Sacramento Report: A Suspenseful Day in the Assembly - Voice of San Diego

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Sacramento Report: A Suspenseful Day in the Assembly

Notable suspense file bills from local legislators to keep an eye on, the push to make CalFresh signups less painful, San Diego Chamber puts in face time in Sacramento and more in our weekly roundup of news from the Capitol.

Friday is a big decision day in the Assembly.

Any bill that would come with a price tag of $150,000 or more gets routed into the Appropriations Committee’s suspense file. San Diego Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez chairs that committee now.

Sacramento Report logoThose bills have been in limbo, but on Friday, they’ll meet their fate – many will get thrown out, and some will move on to an Assembly vote.

Here are a few notable suspense file bills from local legislators to keep an eye on:

Overtime for Farm Workers

It’s good to be chair, which is why Gonzalez’s bill to provide overtime to farm workers is expected to move forward. The proposal would move in phases and by 2020 would require overtime pay for workers who labor more than 40 hours a week. The bill has generated support from Hillary Clinton, Sen. Dianne Feinstein and the L.A. Times editorial board, to name a few. Farmers, strapped with rising water rates and a minimum wage hike, say they can’t afford it – and that it’ll actually cut workers’ hours.

Redevelopment Funds for Low-Income Housing

Assemblywoman Toni Atkins has long pushed for solution’s to the state’s housing crisis, and one of her bills would make half of the savings from the end of the state’s redevelopment program available for low-income housing. Half of the new money reserved for low-income housing programs would go to existing state programs, and half would go to cities for their low-income housing programs. Overall, the amount of money it could provide to low-income housing would be capped at $1 billion a year.

Reforming CalGang

Assemblywoman Shirley Weber has been an outspoken critic of the statewide database that tracks gang members and those suspected of being gang members – and even mentioned in a hearing that her son had once been threatened with inclusion in the database during a traffic stop.

Many of the criticisms of CalGang center on its secrecy – a person could be placed on it and not even know. That’s what Weber’s bill seeks to address. It expands the requirements for notifying people who land on the list, and provides a pathway for people who are on the list and haven’t been convicted of a crime to be removed.

School Accountability

Weber has also proposed a number of education reforms, including this bill that would establish a statewide accountability system.

Weber’s bill would compel the state Board of Education to align its system with federal requirements, and to create “criteria for identifying districts and schools in need of support and improvement,” according to an analysis.

Taking Project 25 to Another Level

For all its struggles addressing homelessness, San Diego has found success with a small program called Project 25, which provides housing and services for the most frequent users of emergency services.

One of the creators of that program was Assemblyman Brian Maienschein, who has a bill that would require homeless providers statewide to compile data on the number of arrests, emergency room visits and other categories of homeless people it serves.

“The data will enable state and local governments to develop better programs to target the needs of these individuals and utilize funding and other resources in the most efficient manner,” according to an analysis.

Fresh & Not Easy

May is CalFresh Awareness Month, which means extra scrutiny on barriers that keep people from signing up for food assistance.

CalFresh is the state’s name for the federal program colloquially known as food stamps.

Not too long ago, San Diego County was singled out for its dismal food stamps participation rate. A 2009 report found that only 35 percent of eligible county residents were enrolled in the program.

Now that number’s flipped: Roughly two-thirds of eligible county residents are enrolled in CalFresh, according to the San Diego Hunger Coalition. SDHC credits the increase to better outreach, technology upgrades and initiatives like same-day enrollment for homeless people.

Lingering issues that keep more people from enrolling aren’t necessarily at the county level, said Amanda Schultz, SDHC’s CalFresh outreach director.

“I think there’s definitely still work to be done at the local level,” she said, “but a lot of the systems-level issues that we’re seeing that make it hard for people to access services require state-level fixes.”

California, for instance, requires CalFresh participants to submit semi-annual eligibility paperwork, a task that can be onerous for infirm and elderly folks. Seniors used to be exempt from the requirement.

Another potential fix would be to streamline the income-verification process.

“The current process is incredibly time-intensive for county eligibility workers,” said Anahid Brakke, SDHC’s executive director. “It’s a greater cost to administer the program when we make it so difficult.”

She points to MediCal — which uses a federal data hub to verify income, via tax returns — as a program that’s successfully made the application process easier. And while a CalFresh applicant can enroll in MediCal without completing an application, a MediCal recipient who wants to apply for CalFresh has to go through a separate application process.

“We don’t see those best practices being applied to CalFresh, and that’s something we’d really like to see the state take leadership on,” she said.

Kim McCoy Wade, the CalFresh branch chief for the California Department of Social Services, said she agrees the verification process could be more efficient.

“It would save people time, save workers time,” she said.

CalFresh requires an applicant’s current income information, McCoy Wade said, meaning last year’s tax return isn’t an option. Right now, the state has a pilot program that allows counties to use Equifax’s Work Number database to verify income and employment, though only 5,500 employers participate in the database.

Schultz agrees that the most recent income information is ideal, but said that CalFresh “should accept income verification in any form.”

“We would like to find a balance that makes it easy for clients to meet requirements and receive the assistance they need,” she said.

McCoy Wade said CalFresh is pursuing other options to make the application process easier. But, she added, “there are definitely issues to work through.”

— Kelly Davis

Chamber Puts in Face Time

The San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce sent a 70-member delegation to Sacramento this week to lobby state lawmakers.

The Chamber’s agenda is a hodgepodge of issues. It’s working to redo parts of the California Environmental Quality Act and the tax code, which you might expect. But there are other things where it’s not immediately clear what the Chamber’s interest is: It’s against a bill that would cap the number of out-of-state students admitted to the University of California. Why? Because that might hurt UC San Diego, which likes out-of-state students that pay higher tuitions.

Paola Avila, a Chamber vice president, said the Sacramento trip is a good way to continuing pushing back against the impression that California ends at Los Angeles. And it’s also to compensate for geographic disadvantages San Diego has when it comes to getting its voice heard in the statehouse: Northern California interest groups can also just pop over to the Capitol with a quick drive; the San Diego delegation had to fly.

“When we take a large group of 70, that helps to gain ground,” Avila said.

Of late, San Diego has had more pull in Sacramento that perhaps in the past: Toni Atkins was Assembly speaker until earlier this year, and Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez is now chairwoman of the powerful Appropriations Committee. Kevin de León, the head of the Senate, represents Los Angeles but was born in San Diego.

The Chamber is in favor of Gov. Jerry Brown’s bill to make it easier to build housing, an attempt to create affordable housing in part by circumventing some existing environmental laws.

The Chamber is also in favor of more funding for transportation. It’s interested in making sure any plan sends money to San Diego to help with roads near borders and the Port, though the Chamber has yet to take a position on specific bills.

“The longer it takes us to approve something, the more it’s going to cost us,” Avila said.

Conservative groups suffered a sound defeat earlier this month when a new $15 an hour minimum wage sailed through the Legislature and was signed into law. Locally, the Chamber is opposing a ballot measure in the city of San Diego that would raise the minimum wage a bit faster than the state law and guarantee sick days to workers.

— Ry Rivard

Other Bills of Note

 A proposal from Santee Assemblyman Brian Jones is getting some buzz – his bill would create a tax exemption for Olympic athletes. (10News)

 Sen. Ben Hueso’s bill that would forbid businesses from charging more for products aimed at girls (think pink razors that cost more than blue razors even if the design is the same for both) passed the state Senate. Meanwhile, Fortune reported this week that “simply being pink is likely to add to the price of an item sold by online retailers” – particularly when it comes to toys.

 Fallout from the big Coastal Commission coup earlier this year is still playing out: The state Senate also passed a bill this week that prevents board members from having private talks with parties who have permit decisions facing the board. (Sac Bee)

 A bill from Republican Assembly leader Chad Mayes would legalize organ transplants between patients who are HIV-positive. (Desert Sun)

Golden State News

 The New York Times Magazine hits the campaign trail with state Attorney General Kamala Harris, who’s running for Senate. The piece includes lots of details on her upbringing, her career as a prosecutor and critiques that she hasn’t done enough to address prosecutorial misconduct and other law enforcement abuses. (Disclosure: My husband works in the attorney general’s office.)

 Union truck drivers are joining law enforcement groups to oppose marijuana legalization. The California Teamsters are worried “about how the drug would be transported and distributed,” according to Buzzfeed.

 Though California is a leader in combating greenhouse gases, the state “has for too long turned a blind eye to squarely managing its own oil.” (Pacific Standard)

 This cool project examines the threat of rising sea levels to the Bay Area and how the region plans to address it. (San Francisco Chronicle)

 The plaintiffs in the landmark Vergara education case have filed an appeal to the California Supreme Court. The court has up to 90 days to decide whether to take the case. (EdSource)

 Liam Dillon details some of the opposition to line up against Gov. Jerry Brown’s affordable housing proposal: labor and environmental groups. (L.A. Times)

 Congress is wading into a long-running California water dispute. (AP)

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