January 5, 2018 Edition

California Legislature Returns to Sacramento

The California Legislature returned to Sacramento on Wednesday, January 3 for the second year of the 2017-18 Legislative Session. Fire response, housing, sexual harassment and defending California against recent federal actions are quickly emerging as key issues for 2018.

Key issues

In addition to the introduction of bills aimed at strengthening emergency notification systems, Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones called on the Legislature to change laws to prevent homeowners from losing coverage due to wildfire risk. Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon also acknowledged that despite the housing package being passed last year, the Legislature would continue to work on addressing the housing crisis in our state. Additionally, Senate Pro Tempore Kevin de León introduced legislation to create a workaround to dull the impact of the federal tax changes on Californians.

Sexual Harassment

The Legislature has also been fraught with a number “me too” allegations. On Wednesday, Senate Democrats convened a roughly four-hour caucus during the first floor session of the year. Senator Tony Mendoza later announced a one-month leave of absence amid allegations of sexual harassment. Recall, two of the three most recent Assembly vacancies were due to resignations from then-Assembly Members Bocanegra and Dababneh, also amid sexual harassment allegations.

The Senate and Assembly announced the formation of a joint committee to improve how the Legislature addresses sexual harassment issues. The eight-member joint committee consists of Assembly Member Laura Friedman (chair), Senator Holly Mitchell (vice chair), Senate Republican Leader Pat Bates, Assembly Republican Leader Brian Dahle, Senators Jean Fuller and Connie Leyva and Assembly Members Eloise Gómez Reyes, and Marie Waldron.

Assembly Leadership, Committee, and Member Changes

This week, the Assembly welcomed new Assembly Member Wendy Carrillo, representing California 51st Assembly District. Recall, the seat was formerly held by then Assembly Member Jimmy Gomez, who departed to serve in the United States House of Representatives. Also noteworthy, Assembly Member Ridley-Thomas announced his resignation over the holidays citing persistent health issues.

Given the changes amongst the membership, Assembly Speaker Rendon announced several committee changes, which include two new appointees to the Assembly Health Committee: Assembly Members Cecilia Aguiar-Curry and Wendy Carrillo.

January Legislative Deadlines

January also marks a very busy time during the second year of the legislative session as a variety of “two-year” bills must be acted upon and passed out of their house of origin by January 31 to survive. Key deadlines include:

January 12 – policy committees must take action on two-year bills

January 19 – deadline for fiscal committees to act on two-year bills

January 31 – Senate and Assembly floors must take action on two-year bills residing in their house of origin

Bill Update

Our first CHEAC Bill Chart of 2018 is available here. Several bills of significant interest to CHEAC Members are noted below:

Environmental Health

AB 626 (E. Garcia) as amended on 5/2/2017 – Oppose

Assembly Member Eduardo Garcia’s AB 626 seeks to create a new type of food facility under the California Retail Food Code for “microenterprise home kitchens” and allow for the sale of foods directly to consumers from private homes. CHEAC is opposed to the measure, along with the Health Officers Association of California (HOAC), California State Association of Counties (CSAC), Urban Counties of California (UCC), and Rural County Representatives of California (RCRC).

AB 626 was held in the Assembly Appropriations Committee where it must be acted upon by January 19.

LHD Administration

AB 1250 (Jones-Sawyer) as amended on 9/5/2017 – Oppose

AB 1250 by Assembly Member Reginald Jones-Sawyer, Sr., remains in the Senate Rules Committee. As such, the measure may be acted upon at any time during the legislative session. AB 1250 would place onerous requirements on county contracting, including many of the contracts into which local health departments enter for vital health services.

CHEAC remains an active member of a large opposition coalition led by the California State Association of Counties (CSAC) to AB 1250. We will continue to provide updates to members as information becomes available.

Tobacco Control

AB 1097 (Levine) as amended on 1/3/2018 – Support

Assembly Member Marc Levine this week amended an existing bill to ban all smoking, including e-cigarettes, and disposal of cigar and cigarette waste at state coastal beaches and parks. The measure seeks to permit the director of the California Department of Parks and Recreation to exempt certain areas within the park system from the smoking ban.

Recall, AB 725 by Assembly Member Levine features the same language and was passed by the Legislature in 2017. However, the measure was vetoed by Governor Brown over concerns about the violation fee amount.

Communicable Disease Control

SB 221 (Wiener) as amended on 1/3/2018 – Support

Senator Scott Wiener this week amended an existing bill to authorize counties with remaining funds derived from assessed penalties for key infractions to spend the unencumbered balance of these funds on HIV prevention and education programs.

Last year, Senator Wiener’s SB 239 was signed into law, modernizing California’s HIV laws. With the passage of SB 239, statutory provisions requiring a portion of criminal fines assessed to be directed to local health departments were repealed and counties may have fund balances remaining. SB 221 seeks to fix this technical issue by clarifying that counties may continue to spend the remaining funds for HIV education and surveillance purposes.

Governor Brown to Release FY 18-19 Budget Next Week

Governor Jerry Brown will release his proposed FY 2018-2019 state budget next week on Wednesday, January 10. Following the release on Wednesday, CHEAC will provide an overview of the Governor’s budget. Stay tuned for more information.

Sessions Rescinds Cole Memo, Authorizes Expanded Federal Cannabis Enforcement

On Thursday afternoon, as expected, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions released a one-page memo to all United States Attorneys rescinding the “Cole Memo” issued during the Obama Administration. The memo recognized that cannabis was still illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act, but allowed federal prosecutors to focus their resources elsewhere, so long as states did not threaten other federal priorities, such as preventing the distribution of the drug to minors and targeting cartels.

In the newly released memo, Attorney General Sessions states that U.S. attorneys, when deciding which cannabis activities to prosecute under federal law, should follow “well-established principles that govern all federal prosecutions.”  The memo did not go as far as some advocates had feared in directing or advocating more cannabis prosecutions; however, it is exceedingly unclear how this will play out at the state level.

Xavier Becerra, California’s Attorney General, as well as the Bureau of Cannabis Control (BCC) Chief, Lori Ajax, both issued statements in response to the rescission that California would defend Proposition 64 and continue to implement California’s cannabis law as expressed by the will of the voters.  Meanwhile, implementation of the new cannabis licensing programs effective January 1, 2018, continued with the BCC announcing that over four hundred temporary licenses had been issued by the Bureau and over 1,800 applications had been submitted as of January 2, 2018.  The California Department of Public Health and the California Department of Food and Agriculture are also issuing temporary licenses; however, no publicly available data has been released to date.

Confirmation Hearing for HHS Nominee Alex Azar Set for Next Week

The Senate Finance Committee announced this week that it will hold a confirmation hearing for Alex Azar, nominee for the Secretary of the Department Health and Human Services, on Tuesday, January 9. Recall, President Donald Trump announced his selection of Azar for HHS in November.

Azar spent nearly a decade at pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, where he most recently served as president of U.S. operations before leaving in 2017. Prior to his time at Eli Lilly, Azar served as the HHS General Counsel from 2001 to 2005 and the Deputy Secretary from 2005 to 2007 under the George W. Bush Administration. Azar is generally regarded as a detail-oriented bureaucrat who has a deep understanding of the in-and-outs of the administrative and regulatory systems.

Senate Finance Committee Chair Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) indicated questions during the confirmation hearing will focus on Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Should Azar receive approval from the Senate Finance Committee, the full U.S. Senate must confirm Azar with at least 51 senators in support.