There are four weeks left for California lawmakers to pass bills before the legislative session comes to a close for the year.
Local Assemblyman James Gallagher and state Sen. Jim Nielsen said there aren’t too many positives to take from the legislative session so far.
“Frankly, I think it’s been a disaster, in part because of this pandemic but also in part because I think the Legislature itself has not stood up for itself as an institution,” Gallagher said. “I’m disappointed in the lack of will on behalf of my colleagues to stand up to the governor on areas where he’s usurping our power, and I also feel like there was a failure to figure out how to continue to meet and act on certain policies.”
Due to the pandemic, the Legislature took a recess in March and didn’t return until May. Gallagher said not much progress was made in the meantime. It also caused many initiatives unrelated to the state’s COVID-19 response to be put on the backburner, he said.
“That happened to a lot of the stuff I think is important, like public safety issues and government transparency issues,” Gallagher said. “I had a bill that would streamline a pipeline project in Paradise down to Chico as part of a water resiliency project, but it wasn’t heard in committee because the chair decided it wasn’t urgent enough.”
Nielsen said the Legislature has failed at its oversight duties and that the session has lacked open communication and knowledge of how best to handle the response to the pandemic. Both Republican lawmakers said the state failed to look into the issues at the Employment Development Department regarding California residents having trouble filing for needed unemployment insurance.
Nielsen said he’s still leading an effort to have the Legislature conduct an audit of the state’s acquisition of masks.
“I cannot say that I’m too optimistic about anything the state’s done, I’m more pessimistic really,” Nielsen said. “Like when it comes to the release of thousands of prisoners into our communities, and there are proposals in their stimulus package using money that we don’t have for ‘good idea’ programs, I just think it’s really reckless the way they’ve been doing things. To spend money we don’t have with the hope that we will have it in the future, you are approving programs that require continued obligations, that’s really reckless.”
One issue that will be at the forefront of the state Legislature in the coming weeks is a recent proposal from Democratic lawmakers on a $100 billion stimulus plan that would provide extra unemployment benefits, expand tax credits for low-income and undocumented workers, protect renters from evictions, and help struggling landlords and small businesses, while also creating environmentally-friendly jobs, according to CalMatters.
Gallagher said the proposal would result in a monumental tax increase for Californians, at a time when many cannot afford one. He said the state barely passed its budget this year, and because of the dramatic impact the pandemic is expected to have on certain revenue streams, the state doesn’t have enough money to implement the plan without passing another tax increase.
“I can’t go along with that. I would rather us focus on how we use our existing resources to get it to the people who need it most, which was a big part of the budget discussions, and to work with the federal government on their stimulus package so that we can get help to the people who are hurting,” Gallagher said.