COVID-19, Wildfires and Civil Unrest: How 2020 Impacted State Policy and What Locals Should Expect in 2021

Analysis by:

Dane Hutchings
Dane Hutchings

Managing Director of Government Affairs

Sharon Gonsalves

Director of Government Affairs

The beginning of 2020 held incredible promise for Governor Newsom and his team. The State faced an historic budget surplus. Newsom proposed billions in new spending—striking the balance of new programs while attacking head on the State’s rapidly growing pension liabilities.  In February, during his State of the State, Newsom laid out a game plan for the year that began with high hopes of passing monumental legislation. In furtherance of his 2019 housing “Marshall Plan,” the Governor spent nearly the entirety of his annual address to the Legislature outlining an aggressive agenda that would boost affordable housing and help address the homelessness crisis. However, only mere weeks after his State of the State address, Governor Newsom faced a once-in-a-generation crisis—a global pandemic.

In an instant the State went from a thriving economy to shuttered businesses, mandated lockdowns and a projected 54-billion-dollar state budget deficit. This brought upon an unprecedented legislative session with even the most seasoned political professionals working to navigate the unknown.  In March, the legislative session was abruptly adjourned under a statewide mandatory stay-at-home in order. With the closure of most businesses that were deemed non-essential, the State, as well as the nation, began to the see unemployment numbers rise.  California leads the nation with over 8 million new claims filed in 2020 according to the latest Department of Labor statistics. In May, the economic downturn and the public health crisis became front and center when the legislature returned from their unplanned six-week recess.

When members returned, they attempted to resume legislative business only to have several members and staff test positive for the virus, resulting in another closure of the Capitol.  The break was the second extended recess for California lawmakers this session.   Both houses were able to return on July 27—after an additional two weeks of delay—with safety precautions allowing for socially distanced meetings.

In the wake of the controversial officer-involved deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, cities nationwide broke out in unrest and protest demanding racial equity and justice for the victims. Cities across California enlisted the help of the National Guard to quell violence in the streets. Businesses that were already struggling due to COVID-19 now found themselves the victims of looting and theft.  With three weeks left in the legislative session, police reform and social justice were elevated to the list of high priority legislation that needed resolution this year. To make matters worse, California experienced, record heatwaves, rolling blackouts, unprecedented dry lightning storms and millions of acres scorched by wildfires—all resulting in billions of unplanned expenditures to account for.

Each of these factors aided to the noticeably high tension running through both legislative chambers. Tensions grew not only between political parties, but between the houses themselves, in the waning hours before the constitutional end-of-session deadline, as Legislative leaders were trying to triage what key legislation should advance. Due to Republican Senator Brian Jones (R, Santee) testing positive for COVID-19 in the final weeks of Session, the upper house required that all Republican Senators who were in contact with him to self-quarantine for two weeks—resulting in all but one Republican senator voting remotely via Zoom. The Assembly faced its own set of challenges. Specifically, Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks (D, Oakland) was required to appear in person, newborn baby in tow, to vote on important legislation including expanded family leave.  The legislature adjourned for the year after simply running out of time to vote on a number of bills.

All told, the impact COVID-19 had on the legislative process was profound.  The Legislature halted work for two additional months versus a traditional legislative session. This resulted in a major culling of legislative proposals as lawmakers were forced to park a majority of their priority measures. For context, during a normal legislative session over 2,500 measures are introduced. On average, over 1,200 bills are approved by the Legislature in the last year of a two-year session. By stark contrast, in 2020, 432 bills were approved by the California Legislature and 372 bills were signed by the Governor, the smallest number in decades. Despite the profound impacts that COVID-19 had on the legislative process, lawmakers still made the most out of their time in Sacramento, advancing critical measures such as AB 3088 (Chiu) that allows for a temporary moratorium on residential evictions, a variety of police reform measures, some housing and homelessness measures.

Key Legislation Signed into Law

Housing and Eviction Protection

AB 725 (Wicks) General plans: housing element: moderate-income and above moderate-income housing: suburban and metropolitan jurisdictions

Status: Chaptered and signed by the Governor on September 28

AB 2345 (Gonzalez) Planning and zoning: density bonuses: annual report: affordable housing

Status: Chaptered and signed by the Governor on September 28

AB 2553 (Ting) Shelter crisis declarations

Status: Chaptered and signed by the Governor on September 25

AB 3308 (Gabriel) Workforce Housing
Status: Chaptered and signed by the Governor on September 28

AB 3088 (Chiu) Tenancy: rental payment default: mortgage forbearance: state of emergency: COVID-19

Status: Chaptered and signed by the Governor on August 31

COVID “Employer” Related

AB 685 (Reyes) COVID-19: imminent hazard to employees: exposure: notification: serious violations

Status: Chaptered and signed by the Governor on September 17

SB 1159 (Hill) Workers’ compensation: COVID-19: critical workers

Status: Chaptered and signed by the Governor on September 17

Police Reform

AB 1196 (Gipson) Peace officers: use of force
Status: Chaptered and signed by the Governor on September 30

AB 1185 (McCarty) County Board of Supervisors: Sheriff oversight
Status: Chaptered and signed by the Governor on September 30

AB 1506 (McCarty) Police: Use of force
Status: Chaptered and signed by the Governor on September 30

AB 1775 (Jones-Sawyer) False reports and harassment
Status: Chaptered and signed by the Governor on September 30

SB 203 (Bradford) Juveniles: Custodial interrogation
Status: Chaptered and signed by the Governor on September 30

SB 480 (Archuleta) Law Enforcement: Uniforms

Status: Chaptered and signed by the Governor on September 30

Key Legislation Vetoed by the Governor:

AB 69 (Ting) Help Homeowners Add New Housing Program: accessory dwelling unit financing

Status: Vetoed on September 28, view here for veto message

SB 182 (Jackson) Local government: planning and zoning: wildfires

Status: Vetoed on September 30, view here for veto message

AB 3216 (Kalra) Unemployment: rehiring and retention: state of emergency

Status: Vetoed on September 30, view here for veto message

What to Expect in 2021

Next year, expect the legislature to immediately resume negotiations on tenant eviction protection. Should the Legislature fail to reach a more long-term agreement, evictions specifically due to COVID-19 or otherwise may resume February 1, 2021.  The legislature will remain committed to pursuing legislation to increase housing production, specifically polices such as those proposed in SB 1120 (Atkins), which would have superseded local zoning authority. Affordable housing, transit-oriented development, density and mixed-use will all be back on the table in 2021. Also, expect more legislation that specifically targets the authority outlined in the Davis-Stirling Act that provides zoning discretion to HOA Boards. Other big-ticket policy items include homelessness response and funding, wildfire management and economic recovery.

Furthermore, once the session adjourned Speaker Anthony Rendon announced the creation of a select committee on police reform, tasked to address a number of outstanding policies that were not advanced in 2020. During Governor Newsom’s livestream signing ceremony for AB 1196, Governor Newsom pledged to supporters that “we are just getting started”—calling upon the Senate and Assembly to continue their work to advance more measures in this space in 2021. Next year, expect a number of new bills to be introduced as a result of the informational hearings held by the select committee.

The Legislature returns to Sacramento on December 7 for a “house cleaning” session. Here, lawmakers who were either newly elected or re-elected to serve another term in their respective House will been sworn into office, proforma votes on legislative leadership will take place and some timely measures may be introduced and sit in print until the Legislature’s full return on January 4, 2021. RPPG will provide another account of what local agencies should expect to see from their state representatives as we embark on a new two-year legislative cycle.

Should you have questions on these or any measures, please contact RPPG:

Dane Hutchings

Dane Hutchings
dhutchings@publicpolicygroup.com
916.230.6935

Sharon Gonsalves

Sharon Gonsalves
sgonsalves@publicpolicygroup.com
916.849.5536

2020-10-09T17:30:31-07:00October 8th, 2020|