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Legislative Update: March 29, 2019 - Wildfire Legislation Advances

Senate Committees Advances Legislation in Response to Wildfires


California has seen the cost of fighting wildfires grow to record levels over the past decade. California spent $947 million in 2017-18 through the emergency fund for firefighting – nearly $450 million more than budgeted, according to Cal Fire. The costs of fighting wildfires have overrun Cal Fire’s emergency budget in seven of the last 10 years. Since 2007, California has experienced 11 of the top 20 most destructive fires in its history. 

With the intent to stabilize state budget costs from major disasters, SB 290 (Dodd, D-Napa) cleared a key committee vote Tuesday. The bill would authorize the Governor, Insurance Commissioner, and Treasurer to enter into an insurance policy that pays out when California has unexpected disaster costs. The bill is co-sponsored by Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara and Treasurer Fiona Ma; moving next to the Senate Appropriations Committee. 

The bill’s proponents say the California Disaster Insurance would function like home insurance, but for our state – allowing the state to pay a premium using a portion of existing emergency funds that would trigger a payment to the state in the event of a disaster. 

“Climate change has led to devastating wildfires, and we need a strategy to reduce the strain that puts on the state’s coffers,” said Sen. Dodd. “Unpredictable disaster costs require large budget reserves and threaten cuts to critical programs. Allowing the state to invest in an insurance policy will provide predictability and limit taxpayers’ risk of increasing disasters costs.” 

The federal government, the World Bank, and the state of Oregon have all used insurance to reduce the risk to taxpayers following disasters. The State of Oregon has purchased insurance protection against ever-changing wildfire costs for nearly 40 years – spending $61 million on premiums and receiving $102 million in insurance payments. 

Senator Dodd also moved SB 209 pass the Senate Governmental Organization Committee this week. SB 209 would create the California Wildfire Warning Center (CWWC) to be overseen by three agencies: The California Public Utilities Commission, the Office of Emergency Services and Cal Fire. It builds on existing systems and will be responsible for the ongoing monitoring of fire weather and threat conditions, as well as for ongoing improvement of fire forecasting models. The CWWC will work with investor-owned utilities, which will be required to install weather-monitoring equipment throughout their systems.

Two Bills on Sexual Harassment in the Workplace Pass Assembly Judiciary Committee


Two bills by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), AB 170 and AB 171, passed the Assembly Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, March 26. 

AB 170 requires a client employer to share with a labor contractor all civil legal responsibility and civil liability of sexual harassment for all workers supplied by the labor contractor, and intends to address harassment issues specific to janitorial and hotel workers. At the hearing, the California Chamber of Commerce expressed concern that this bill would duplicate existing regulations on sexual harassment in the workplace and task multiple agencies with enforcement, creating undue confusion as to which agency supersedes the other in responding to claims. There is additional concern that there is no way to ensure that a contractor and all its employees are complying with the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), or that certain employers can know of incidences. 

AB 171 prohibits an employer from discharging, discriminating or retaliating against an employee who is a victim of sexual harassment and establishes a rebuttable presumption of retaliation based on the employee’s status if the employer takes certain action within 90 days of obtaining knowledge of the victim’s status. Proponents argued that this is a needed measure, particularly for low-wage workers, when workers do not report harassment. Opponents of the measure say that workers are already covered from retaliatory processes under FEHA and AB 171 would presume that any corrective action is retaliation for claims of sexual harassment.

Senate Health Committee Hears Bills on Tobacco and Sugary Drinks


In a well-attended hearing, the Senate Health Committee heard and voted on bills by Senator Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo), SB 38 on flavored tobacco products and SB 39 on online sales of tobacco products, and Senator Bill Monning (D-Carmel), SB 347 on sugar-sweetened beverages. 

With both SB 38 and SB 39, Senator Hill sought to address the rise in vaping among teens and pre-teens. SB 38 would ban the sale of flavored tobacco products in California; however, there is concern that this could apply broadly to impact other tobacco products that are not appealing to kids and have earned approvals by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA). In her questioning on the bill, Senator Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield) asked why flavored tobacco products are being targeted when we do not regulate flavored alcohols or marijuana products so stringently. The other bill, SB 39, addresses the continued sale of flavored e-cigarette products being sold online after the FDA tightened their restrictions by obtaining the signature of a person 21 years or older prior to delivering a tobacco product. Both bills passed out of Senate Health and move to Senate Appropriations to consider their fiscal implications. 

SB 347 would require a safety warning on all sealed sugar-sweetened beverages that states the beverage “may contribute to obesity, type 2 diabetes, and tooth decay.” Senator Monning stated that “warning consumers about the adverse health impacts of sugary drinks is an effective strategy in changing consumer behavior and improving public health.” Opponents have claimed “this bill is contrary to statements by the FDA that added sugars are generally recognized as safe and can be part of a healthy dietary pattern when not consumed in excess.” SB 347 passed the Senate Health Committee and moves to Senate Appropriations for a fiscal hearing.

Special Elections Head to Runoff


Last November saw the election of two sitting state senators. When they were sworn into their new positions, Ricardo Lara to serve as the Insurance Commissioner and Ted Gaines to the Board of Equalization, they vacated their Senate seats. That left those seats open to be filled by a special election. On Tuesday, March 26, no candidate won a majority of the vote. 

Senate District 1, left open by Gaines, stretches from Oregon to south of Lake Tahoe. Out of a field of six, the top two vote-getters on Tuesday are current Assemblymembers Brian Dahle (R-Bieber) with 28.7 percent and Kevin Kiley (R-Rocklin) with 28.5 percent. 

Senate District 33, vacated by Lara, is situated in southeast Los Angeles County and saw a field of nine candidates on Tuesday’s special election. The top two vote-getters were Long Beach City Councilwoman Lena Gonzalez with 31 percent and Cudahy Councilman Jack Guerrero with 15 percent. 

Both runoff elections will be held on June 4, 2019.

Legislative Updates—Spot Bill Amends Coming & Key Privacy Bills Amended


In the State Assembly this year, there were 1,799 bills introduced by the deadline, with over 550 of those measures being spot bills or about 1/3 of the introduced bills. Amendments to about 450 of those spot bills were submitted by the Wednesday deadline. We are waiting to see all of those amendments next week. 

In the State Senate this year, there were 777 bills introduced by the deadline, including over 200 spot bills, or roughly 30% of the measures introduced. Wednesday, March 27th, was the Senate’s recommended deadline to submit amendments to Senate Rules Committee to allow sufficient time for the amendments to be processed and the bills to be referred to their respective policy committees. We’ll have to see how many of those spot bills get amended. 

Among those bills amended this past week, three key privacy bills were amended. Each of these measures are seeking clarifying changes to last year’s California Consumer Privacy Act, which passed the entire Legislature in just over a week’s time with several unintended consequences. The California Chamber of Commerce is leading the charge on all three of the clean up bills.  

Below please find a short summary of the amendments inserted into the bill this past week and a link to the new text of the bills.  

AB 25 (Chau, D-Arcadia) – This bill is a vehicle for further clean-up of the California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018 (CCPA), and was amended this week to exclude from the definition of “consumer” being “… a natural person whose personal information has been collected by a business in the course of a person acting as a job applicant or as an employee, contractor, or agent, on behalf of the business, to the extent their personal information is used for purposes compatible with the context of the person’s activities for the business as a job applicant, employee, contractor, or agent of the business.” This is a broad “employee” exclusion that had been sought by many groups and coalitions since the original CCPA was chaptered in the form of Assembly Bill 375 (Chau). There are still groups pushing for a workers’ compensation carve-out, which hopefully won’t upset the decision made to take employment-related issues out of the CCPA. 

AB 873 (Irwin, D-Thousand Oaks) – In regard to the California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018, this is CalChamber’s fix to revise the definition of “deidentified” to instead mean information that does not reasonably identify or link, directly or indirectly, to a particular consumer provided that the business makes no attempt to reidentify the information and takes reasonable technical and administrative measures designed to ensure that the data is deidentified.

AB 874 (Irwin, D-Thousand Oaks) – This bill addresses the California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018 (CCPA) in regard to “personal information,” which excludes from it “publicly available information” that is lawfully made available from federal, state, or local government recorders. This bill clarifies the definition of information that is not “publicly available” to reflect the original intention.