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The first batch of bills filed in the new session target the pandemic, housing and climate change.
Lawmakers returned to Sacramento this week to be sworn in for a new session, and some have already gotten to work filing new bills. These first measures offer an early glimpse at what many of them will be prioritizing and fighting for as the session gets underway. Here’s what we know so far.
Unsurprisingly, there are already several bills that wrestle with the pandemic in some way.
Sen. Brian Jones, who’s expressed frustration throughout the year about Gov. Gavin Newsom exerting too much power to control the pandemic, co-authored a measure that would require any declaration of emergency by the governor to expire after 60 days.
One of the state’s biggest failures in dealing with the pandemic has been fixing problems that have prevented the Employment Development Department from quickly processing unemployment claims and doling out benefits.
A few measures introduced this week deal with EDD frustrations, though from different perspectives.
A bill written by Assembly Republican Leader Marie Waldron would set turnaround times on when the department must respond to claims and challenges.
A bill co-authored by Sen. Pat Bates would prevent EDD from including a person’s full Social Security number on certain mailed documents.
Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, meanwhile, introduced a bill that would allow recipients to receive their benefits via direct deposit.
Two of San Diego’s Assembly members have already tossed up bills to get California back on track preparing for climate change after COVID upset those efforts last session.
New Assemblyman Chris Ward (who won the seat vacated by now-Mayor Todd Gloria) proposed creating 12 regional climate change coordinating groups that could support cities seeking to reduce planet-warming greenhouse gases.
Right now, cities sort of stand alone in massive planning efforts for threats that lie decades in the future. Sea level rise is a perfect example for San Diego.
How much the sea will warm and expand, eating away and sometimes swallowing whole portions of San Diego’s coastline, depends on how well global economies can cut their use of fossil fuels.
San Diego already studied how fast and far the sea will rise against its shores under different scientifically based scenarios and knows which infrastructure is at risk. But now the task is to incorporate all that knowledge into preparing for what’s to come. That could mean building expensive sea walls, replacing and moving huge stormwater pipes and perhaps the retreat of real estate from the old shoreline.
A bill from Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins last year intended to provide $100 million in grants to those kinds of planning efforts died last legislative session, but she’s revived it for the new session.
Assemblywoman Tasha Boerner Horvath introduced a bill that’s complementary to Ward’s in creating a state-supported Climate Adaptation Center and Regional Support Network focused solely on helping cities face sea level rise challenges. Not all coastal cities have the funding, expertise and staffing power like San Diego to do the necessary prep work.
“There’s no specific coordinating body that has all of this kind of information all in one place,” said Rob Charles, Boerner Horvath’s chief of staff. “And what we heard from a lot of cities is, we know how (sea level rise) is going to impact us but we don’t know what to do or how to approach it.”
Also coming from Boerner Horvath’s desk: a proposal to protect the rights of workers who choose to telecommute. Once a new-age idea in the 1980s and ‘90s, working from home experienced a rebirth in 2020 as a way to stem the spread of COVID-19 between employees.
Working from home already proved beneficial for the atmosphere and human health as less people driving to work during COVID meant less air pollution and greenhouse gases in San Diego and abroad.
“(Boerner Horvath) wants to see this continue post-pandemic because it helps reduce greenhouse gases and can help people who are working parents,” Charles said.
The bill focuses on amending existing state law that protects worker wages and job conditions.
A measure written by Atkins that would allow duplexes and four-plexes on single-family lots failed to get across the finish line at the last second before the previous legislative session ended, which led to a lot of finger-pointing between Atkins and then-Speaker Anthony Rendon.
That bill is already back on the table – now it is SB 9.
Atkins has also introduced a housing bond, though the details are still sparse.
A significant portion of the state went into a version of lockdown this week, but just what is allowed – and why – remains a point of confusion and contention.
Though many of the new stay-at-home orders include even outdoor dining, restaurants were allowed to operate outdoors in Sacramento County as of Monday, when lawmakers had to be in Sacramento to be sworn in – something they’re constitutionally mandated to do in person. The Sacramento Bee caught some of those lawmakers, including San Diego Assembly members Chris Ward and Tasha Boerner Horvath, dining outdoors in a group larger than what state guidance recommends.
So why is outdoor dining banned in many places?
It turns out, it’s not because outdoor dining itself is particularly unsafe, as Scott Lewis explained this week.
Another outdoor activity thought to be relatively safe is playgrounds. Gov. Gavin Newsom reversed course after several lawmakers, including San Diego Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, urged the governor to allow them to stay open. Newsom agreed.