By Emily Hoeven
Lead Photo: Minority Floor Leader James Gallagher, R-Chico, addresses the media during a press conference calling for a suspension of the state’s gas tax on March 14, 2022. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters
Assembly GOP Leader James Gallagher of Yuba City addresses the media during a press conference calling for a suspension of the state’s gas tax on March 14, 2022. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters
On Tuesday, 26 of the 28 current Republican lawmakers asked the Democratic leaders of the state Assembly and Senate to “immediately” reconvene the state Legislature — which adjourned at the end of August — for a session focused on those three topics.
“These are urgent matters that cannot wait until next year for the Legislature to take action,” the GOP lawmakers wrote. Republicans oppose Gov. Gavin Newsom’s plan to call a special legislative session on Dec. 5 — the same day the new Legislature will be sworn into office — to consider a windfall profits tax on the oil and gas industry, which Newsom has said will help bring down gas prices.
- Speaking of gas prices: California recently began sending tax rebates ranging from $200 to $1,050 to millions of residents to help cover the rising cost of living. And it turns out — y’all have a lot of questions! CalMatters’ Grace Gedye answers some of them here and will respond to more over the coming days.
Back to reconvening the Legislature: According to veteran Sacramento lobbyist Chris Micheli, Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon have 10 days to decide whether to grant the Republicans’ request. If they don’t, a group of at least 10 lawmakers can then ask their colleagues to override the rejection, which would require the approval of two-thirds of legislators in both the Assembly and Senate.
- A spokesperson for Atkins said she was unavailable for comment. Rendon’s press office did not respond to a request for comment.
- Newsom spokesperson Alex Stack told me in a statement: “In addition to the actions that Governor Newsom has already taken to lower gas prices, he looks forward to working with the legislature on additional measures to hold the big polluters accountable for gas price hikes, increase transparency, and put big oil’s record profits in the pockets of Californians. We don’t comment on hypothetical legislation.”
Given that Republicans are a superminority in the Legislature — meaning Democrats don’t need their votes to pass legislation or the state budget — it seems highly unlikely that Democrats would greenlight their proposal to return early to Sacramento, especially with an election just three weeks away.
But in an exclusive interview at the California Republican Party’s Sacramento offices on Tuesday, Assembly GOP Leader James Gallagher of Yuba City said that even if the Legislature doesn’t immediately reconvene, he’s hopeful the policy proposals themselves will gain momentum.
- Gallagher told me: “I think what we could see even more so, even in this next legislative session, is those moderate Democrats really pushing and actually joining with us on many of these measures to bring about change. That’s the thing that I think I’m more excited by.”
Gallagher pointed out that some Democrats already support the proposals outlined in the Tuesday letter, including:
- Suspending the state gas tax. Indeed, Newsom himself initially proposed postponing the scheduled increase to the gas tax, which went up by nearly 3 cents per gallon in July. A bipartisan group of lawmakers also suggested suspending the gas excise tax for one year and requiring gas companies pass 100% of the savings on to consumers, but their colleagues voted the proposal down. “We’re ready to work on these real solutions that will actually bring down the price of gas,” Gallagher said. “The governor wants to talk about a windfall tax — I mean, does anybody seriously believe that a new tax is going to bring down your costs?”
- Expanding the number of crimes considered “violent” felonies under California penal code. Gallagher noted that Democratic Attorney General Rob Bonta recently told CalMatters he thinks certain crimes currently defined as “nonviolent” — including domestic violence, human trafficking and rape of an unconscious person — should potentially be considered “violent.” And he pointed out that other Democrats, including outgoing Assemblymember Jim Cooper of Sacramento, have supported reclassifying certain crimes as violent felonies. “I think there is majority support for these kinds of changes,” Gallagher said. “Rape of an unconscious person — really? Why isn’t that a felony? We shouldn’t even have to really debate that.”
- Declaring a homelessness state of emergency and banning encampments within 1,000 feet of sensitive areas. Gallagher cited Los Angeles, whose Democratic-led city council recently approved a controversial policy outlawing encampments within 500 feet of schools and daycares. And although Gallagher has long been a vocal opponent of California’s soon-to-expire COVID state of emergency — even suing Newsom over the constitutionality of one of his pandemic executive orders — he said he’s “not opposed to emergencies — what I’m opposed to is abusing your power during those emergencies.” California, he added, needs to treat homelessness “like the emergency that it really is. You know, COVID-19 is not an emergency anymore. But this is definitely an emergency.”