While every legislative session faces its own set of challenges and opportunities, the 2021 California session was unique in its own right with a record-breaking state budget (The California Comeback Plan), looming impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, and a gubernatorial recall election. Although fewer bills were introduced this year due to slowed internal operations, 770 bills were still signed into law, 66 were vetoed, and countless new and long-standing issues were brought to committees and the floor for discussion. The session had a strong focus on criminal justice and workplace rights, and many bills were heavily influenced by the larger context of the fight for racial justice and COVID recovery.
In an effort to highlight some of the most significant legislation that has either been signed into law or that will continue in the next year, SCG’s public policy team spoke with some of our members and partner organizations to identify standout bills in four issue areas - climate & environment, criminal system reform, equity & human rights, and housing & homelessness - that are expected to have a meaningful impact for California. Alongside our partners, we will be paying attention to the implementation of the passed bills and keeping track of the 2-year bills that will likely return in 2022. We encourage members to engage with these and other policy efforts and partner with us to help identify how philanthropy can be involved.
Climate & Environment
Governor Gavin Newsom and his administration have taken significant steps to put California back on the path towards a greener, more sustainable future and tackle the most pressing climate crisis impacting our state. The governor recently signed 24 bills that focus on climate and clean energy efforts, drought, wildfire preparedness and pledged the most extensive climate package in state history, over $15 billion, to tackle the climate crisis and protect vulnerable communities.
This multi-year package will invest heavily in building wildfire resilience, address the state's drought and its impact, protect communities from climate risks, advance the zero-emission vehicle goals, and promote climate-smart agriculture. Additionally, the administration has pledged to conserve 30 percent of the state's land and coastal water by 2030, announced a phase-out of gasoline-powered vehicles by 2035, and proposed a comprehensive jobs and climate action plan.
Water shortages, drought, wildfires, and other climate changes affect our agriculture, reservoirs, and communities – particularly tribal communities, low-income, Latinx, and other historically marginalized groups. The Biden Administration has also prioritized investments to combat climate change. Within days of his inauguration, President Biden established, by executive order, the Justice40 Initiative. As part of the administration's "whole-of-government" approach, the Initiative works to advance environmental, racial, and economic justice for all communities, particularly those historically marginalized.
To learn more about the Biden Administration's climate goals and larger framework, please click here. The Luskin Center for Innovation at the University of California, Los Angeles has also released a report focused on two fundamental tensions and five recommendations that the Administration should consider as they work to achieve Justice40’s goals.
Below are a few of the climate and environment bills signed into law at the State level by Governor Newsom or continuing in 2022 (marked with *).
AB 9: Community Wildfire Preparedness and Mitigation
California continues to experience increasingly devastating wildfires year after year. To address this ongoing issue, AB 9 creates a new entity dedicated to wildfire prevention. The new branch will exist within the Office of the State Fire Marshal. It will focus exclusively on the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection’s (CAL FIRE) community fire prevention, preparedness, and mitigation efforts. The bill also establishes the Regional Forest and Fire Capacity Program (RFFCP), which, in collaboration with appropriate state agencies, will collect and assess data to identify the communities, infrastructure, forests, and watersheds that are at-risk and vulnerable to wildfires. RFFCP will also prioritize its focus, resources, and support to wildfire preparedness and prevention. This new program moves the work out of CAL FIRE to allow its staff to focus on fire suppression activities when significant wildlife occurs. The goals of this bill align closely with much of philanthropy’s disaster response work and reinforce the need for coordinated efforts across the state focused on disaster preparedness and resilience to address climate issues successfully.
While many Californians could shelter in place during the pandemic, agricultural workers could not because they were essential to the food industry's sustainability and for our ability to feed our communities. Moreover, farmworkers continue to work during wildfire seasons, even as they are exposed to unhealthy air, unsafe working conditions, and the risk of lifelong health complications. AB 73 explicitly expands the definition of essential workers to include agricultural and farmworkers. This change ensures the state's reserve of N95 masks is made available to farmworkers during a wildfire outbreak and provides access to quality and comprehensive training related to safety in various languages, levels, and via pictograms. Read a more detailed analysis here.
On April 10, 2021, Governor Newsom declared a drought emergency. In his Comeback Plan, Governor Newsom allocates $5.2 billion to support immediate drought response and long-term water resilience to help fund relief projects and focus on infrastructure. One of the 24 climate measures signed on September 23, 2021, was SB 552, which works to ensure that small and rural water suppliers (those who serve 1,000 to 2,999 service connections that are non-transient, non-community water systems such as schools, hospitals, office buildings, and factories) develop drought and water contingency plans and implement drought resiliency measures to prevent and prepare for future water shortages. Also, small water suppliers serving fewer than 1,000 service connections will need a drought planning element in their emergency response plans, which will need to be updated every five years. The bill also enhances coordinated efforts between local and state governments, small water suppliers, and rural communities. For counties, the bill now requires a plan that includes potential drought and water shortage risk and proposes long-term solutions for small water systems. The State will work with counties, nonprofit organizations, community-based organizations, and other entities to communicate with domestic water well communities before a drought, provide details on local bottled water and tank providers, and provide funding for installing basic drought and emergency water shortage resilience infrastructure.
(Passed Senate committee, held in Committee on APPR and under submission)
SB 260 requires transparency and reporting about greenhouse gas emissions for companies with over $1 billion in annual revenues. These reports, detailing direct (i.e., manufacturing) and indirect (i.e., supply chain) sources of emissions, would be available to the public.
Philanthropy continues to explore and innovate ways to address these pressing issues. We invite you to contact Philanthropy California's Director of Climate and Disaster Resilience, Alan Kwok, PhD., to learn more about how philanthropy coordinates, advocates, and creates public/private partnerships to ensure a sustainable future for California.
Criminal System Reform
California has long been considered a tough-on-crime state with its harsh mandatory minimum sentences, sentence enhancements, its three-strike law, and the 170,000+ people it incarcerated at its peak in 2006. Over the past decade, voters, legislators, and governors have reduced California’s prison population by removing policies that disproportionately affect BIPOC Californians. The call for criminal system reform reached a fever pitch during the racial justice uprisings of 2020. The influx of legislation affecting the criminal system and calling for police accountability directly respond to those demands. The proposed bills cover various topics, including emergency response, police officer certification, police behavior & accountability, and sentencing reforms.
The Committee on Revision of the Penal Code oversaw the creation of ten recommendations, of which six became law this session. Although many reforms are under consideration, the following section provides a snapshot of some of the most impactful criminal system reforms signed or progressing to next year (marked with *).
SB 2: Kenneth Ross Jr. Police Decertification Act of 2021 & SB 16: Peace Officers: Release of Records
SB 2 ends “qualified immunity,” a legal principle that grants government officials immunity from civil suits unless the person injured can prove that the official violated established statutory or constitutional rights. In the case of law enforcement, victims have found it difficult, if not nearly impossible, to win such cases in courts, causing incredible frustration that has manifested into protests across the country. The second component of SB 2 is the creation of a statewide decertification process for police officers. Central to the process would be the ability to revoke the license of police officers who have committed serious acts of misconduct. The new legislation amends the 1987 Bane Act and helps California join the 46 other states that already have a decertification process. Read our more detailed analysis here.
SB 16 will add additional transparency and expand the public’s access to police records. This expansion allows the public to view findings in which an officer used unreasonable force, failed to intervene when another officer used excessive force, engaged in racist or discriminatory behavior, or conducted unlawful arrests and searches. It will also allow the release of records after an officer resigns, put a 45-day limit on when agencies must respond to records requests, and remove the time limit on when judges can consider police misconduct complaints admissible in criminal cases.
AB 118: Community Response Initiative to Strengthen Emergency Systems Act (CRISES) Act
The CRISES Act, which has secured $10 million in state funding, will create emergency response grants specifically for support groups rooted in the communities they are serving instead of involving police officers. This legislation recognizes the complexities and variety of crises, including mental and behavioral health, intimate partner violence, community violence, substance abuse, natural disasters, etc. It also highlights that community organizations are an excellent resource for addressing crises safely, cost-effectively, and efficiently thanks to their deeper knowledge and understanding of the community, trusted relationships, and experience with the issues.
AB 48: Law Enforcement: Use of Force & SB 98: Public Peace: Media Access
AB 48 will limit police use of rubber bullets and other less-lethal weapons at protests and demonstrations to specific situations, such as when someone’s life is in danger or to control a dangerous situation after other methods have failed. Departments would also need to release reports on their use of both lethal and nonlethal weapons. SB 98 will also prevent police from blocking journalists covering protests and demonstrations. The bill will ensure reporters can be in protest areas without being arrested and prohibits police from “intentionally assaulting, interfering with, or obstructing” their newsgathering.
SB 81: Judicial Guidance on Sentencing Enhancements
SB 81 will reduce the number of sentence enhancements in criminal cases that can double prison terms. More than 150 enhancements exist for aggravating factors such as prior criminal records, use of a gun in the commission of a crime, offenses involving minors, and more. The law will have judges dismiss enhancements in some instances, including resulting in “discriminatory racial impact.” It also dismisses enhancements for a sentence of more than 20 years or when the offense is connected to mental illness, prior victimization, or childhood trauma. Additionally, Governor Newsom signed AB 333, Restrict Gang Enhancements (the STEP Forward Act), which restricts enhancements based on perceived gang affiliation. Many of these enhancements have historically and disproportionately affected people of color.
(Passed Assembly committee, referred to APPR suspense file)
This bill requires instances of deadly force by a police officer against armed people to be investigated by an agency other than the law enforcement agency. It also requires law enforcement agencies to adopt or amend deadly force policies and make them publicly available.
For inspiration on how philanthropy can be involved in criminal system reform policy, we encourage you to look at the California Criminal Justice Funders Group (CCJFG), which provides resources, programming, and opportunities to engage with this work.
Equity & Human Rights
The COVID 19 pandemic has elevated the enormous inequities that impact communities of color and those living in poverty. The CARES Act, the American Rescue Plan Act, and the California Comeback Plan prioritize the allocation of resources to these historically marginalized communities to support their recovery and address systemic injustice. However, to achieve long-term equity and prosperity in these communities, more legislation is needed. This year, Governor Newsom signed several bills forwarding equity and human rights to support marginalized communities, and more will be carried into the next year (marked with *).
AB 101: High School Graduation Requirements: Ethnic Studies
AB 101 is the third attempt to require ethnic studies for all California public school students by explicitly making it a graduation requirement. The law will go into effect by the 2024-25 school year, beginning with the graduating class of 2030. School districts can develop their own lessons or use the model curriculum developed by the State Board of Education. Many educational researchers indicate that students, particularly students of color, perform better, have higher attendance, and are profoundly impacted when they see themselves in the curriculum. This requirement may also prompt other changes in the educational system, particularly for teachers as they too learn, engage, and begin teaching about systems of oppression and diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds. This bill was met with some hesitancy, as some parents across the state continue to fight against ethnic studies, erroneously conflating the course with critical race theory of labeling the curriculum divisive, fearing it could increase racial tensions.
SB 62 will mandate paying garment workers by the hour unless they collectively bargain for a per-piece rate. It also will introduce the concept of “brand liability,” extending liability for wage theft from the factories to the brands and all the retailers and subcontractors in between. Labor unions and anti-poverty advocates say it’s needed to protect skilled garment workers from exploitation by banning the per-piece rate, which can pay as little as 12 cents per piece, amounting to wage theft. According to Governor Newsom, ”California is holding corporations accountable and recognizing the dignity and humanity of our workers, who have helped build the fifth-largest economy in the world. These measures protect marginalized low-wage workers, many of whom are women of color and immigrants, ensuring they are paid what they are due and improving workplace conditions.”
SB 796 declared that the beachfront land, Bruce’s Beach, be returned to the Bruce family descendants. The bill was signed into law by Governor Newsom and went into effect immediately. The bill authorizes Los Angeles County to “sell, transfer, or encumber Bruce’s Beach” while excluding the property from restrictions — including those that would force it to be used only for public recreation and beach purposes. The land is known today as Bruce’s Beach, but it was once a Black-owned, Black-friendly beach resort during the 1910s and ‘20s that sat at the edge of Manhattan Beach. In 1929, after years of targeted harassment, the Bruces and four other Black families lost the land through an eminent domain proceeding. The city then claimed they needed the land to build a park. Some analysts have interpreted this transfer of land as a form of reparations that opens the door for other similar types of exchanges.
*ACA 3: The California Abolition Act to Abolish Involuntary Servitude
(Passed Assembly committee, held up at Assembly third reading)
The California Constitution prohibits involuntary servitude except as a punishment for a crime. This measure is straightforward, removing that exception. Lawmakers remain optimistic and believe that ACA 3 will pass because no form of slavery should be accepted under any circumstance.
(Passed Senate, awaiting a hearing in Assembly Committee on APPR)
This bill calls for creating new, independently governed investigatory bodies that will develop a racial equity framework to address racial inequities present in the state government and exacerbated by state policies, including but not limited to those with a health and equity focus. The bill also designates racism as a public health crisis, exemplified and exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, questions remain regarding what office in the State Government it would reside in. For a more detailed analysis, click here.
Philanthropy continues to have a substantial impact in the equity and human rights space. To learn more, take a look at the Black Equity Collective and SCG’s conversation with their leadership.
Housing & Homelessness
Legislation related to housing and homelessness is a mainstay for California, not unlike other states and the federal government. 2021 brought multiple efforts to address affordable housing and related social services, street medicine, and funding issues. While not all these bills made it successfully through the session, there were some significant wins and indications of potential for the future.
Governor Newsom’s administration prioritizes homelessness and affordable housing as critical areas in which financial and programmatic attention should be invested. The “CA Comeback Plan” has earmarked $12 million for housing and rental support, ending family homelessness, the expansion of Project Homekey, and housing placements, especially for those with behavioral health and other acute needs. There is hope that this investment in housing stability will lead to significant systemic changes in housing affordability, as well as care and services for those who have lost their homes. The Federal conversation around housing has renewed interest this year with the Supplemental Security Income Restoration Act of 2021. While there are low expectations that the entire bill will pass, there is hope that some provisions, specifically those relating to shared housing and income accumulation penalties, will be revised. Those revisions could offer some low-income Californians more substantial funding for housing, clothing, and food.
In the meantime, California is attempting to address some of these same issues through State-level legislation. The following are a few successful bills from this session and one 2-year bill continuing to 2022 (marked with *).
AB 362: Homeless Shelters: Safety Regulations & AB 977: Homeless Program Data Reporting
These two bills address the technicalities of reporting and regulations that keep unhoused individuals safe while also providing valuable data for future initiatives. AB 362 improves the conditions of shelters by requiring compliance with increased health and safety regulations to receive certain types of State and Federal funding. This effort was born out of data collected through an ACLU of Southern California investigation into sexual harassment, unclean environments, and unreasonably restrictive policies for those who needed to leave the shelter for work or other responsibilities. AB 977 also hinges the receipt of State funding on compliance, requiring grantees and entities working within homelessness programs to enter data on the individuals and families they serve into a database, presumably to better understand the populations utilizing these programs.
AB 1043 aims to address the ever-increasing cost of housing in California and the calculations used to determine affordable housing costs based on Median Family Income and Fair Market Rent definitions. Before AB 1043 became law, the lowest income category in California was “Extremely Low Income (ELI),” referring to those who earn 30 percent or less of the Area Median Income (AMI). This new law creates a new statewide category – “Deeply Low Income (DLI)” for those earning 0-15 percent of AMI, mimicking the existing category in Los Angeles County. While this addition may seem, at first, to be a technicality, it allows state and local governments to require housing areas and placements in subsidized housing specifically for this income bracket and to help those whose struggles have been exacerbated by COVID-19.
SB 9: California Housing Opportunity and More Efficiency (HOME) Act & SB 10: Local Control for Increased Housing Density
These two pieces of legislation have a similar goal: to bolster the amount of affordable housing in the state through creative changes to residential zoning. SB 9 allows one parcel of land, zoned for single-family housing, to be split into as many as four separate homes (with some technical and size requirements) and necessitates that the property owner lives in one of the units for at least three years. SB 10, the less controversial of the two, allows cities to zone a piece of land for up to ten residential units if “the parcel is located in a transit-rich area or an urban infill site.” The actual impact of the new legislation is up for debate, with some reports calculating relatively low numbers of feasible new housing. However, supporters stand by the laws and recognize that progress will be made, albeit slowly.
(Passed Senate, held up in Assembly with a referral to Committee on H & CD)
This piece of legislation, known as LACAHSA, would create an agency in Los Angeles County with the power to “raise revenue and fund systemic solutions to the countywide affordable housing crisis...for people who earn the median salary or below, with a focus on extremely and deeply low-income households.”
As we move into the second year of this legislative session, we are excited to see what bills are re-introduced and bring attention to efforts in which philanthropy can get involved. Governor Newsom has announced another budget surplus for the coming year, and we look forward to analyzing the budget proposal in January. We anticipate seeing many of the same themes we saw this year in the legislation to come. SCG will continue to partner with Philanthropy California and members and partners who work in specific areas of our policy agenda, not only on State-level legislation but county and Federal, as well.
Philanthropy sits in a unique position to utilize financial resources and networking, knowledge, and enthusiasm to propel policy initiatives forward. Keep an eye out for future policy briefs, analysis pieces, and calls to action for members and your grantees to get involved. If there are policy areas, your organization is interested in that align with SCG’s policy agenda and values, please feel free to reach out for more information or to be a thought partner.