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T-minus 3 days for California lawmakers

CalMatter 8-30.PNG
Rahul Lal/CalMatters
Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon attends a floor session at the state Capitol in Sacramento on Aug. 1, 2022.

It all comes down to this.

The two-year legislative session ends Wednesday at midnight, giving Gov. Gavin Newsom and state lawmakers just three days to hammer out agreements on complex, controversial bills and budget items encompassing everything from nuclear power to abortion to youth vaccination.

According to veteran Sacramento lobbyist Chris Micheli, legislators still need to determine the fate of about 525 bills, or about 175 per day. (Newsom on Friday signed a pile of less contentious bills already sent to his desk.)

Looming over the frenetic negotiations is the Nov. 8 general election, which adds an extra layer of political complexity when it comes to voting on controversial proposals — especially for lawmakers running for contested seats in the state Assembly and Senate.

And then are the internal politics stemming from the ongoing battle to lead the Assembly: Current Speaker Anthony Rendon, a Lakewood Democrat, reiterated as recently as this weekend that he intends to hold onto his crown when the next legislative session begins in January. But Assemblymember Robert Rivas, a Salinas Democrat, has for months been angling to assume the powerful position that helps shape the Legislature’s policy agenda and influences which bills stand a chance of making it into law.

In many ways, these next few days mark the end of a policymaking era: More than a quarter of the Legislature’s 120 members won’t be coming back next year, the largest turnover in at least seven years. Whom Californians elect to replace them could have a significant effect on the future policy debates and laws coming out of Sacramento.

But there are still plenty of debates to be settled this legislative session. Some of the most hotly contested topics include:

  • Farmworker unionization. Thousands of farmworkers and their supporters descended on the state Capitol on Friday, the last stop on the United Farm Workers’ 355-mile, 24-day march to urge Newsom to sign a bill to make it easier for farmworkers to vote in union elections after he vetoed similar legislation last year. But, as CalMatters’ Jeanne Kuang reports, Newsom and the union have yet to reach a compromise on the bill, even after it was amended to include some provisions the governor supports. The revised bill would allow agricultural employers to choose between a union election — during which farmworkers could decide to vote by mail — or a “card check,” in which a majority of workers sign up indicating they want union representation. But the parties disagree on details of the proposed mail-in ballot process, and although the governor’s office emphasized there’s still time to reach a deal, “we cannot support an untested mail-in election process that lacks critical provisions to protect the integrity of the election,” Newsom spokesperson Erin Mellon said in a statement. Dolores Huerta, who co-founded the National Farm Workers Association, told Sacramento Bee opinion writer Melinda Henneberger that she thinks Newsom will sign the bill because “Gavin wants to be president, so he can go a step further and recognize that these are the people who are making California rich.”
  • Diablo Canyon. Democratic lawmakers, most of whom are none too thrilled with Newsom’s last-ditch proposal to extend the lifespan of California’s last nuclear power plant to help stabilize the state’s fragile energy grid, are discussing what could be the beginnings of a compromise with the governor’s office. The tentative plan would involve allowing PG&E, Diablo Canyon’s operator, to seek federal funds to help keep the plant afloat while delaying thornier questions about the facility’s future until the next legislative session, according to the Associated Press.
  • Youth vaccination. Lawmakers are set to consider today a highly controversial bill to allow kids 15 and older to get vaccinated without parental consent. In a sign of the uphill battle the proposal could face, it cleared its previous legislative hurdle only after being amended to raise the minimum age from 12 to 15.

The coronavirus bottom line: As of Thursday, California had 10,237,892 confirmed cases (+0.3% from previous day) and 94,047 deaths (+0.2% from previous day), according to state data now updated just twice a week on Tuesdays and Fridays. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.

California has administered 79,522,958 vaccine doses, and 72% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.

What questions do you have about the Statewide General Election coming up on Nov. 8? Submit your questions here, and we'll try to answer them in our reporting.