California Legislature Convenes for the 2019-20 Legislative Session

On Monday, the California Legislature convened in Sacramento for their organizational session, the first of its business for the 2019-20 Legislative Session. Monday’s session consisted of the swearing in of legislative members, appearances from state constitutional officers (including Governor Jerry Brown), and the opening of the Senate and Assembly desks for bill introductions. The legislature will return to Sacramento on January 7 to witness the swearing in of the new gubernatorial administration and officially begin its business of the 2019-20 Legislative Session.

Notable Changes and New Members

Democrats in both the Senate and Assembly have historic supermajorities, occupying nearly three-fourths of the seats in both houses. The composition in the Senate includes 29 Democrats and 11 Republicans, while the Assembly includes 60 Democrats and 20 Republicans. California legislative rules require a two-thirds supermajority (27 votes in the Senate and 54 votes in the Assembly) to pass any tax increase and to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot.

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon announced that his leadership team will remain the same as last session – Asm. Kevin Mullen as Speaker pro Tempore, Asm. Ian Calderon as Majority Leader, Asm. Mike Gipson as Democratic Caucus Chair, and Asm. Ken Cooley as Rules Committee Chair. The Assembly Republican Caucus selected Asm. Marie Waldron as their Minority Leader, Asm. Heath Flora as Floor Leader, Asm. Jay Obernotle as Caucus Chair, Asm. Phillip Chen as Chief Whip, and Asm. Devon Mathis as Whip.

The Senate Rules Committees was also assembled on Monday and includes Senate President pro Tempore Toni Atkins, Senators Scott Wilk, Shannon Grove, Bill Monning, and Richard Roth.

Several caucuses announced leadership changes, of which many were women. Notably, the Latino Legislative Caucus unanimously elected Asm. Lorena Gonzalez as chair and Sen. Maria Elena Durazo as vice chair. The Latino Legislative Caucus notes that this will be the first time in the history of the caucus that two women will lead the group. The Legislative Black Caucus installed Asm. Shirley Weber as its chair and Sen. Steven Bradford as its vice chair.

In total, there are 17 new members of the legislature – 8 new assembly members and 9 new senators. Out of the 17 new members, 10 are women. Among the new members are several former county supervisors, former city council members, and former members of the legislature. Previous experiences and interests among new members include business, education, labor, and environmental law.

Full legislative rosters for both houses, detailed by counties represented, are available on online: Senate | Assembly

Legislative Priorities

During Monday’s organizational session, legislative leaders took an opportunity to highlight priority issues. Senate President pro Tempore Toni Atkins used her address to discuss the differences in opportunities between the “haves and have-nots,” as well as other urgent matters including climate change, homelessness and housing, and education. Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, during his remarks, took a moment to remember victims of the recent wildfires and victims of gun violence. Rendon went on to discuss high-level priorities for the two-year session, including economic issues, homelessness, technology, education, and climate change.

Governor-elect Gavin Newsom also presided over the Senate’s inaugural session one last time in his role as lieutenant governor. Recall, the lieutenant governor serves as the president of the California State Senate. In brief remarks, Newsom spoke to the challenges facing the state, from climate change and wildfire risk to disparities in economic and educational opportunities. Despite his party’s legislative supermajority, Newsom spent much of the week seemingly tempering expectations of members of the Legislature, particularly related to spending matters.

New Bills of Note

With the commencement of the new legislature on Monday, new bill proposals have begun to flow. Members of the legislature have until February 22, 2019, to introduce bills for the first year of the 2019-20 Legislative Session. Approximately 200 bills have already been introduced, those most notable are highlighted below:

  • Medi-Cal Expansion for Undocumented Residents: Assembly Member Joaquin Arambula and Senator Ricardo Lara introduced companion measures this week that would expand Medi-Cal coverage to low-income undocumented adults over the age of 19. Recall, last year lawmakers unsuccessfully sought this expansion through the budget.
  • Early Childhood Education: A number of proposals have been put forward related to early childhood education. Among the most significant is a package by Assembly Member Kevin McCarty aimed at expanding state-subsidized preschool for up to 100,000 3- and 4-year-olds from low- to middle-income families. Other measures include a bond measure for preschool facility improvements and reimbursement rate increases for preschool programs. In introducing his measures, Asm. McCarty pointed to Governor-Elect Newsom’s campaign talking points of prioritizing early childhood education.
  • Wildfire Prevention and Response: Several legislators have introduced measures to assist jurisdictions impacted by the recent devastating wildfires, including a proposal to allow California to issue bonds for future wildfire prevention efforts. Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson is back this year with additional emergency preparedness proposals to allow additional entities, including local jurisdictions and universities, access to contact information for the purposes of emergency notifications.
  • No Smoking in State Parks or Beaches: Senator Steven Glazer has introduced a measure that would ban smoking or disposal of tobacco products in state parks or on state coastal beaches. Governor Brown has vetoed similar proposals the past three consecutive years.
  • New Tobacco Restrictions: Senator Jerry Hill has proposed two measures that would impose the first statewide retail ban on flavored tobacco products (including menthol and electronic cigarettes) and establish tighter restrictions on age verification requirements for online, mail, phone, and fax sales of tobacco products.
  • Tax-Free Feminine Products and Diapers: Assembly Member Christina Garcia introduced a measure to repeal sales tax on tampons and menstrual products and Assembly Member Lorena Gonzalez introduced a measure to repeal sales tax on diapers. These proposals carry a significant price tag and have resulted in vetoes in previous years.

The CHEAC Legislative Committee will begin its work reviewing measures, assessing impacts to local health departments and public health, and taking positions on bills beginning in February 2019. As a reminder, the CHEAC Bill Chart will be published on a weekly basis following the bill introduction deadline.