Today, the Legislature reconvenes for the final month of the 2021 legislative session. For the next four weeks, lawmakers will be on a mad dash to finalize its work before the September 10 deadline.
This year’s legislative session can best be described as being overshadowed by events.
On last week’s PRI “Next Round” podcast, Saving California author Steven Greenhut told us that, “Covid has dominated everything, and it’s hard to think of legislation outside of Covid-related” as making a big dent this session.
In addition, California’s wildly fluctuating state budget dominated the discussion for weeks before lawmakers went on summer recess. Recall politics should dominate this final month of session, as the gubernatorial recall election will be held on September 14, just 4 days after lawmakers adjourn.
Here’s a look at some of the legislature’s unfinished business for 2021 – issues that may not be resolved this year at all.
Washington made big news on transportation infrastructure this summer with last week’s Senate passage of the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package.
According to a fact sheet produced by the White House, California stands to receive nearly $30 billion over five years for highway and bridge repair and construction, among other funding.
Now it’s time for Sacramento’s stab at a transportation infrastructure plan. While this year’s unusually long, untransparent budget process stretched into mid-July, legislative Democrats and Newsom still have not reached agreement on a transportation infrastructure package.
The Sacramento Bee reported last month that “the partial budget agreement lawmakers say they’ve already reach with Newsom includes $3 billion for transportation infrastructure projects that will require additional negotiation.”
This includes what the Bee calls “the conspicuous absence of money for high-speed rail.” Newsom wants the Legislature to allow the remaining $4.2 billion in voter-approved Prop. 1A (2008) bond funds to be issued to pay for project construction, but Legislative Democrats have yet to agree.
Expect lawmakers to give Newsom a win on transportation infrastructure, but to punt on high-speed rail for now. This would allow how to tout a big budget win on politically popular spending – while avoiding the political hot potato that is high-speed rail with the recall election just around the corner.
Addressing California’s Housing Crisis
Greenhut says that “SB 9 and SB 10, the bills that would allow higher density construction, that seems like a major part of unfinished business.”
“The Legislature is going to have to figure out what it wants to do. There’s a good idea there in reducing building regulations and creating a buy-right construction,” he says. “Unfortunately, legislators only want to allow easier constructions of the types of projects they want. And what is easier construction of all types of projects.”
Writing about SB 10 on Right by the Bay, Nolan Gray notes that, “many California cities enforce unreasonably strict zoning regulations, effectively blocking all development.”
He writes that, “SB 10 would streamline the process, cutting the costs of unnecessary CEQA review and eliminating litigation risk” – and its enactment would result in “one less rule standing in the way of the housing our state so desperately needs.”
State Eviction Moratorium
Much of the focus on the debate overextending a Covid-related eviction ban centered on action – or lack thereof – by Congress. Facing pressure from the far left, President Biden prodded the CDC to extend the national eviction ban until the end of September.
But many reading the judicial tea leaves believe this extension won’t last long. Justice Brett Kavanaugh indicated in a ruling earlier this year that the CDC probably didn’t have the authority to extend the ban but allowed it to continue until July 31 to bring about an orderly conclusion. Expect the Court to strike down this latest extension sometime soon – which will ramp up liberal pressure on Congress and state legislatures to act.
Here in California, lawmakers have struggled to pass legislation extending the ban amid a larger debate about when Covid-19-related relief measures should dissipate. The state’s ban also expires September 30. Citing the “difficult and complicated” discussions of legislation and the disbursement of rent relief funds, Assemblyman David Chiu, D-San Francisco, recently told the Gimme Shelter podcast that “he wanted the state moratorium to go until at least the end of the year . . . (and) hopes the Legislature will debate the issue again before it adjourns on Sept. 10.”
It’s likely that the extreme political pressure that leftist groups directed at Congress over the federal eviction ban expiration will soon be directed toward Sacramento. Expect lawmakers to reach some sort of extension so Newsom can claim another win before the recall election.
Tim Anaya is the Pacific Research Institute’s senior director of communications and the Sacramento office.