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How The New Democratic Agenda Is Taking Shape In The California Legislature

The California State Capitol in the early evening in Sacramento, Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2016.
Associated Press
The California State Capitol in the early evening in Sacramento, Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2016.
How The New Democratic Agenda Is Taking Shape In The California Legislature
How The New Democratic Agenda Is Taking Shape In The California Legislature GUEST: Laurel Rosenhall, political reporter, CALmatters

A new class of California lawmakers was sworn into office this week to mark the start of a new two year legislative session. Democrats now hold 75 percent of the seats in the Assembly and almost the same portion in the Senate giving them what some are calling a new mega majority. So how is the Democratic agenda shaping up. Political reporter Laurel Rosenhall with Cal matters joins us via Skype to talk about a few bills already coming across the desk. Laura welcome thank you so much. Well let's start with some of the new bills weighing heavy on this new legislative body is the recent wildfire disaster. How are lawmakers responding to that devastation. There's a lot of ideas kicking around. One new bill has to do with creating a new fire preparedness council. But probably the most contentious idea has to do with liability that the utility companies face when their power lines are involved in fires. And this was a huge issue in the legislative year that ended at the end of August and was extremely contentious. There was you know many millions of dollars of lobbying was spent on this issue because utilities really want to loosen up the rules. And of course consumer groups feel like they should be held accountable and should have to pay if their equipment was involved. But there's a real public policy question about you know if they can't afford to pay and they face bankruptcy because they have so much liability from these fires then you know what does that create a bunch of other problems for customers. And you know other expenses so there there probably will be a bill next year looking at the liability issue in some way maybe allowing the utility companies to pass on the costs to customers with surcharges on their bills. That was something that they did pass as a as a new law already. But in an odd twist the law they passed does not apply to fires that happened in 2013 so won't be surprising if we see some kind of legislation to address the the fires that have that have devastated our state this year. And there's also been a revival of Senator Scott Wiener's controversial housing bill that would allow taller denser buildings around public transit. Is he now introducing the same exact bill or is there new language in there to respond to some of the criticism it previously received. Yeah this year's version is largely the same but there are three specific differences. Basically trying to get around the fact or address the fact I should say that last year's version really had a lot of opposition from people who were concerned that it would spur gentrification. So Senator Wiener has made some changes that are meant to address those concerns and make it kind of harder to use this law in cases where someone was going to you know tear down a building anyway. And but for the most part the bill is largely the same and it would call for four to five storey buildings near rail lines for example. So it will remain controversial because at its heart it still is kind of giving the state some say in an issue that historically in California has been a matter of strict local control. Also on the topic of housing San Diego Assemblyman Todd Gloria is cosponsoring Assembly Bill 11 which would bring back redevelopment agencies. How might bringing back these agencies help create more affordable housing. Well previously before Governor Brown eliminated redevelopment agencies in 2011 they helped generate about a billion dollars annually for construction and preservation of low income housing. And Brown you know felt that the funds were frequently misused and that was part of his argument and getting rid of redevelopment agencies. But a lot of people have looked at what's happened since 2011 and our housing market and have said that kind of the last of this dedicated revenue to support low income housing is linked with the crisis of affordability that we're now seeing. So there's been a lot of discussion in recent years about bringing back redevelopment and I think that legislators kind of knew that that wouldn't happen under Jerry Brown since he had been the one to unravel the program in the first place. And so it's not really surprising that they're using this opportunity of a new governor being sworn in in January to discuss bringing it back. And honestly it's something Newsome has talked about himself on the campaign trail it's been a part of his housing plan and it's something that local governments really want including I should point out your mayor in San Diego Kevin Faulkner has said that you know bringing back redevelopment would really help address housing problems in San Diego. Moving away from redevelopment money now one thing Democrats have tried to get done in recent years is expanding health care coverage to people who are in the country illegally. Are we likely to see that proposal come up again. Yes the proposal is back and the question is where that ranks on Gavin Newsom's list of priorities both in terms of how he wants to craft healthcare policy and also where he wants to spend the state's resources. And finally we often saw Governor Brown hold back from spending as much as some liberal Democrats would have liked. How do you see this much bluer legislature working with Newsome come January. You know that's a huge question is how much money are they going to spend. There's a big reserve in the state and there's and the state is flush with cash right now. But there's also more priorities I should say there are more ideas about how to spend the money than they will be able to prioritize. And I think it will be very likely that they put some money into early childhood education. That's something that Newsome has talked a lot about on the campaign trail and that Democrats have in the legislature have been trying to get through for the last couple of years so I expect that we'll see some there. And I expect we'll see sort of something on health care. But exactly what form that takes. I don't know and I think Newsome is going to be in an interesting and difficult position where he is going to have to say no to a lot of the interest groups and fellow Democrats who helped him get into office. So that's going to be a huge question to watch in the year ahead. I've been speaking with political reporter Laurel Rosenhall with Cal matters Laurel. Thanks for weighing in. I appreciate you talking to me. Thank you.

A new class of California lawmakers was sworn into office Monday to mark the start of a new two-year legislative session.

Democrats now hold 75 percent of the seats in the Assembly and almost the same portion in the Senate giving them what some are calling a new “mega-majority.”

So how is the Democratic agenda shaping up? And what are some of the key policy fights on the horizon?

Laurel Rosenhall, political reporter with CALmatters, wrote about some of the new bills already coming across the desk, which address everything from wildfire disasters to the housing crisis.

She joins Midday Edition Wednesday to discuss how those bills might fare in 2019.