Budget Trailer Bills Prove Once Again the “Devil is in the Details”

On Monday, Gov. Newsom announced via press release that he had signed the 2020-21 state budget.

Naturally, much of the budget press coverage typically focuses on the debate between the Governor and the Legislature and the total state spending picture.  Often overlooked are the budget “trailer bills” – the policy changes enacted to implement the provisions of the budget.  The old adage “the devil is in the details” is often true with budget trailer bills that can have a huge impact on state policy.

Newsom and the Legislature’s Democratic leaders have channeled their inner Rahm Emmanuel throughout this year’s budget debate.  The policy changes enacted in this year’s budget trailer bills shows just how focused they were on taking advantage of the COVID-19 crisis to enact their agenda.

Here are a few of the most notable changes:

Expanding the Governor’s Executive Powers 

At the start of the COVID-19 crisis, Democrat and Republican lawmakers were very deferential to the Governor using his executive powers to address the coronavirus.  But the Governor’s controversial nearly $1 billion mask deal ended the harmony as lawmakers vowed not to give Newsom any more blank checks.  Through their own budget plans, Legislative Democrats signaled their intent to reassert checks-and-balances.

While Newsom gave into many demands from Legislative Democrats, the final budget includes a provision that advances Governor’s executive powers even further.  The Sacramento Bee reports that “California counties must comply with state and federal COVID-19 rules if they want part of $2 billion in funding through the state budget.”  Assemblyman James Gallagher, who has challenged the Governor’s executive powers in court, charged that “once again, the Governor is instituting a one-size-fits-all mandate, this time with major financial consequences.”

Another Sweeping Public Safety Policy Change 

In April, I wrote about steps by the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and county sheriffs to reduce inmate populations due to the COVID-19 crisis.  One sheriff said of these changes, that “this virus should not be used as an excuse for a get out of jail free card.”

A budget trailer (Assembly Bill 88) will pave the way for more “get out of jail free” cards.  It changes the eligibility for the Elderly Parole program.  Right now, only inmates who are over 60 years of age and have served a minimum of 25 years continuously are eligible.  AB 88 changes the eligibility, lowering the eligibility age to 50 years of age with a minimum of 20 years continuously served.

Senator Melissa Melendez tweeted of the proposal, that “this repulsive move robs victims and their families of the justice they deserve and gives criminals yet another nod of approval.”

As someone who is well on my way to reaching 50, I don’t consider that age milestone to be elderly by any stretch of the imagination.  Under AB 88, I guess 50 is now the new 80.

Education Trailer Bill Could Hurt Homeschool Parents, Students 

While learning at home due to the COVID-19 crisis, many parents and students have turned to online learning to keep up their studies.  Senate Bill 98, the education omnibus trailer bill, could change this.

As EdSource reports, “organizations representing school boards and administrators disagree on whether the wording of (SB 98) precludes districts from also offering distance learning to children whose parents want to keep them home during the pandemic or a blended model that combines distance and in-person education to students in shifts.”

Speaking against the proposal, Assemblyman Kevin Kiley exclaimed that, “the parents, and families, and school leaders and teachers and everyone else who are part of this community . . . look upon our state government with nothing but fear.  They just wonder, what next, what harm is going to be done to me and my school and my way of life . . .”

As PRI’s Lance Izumi pointed out in a recent op-ed, “the current crisis is acquainting parents and their children with new and revolutionary modes of learning, which will disrupt the regular-public-school status quo.”  Unfortunately for them, the teachers’ union status quo holds great power in the Legislature and appears to have flexed its muscles again to deny school choice opportunities to California’s students.

Tim Anaya is the Pacific Research Institute’s senior director of communications and the Sacramento office.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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