Category Archives: California legislature

Watered-Down Bill to Punish Refinery Pollution Gets Scrapped After Oil Industry Pushback

Proposal that would have punished oil refineries is dead – gutted and amended in Senate after approval by full Assembly –

KQED News, by Ted Goldberg. Aug 24, 2022

AUG 28 UPDATE
After this story was published – this refinery penalty bill was gutted and amended and now has nothing to do with refineries. Its author killed the proposal after it was weakened so much that the oil industry dropped its opposition.  – Ted Goldberg, @KQEDnews
A proposal that would have punished oil refineries that illegally pollute the air with toxic chemicals is dead, after opposition from the industry led to such a weakening of the bill that its own author pulled her support.

The state Senate was poised to vote later this month on a proposal to increase the maximum penalties for California oil refineries that violate air quality laws. If passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor, it would have marked the first major change to the penalty structure specific to the oil refining industry in the state in more than two decades.

AUTHOR WICKS:
‘I’m disappointed that changes made to the bill by the Appropriations Committee weakened the maximum penalties for polluters.’ – Assemblymember Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland)
But two weeks ago, legislators weakened the bill so much that California’s leading oil industry group dropped its months-long opposition to it. Now, the East Bay Assemblymember behind the push, whose district includes one of California’s largest refineries, has decided to kill the bill and push for another piece of legislation that has similar goals but does not go as far as her original proposal.

The legislation’s changes did not take place during multiple public hearings where lawmakers debated AB 1897 and then overwhelmingly backed the bill four separate times.

GUTTED:
You can see here how after multiple committees and the full Assembly approved the bill – and it was about to get a vote in the State Senate – it was killed, gutted and amended: https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=202120220AB1897 – Ted Goldberg, @KQEDnews
Instead, in a hearing behind closed doors earlier this month, state senators apparently bowed to oil industry demands, reducing some of the bill’s proposed fine increases and making the standard for the hikes more stringent.

The changes were made in the Senate Appropriations Committee, a panel charged with weighing the costs of proposed legislation. During their annual suspense file hearing, legislators decide the fate of hundreds of bills away from the public eye — and legislative leaders often use the opaque process to kill or change bills that aren’t just expensive but politically unpalatable.

“I’m disappointed that changes made to the bill by the Appropriations Committee weakened the maximum penalties for polluters,” said Assemblymember Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland), the proposal’s author.

Wicks represents the area of Chevron’s Richmond refinery, which has committed scores of violations against local air regulations over the last decade. On Tuesday she decided to drop AB 1897, prompted by its recent changes.

Environmentalists have long criticized fine structures for California’s refineries, complaining that companies that own the state’s petroleum plants end up paying small penalties when they often make significant profits. For example, Chevron says it made $11.6 billion in the second quarter of this year.

When Wicks proposed the bill in February, the legislation would have increased the civil penalty maximum for violations of air quality regulations from $10,000 to $30,000 if that violation resulted in “severe disruption to the community.”

The Senate Appropriations Committee cut out that phrase and replaced it with a much higher standard: “a significant increase in hospitalizations, residential displacement, shelter in place, evacuation, or destruction of property.”

The initial proposal called for maximum $100,000 fines against refineries with a “subsequent violation” within a one-year period. The appropriations panel cut that down to $50,000.

“I was watching, like, everyone else to see what would happen with the bill,” said Alan Abbs, the legislative director for the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, which sponsored Wicks’ proposal. “I didn’t know what the amendments would be until I saw them in print later in the day.”

In March, the Western States Petroleum Association sent a letter to Wicks, expressing opposition to the bill. The industry group said  then that AB 1897 unfairly singled out refineries.

That opposition was not enough to deter majorities of the Assembly Natural Resources Committee, the Assembly Judiciary Committee, the Assembly Appropriations Committee, the full Assembly, the Senate Environmental Quality Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee — all panels that advanced the bill.

But after the changes were made in the Senate Appropriations Committee, the petroleum association changed their position last week.

“The change in our position is due to amendments that make the proposed legislation more consistent with the way air quality violations have been assessed in the past,” stated Kevin Slagle, a representative for the industry group, in an email.

A representative for Wicks says her office had no control over the amendments and was left in the dark about what prompted them.

“We don’t know who ultimately pushed these changes — the appropriations process is very opaque, and we don’t have visibility into the decisions or control over what gets adopted,” said Erin Ivie, the lawmaker’s communications director.

“Some of these changes seem to respond to criticism of the bill made by the oil industry … While we don’t know who exactly, the why seems to be to make the bill less objectionable to the oil industry.”

Earlier in the summer, the Newsom administration also quietly expressed opposition to the original version of AB 1897. In June, months before it was changed, state finance officials raised concerns about a part of the proposal that directed penalty revenue to communities affected by violations that led to the fines — instead of to local air districts charged with monitoring emissions.

“(The California Air Resources Board) maintains that the bill would effectively defund the districts due to the districts’ historical reliance on the civil penalties collected, in part, to fund their operations,” the Department of Finance wrote in its fiscal analysis of the bill.

The administration argued that if local air districts couldn’t collect enough penalty money, the state’s air resources board would need to provide more support to such agencies, something finance officials said would create “cost pressures” on state funds.

A staff analysis by the Senate Appropriations Committee made a similar argument in the days before the committee amended the bill and sent it to the Senate floor.

The death of Wicks’ bill marks the third time in the last 10 years that a proposal specifically to increase fines for refineries died in the state Legislature.

In 2013, on the heels of a major fire at Richmond’s Chevron refinery, then-state Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, introduced legislation to raise such penalties. The state Senate approved the bill, but it died on the Assembly floor amid opposition from energy companies.

Five years later state Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, proposed tripling some of the most serious penalties for refineries. He said then that he authored that bill, in part, because of a major refinery accident at Valero’s Benicia plant in 2017. That proposal never received its first committee hearing after opposition not only from the oil industry but also from environmentalists and the mayors of Richmond and Benicia, who said it wasn’t strong enough.

On Tuesday, Wicks decided to abandon her bill and join as a co-author on AB 2910, which would increase maximum fines for large industrial facilities that violate air pollution regulations, including refineries, from $10,000 to $30,000.

But, unlike the other bill, it would not increase penalties associated with multiple violations. And while AB 2910 calls for some revenue from those fines to go to local communities affected by authorized industry facility releases, it’s unclear how much.

The Western States Petroleum Association did not add its name to the list of groups opposed to that bill. The state Senate is expected to vote on AB 2910 next week.

Former Benician Susannah Delano on California’s ‘Great Resignation’

BenIndy Editor: Full (and prideful) disclosure: Susannah Delano is my beloved – and highly talented – daughter.  🙂  – R.S.

Legislature’s ‘Great Resignation’ provides great opportunity for women

By Susannah Delano, Special to CalMatters, February 15, 2022 Susannah Delano is executive director of Close the Gap California, a nonprofit organization that recruits and prepares progressive women to run for state Legislature.

We’re witnessing the “Great Resignation, Capitol Edition,” with more than a quarter of California’s 120 legislators exiting the building in 2022.

Why are we losing so many legislators in one year? It’s a combination of factors – redistricting, which left many incumbents with no place to run; a domino effect of open seats as members seek new roles; and the reckoning of term limit reform passed in 2012.

Where some might see chaos, we see opportunity.

The 2022 election marks the start of California’s “Great Opportunity” to elect a Legislature that truly reflects the people it serves.

California has a reputation for leading the nation forward on critical issues including climate change, equal pay, reproductive health access, long-term care, minimum wage, family leave, early education and more.

But when it comes to women’s representation – California falls short.

Only 37 legislators – less than a third – are women. Of the 37 women serving, 28 are Democrats and 9 are Republicans. California ranks 28rd in the nation for our percentage of women legislators.

Our goal is nothing short of parity for women in the California Legislature, this decade. When I briefed political insiders on that audacious goal years ago, many of them gave me a virtual pat on the head and wished me luck. But in 2022, that audacious dream is starting to look a lot more real.

In my 20 years of working to elect more racially representative, progressive women to office, I’ve never witnessed a higher caliber of candidates step up to run at the state level. As we’ve worked with the majority of these women, I can tell you they are experienced, savvy, and ready to win.

In the fight for equal representation, we are all too used to incremental progress at best. But this year, the hard work of identifying, encouraging and preparing women to run is paying off at an unprecedented scale.

With musical chairs ensuring the Legislature will lose at least eight of its women incumbents by year’s end, this historically robust wave of reinforcements is exactly what might ensure women’s numbers continue to climb in 2022.

Common sense and research tell us that running for an open seat is the likeliest path to victory for a newcomer. What’s unprecedented about 2022 is the volume of open seats, and the number of accomplished women who are ready to win.

In the 35 legislative seats open so far in 2022, an astounding 45 female candidates with the capacity to run competitive campaigns have launched so far. In nine districts, both of the top two contenders are women.

These women arrive with impressive backgrounds and track records of service to their communities. They’re nonprofit directors, nurses, labor and tech leaders, small business owners and entrepreneurs. They’ve served on city councils, school boards, and local and state commissions.

The women running for open seats in 2022 are overwhelmingly Democratic, and also present historic levels of diversity. More than 70% are women of color, and many are LGBTQ+.

In this time of legislative turnover, who comes next will determine what comes next. The nation will look to the pipeline of leaders and innovative policy solutions we battle-test here in the years to come.

While we are losing some extremely effective legislators in 2022, as long as well-prepared women keep stepping up, and stakeholders are brave enough to put their resources where their values align, voters will have the opportunity to elect new voices and transform the Capitol’s decision-making tables.

The women of 2022 are the future many of us have dreamed of for decades.

They will need to overcome a disproportionate number of barriers along their paths to election. But today, their sheer number, talent and determination should inspire us to look beyond the Capitol’s Great Resignation, and recognize this moment for what it is: California’s Great Opportunity to put the world’s fifth largest economy on a fast-track to reflective democracy.

‘Insulting’: California police reform bills die without vote

State takes small steps toward reform

Vallejo Times-Herald, By Nico Savidge, September 3, 2020
[See also: Associated Press, California bill to strip badges from ‘bad officers’ fails]

Three months ago, with protests against racism and police brutality gripping the state and nation, California lawmakers had plans for new legislation that would make sweeping changes to law enforcement.

But as their session came to a chaotic end at midnight Tuesday, state legislators had only approved a handful of relatively modest changes to police practices, while more controversial proposals — to strip problem officers of their badges, broaden public access to police misconduct records and limit the use of rubber bullets and tear gas at protests — died without the votes they needed to pass.

The defeat of those measures, coming in the Democrat- dominated Legislature of a state that positions itself as a beacon of progressive government, is a stinging disappointment for activists, civil liberties groups and lawmakers, who believed the time had come for major changes meant to bolster police accountability and transparency.

“To ignore the thousands of voices calling for meaningful police reform is insulting,” Sen. Steven Bradford, D-Gardena, said in a statement early Tuesday morning after his bill to “decertify” officers who commit crimes or serious misconduct failed to get a vote in the final hours Monday. “Today, Californians were once again let down by those who were meant to represent them.”

Policing wasn’t the only issue that left advocates and lawmakers unsatisfied — bills that passed for eviction protections and housing also fell short of what many hoped to see in the shortened legislative session that was upended by the coronavirus.

The law enforcement bills lawmakers did approve included a requirement that state authorities investigate certain deadly police shootings, as well as a ban on the carotid “sleeper” restraint a Minneapolis officer used in the deadly arrest of George Floyd on Memorial Day.

But Dennis Cuevas-Romero, a legislative advocate for the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, noted that many police departments have already prohibited officers from using the carotid restraint. Gov. Gavin Newsom also directed the state’s Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training after Floyd’s death to no longer offer training on the tactic.

And while Cuevas-Romero said having state authorities investigate police shootings “could be really significant,” he also noted that the bill only requires the state to investigate fatal police shootings of unarmed civilians, as opposed to all deaths at the hands of police.

“This was our concern from the very beginning, when all the police reform legislation was introduced,” Cuevas-Romero said. “The ones that were less impactful would be the ones that make it to the finish line,” allowing lawmakers to claim victory “without actually doing significant reform.”

The ACLU cosponsored Bradford’s decertification bill. California is one
of only five states that doesn’t have such a process, and an investigation by this news organization found dozens of police officers with criminal records were still working in departments across the state.

Bradford’s bill also would have rolled back some of the legal protection known as “qualified immunity,” which shields officers from liability in many excessive force lawsuits. Activists charge the legal doctrine is a significant barrier to holding police accountable, and the bill got a late lobbying push from a raft of celebrities, including Kim Kardashian West and Los Angeles Laker Kyle Kuzma.

Law enforcement groups say they are open to creating a decertification process, and have called for a special session of the Legislature to create one. But they vehemently opposed the bill’s limits to qualified immunity, which helped make it the most controversial of this year’s police reform proposals.

“We are pleased that the late-session rush to enact a flawed bill that would have had debilitating repercussions for police officers and public safety was not voted upon,” Craig Lally, the president of the union representing Los Angeles police officers, said in a statement after Bradford’s bill failed. “It is more important to get it right and not rushed, and we pledge our cooperation to work collaboratively with likeminded stakeholders and the legislature to get it right.”

Brian Marvel, president of the Peace Officers Research Association of California, said the shortened session made it difficult for his organization representing more than 75,000 police officers to negotiate with lawmakers. In the next session, Marvel said, “We will have a much better opportunity to collaboratively work with the authors on creating legislation.”

Bradford pledged to bring his proposal back next year.

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, said she would do the same with her bill sharply limiting the use of rubber bullets and tear gas, prompted by what critics derided as a heavyhanded police response to racial justice demonstrations. That bill, which also faced opposition from police lobbying groups, similarly never came up for a vote Monday night.

Benicia meeting on Climate Emergency Declaration, Student-led Climate Strike

Repost from Progressive Democrats of Benicia, Sept 11, 2019
[Editor: see links below for docs &  information about Climate Strike 2020 and Benicia’s proposed Climate Emergency Declaration.  Also see Benicia’s nearest Climate Strike next Saturday Sept 20: Walnut Creek.  (Note that Friday 9/13, was the final day of CA legislative session.)  – R.S.]
Kathy Dervin, Co-Chair of 350 Bay Area Legislative Committee

On September 10, members of Progressive Democrats of Benicia heard from a powerful and highly informative featured speaker, Kathy Dervin, Co-Chair of 350 Bay Area Legislative Committee and a consulting professional with a Master of Public Health (MPH) focused in Health Education/Environmental Health.

Kathy presented a compelling overview of pending legislation relating to Climate Change (see bold text below).  She also covered

We made plans to post here and send out by email an URGENT CALL TO ACTION!  > With only three days to the close of the California Legislature’s  session (until Sept 13th), everyone was asked to call Assembly member Grayson and Senator Dodd’s office ASAP to advocate on the following bills: (see details at URGENT! Call our representatives today!! or download the list)