.