Legislature Begins Shift to Policy Committee Hearings

The California State Senate and Assembly has largely shifted its focus toward policy committee hearings as new bills introduced in the second year of the 2021-22 legislative session begin to be set for hearings over the coming weeks. Senate and Assembly budget subcommittees are nearing the completion of their hearings prior to the release of the Governor’s May Revise Budget in mid-May.

In Sacramento this week, lawmakers swiftly acted on legislation to address an enrollment-related issue at University of California, Berkeley (UCB) as result of a recent court order that would have required UCB to significantly reduce admissions due to environmental- and development-related concerns. The Legislature advanced a bill ensuring that student enrollment at a college is not singled out as a project under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Governor Gavin Newsom signed the measure into law virtually immediately after its approval by the Legislature.

Also, this week, lawmakers continue to grapple with competing proposals to address the rising price of gasoline statewide. On Tuesday, Assembly Republicans attempted a vote on the Assembly Floor to hear a measure (AB 1638/Kiley) to suspend the state’s gasoline tax, a move that ultimately failed on an 18-40 vote. Then, on Thursday, a group of Assembly Democrats unveiled a proposal to provide relief from high gasoline prices. The group of Assembly Members are proposing the use $9 billion of the state’s budget surplus to provide a $400 rebate for taxpayers to cover the current 51.1 cent per gallon tax for one full year of weekly refills for a vehicle with a 15-gallon gasoline tank. The move by the Assembly Members comes after Governor Newsom, in his recent state of the state address, suggested the need for economic relief from rising gasoline prices.

Below, we highlight a CHEAC-tracked measure of interest. The CHEAC Legislative Committee, having completed its two daylong bill review meetings, will now be meeting on a weekly basis throughout the legislative session to review new proposals, assess recent amendments, and discuss positions on legislative bills of interest to local health departments. For a full update, the latest edition of the CHEAC Weekly Update is available here.

Public Health Emergency Preparedness

SCR 5 (Melendez) as amended February 2, 2021 – WATCH

Of note this week, the Senate Committee on Governmental Organization convened a hearing to consider SCR 5 by Republican Senator Melissa Melendez. SCR 5 would declare that the state of emergency proclaimed by Governor Newsom on March 4, 2020, due to the COVID-19 public health emergency is at an end, thereby terminating the emergency powers granted to the Governor consistent with the proclamation. During the Tuesday hearing, Senator Melendez indicated that California has been “under a state of emergency for more than 700 days,” and that, “it is time for the state to allow local governments to take the lead and address emergencies locally without the shotgun approach of a statewide emergency.”

SCR 5 garnered some support but was opposed by a number of notable groups, including the California Hospital Association, California Labor Federation, and the California Professional Firefighters, among others. Senators, during the hearing, expressed the need to keep in place the emergency proclamation to support the continued response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Senator Bill Dodd, chair of the committee, noted the Governor has begun to phase down a series of emergency orders put in place during the pandemic but keeping the emergency proclamation will allow the state to be prepared for future variants and surges.

Ultimately, SCR 5 failed to advance from the Governmental Organization Committee on an 4-8 vote with three members not voting. Senator Melendez was granted reconsideration, allowing her to bring back the measure for legislative consideration at a later date.

Drug & Alcohol Services

AB 1598 (Davies) as amended March 10, 2022 – SUPPORT

AB 1598 by Assembly Member Laura Davies would exclude testing equipment for fentanyl, ketamine, gamma hydroxybutyric acid, and any analog of fentanyl from the statutory definition of “drug paraphernalia.” AB 1598 this week was advanced from the Assembly on consent to the Senate where the bill now awaits referral to a policy committee.