By Emily Hoeven
Hurry up, and wait / So close, but so far away.
The opening lines from Jordin Sparks’ motivational song “One Step At A Time” also describe the buildup heading into the the final week of the legislative session, which ends one week from today: Although state lawmakers are holding daily floor votes as they work their way through a stack of nearly 1,000 bills, many of the most controversial proposals either have yet to come up or are facing possibly substantial revisions — heightening anticipation for and raising the stakes of their final outcomes.
Do-or-die decisions could literally come down to the last minute: In 2020, amid a frenzy of fraying tempers and COVID complications, the state Assembly ran out of time to vote on some of the session’s highest-profile housing and criminal justice bills — and the state Senate bickered over whether the last proposal it approved had actually beaten the buzzer.
While we wait in the (relative) calm before this year’s storm, here’s a look at a couple of the contentious issues burbling on the stove:
Climate. As Gov. Gavin Newsom and Democratic state lawmakers tussle over competing proposals to shore up California’s energy grid and how to spend $13 billion in climate and energy funding, some of Newsom’s last-minute climate asks have cleared their first legislative hurdles. Bill language was published Tuesday to accelerate greenhouse gas emissions cuts, a previously dead bill to codify California’s goal of achieving carbon neutrality no later than 2045 was revived, and negotiations over finding legislative vehicles for the governor’s other proposals are ongoing. While some environmental advocacy groups rallied outside the state Capitol Tuesday in support of the proposed climate action, a coalition of business groups pushed back: “Rushing policies that will impact every aspect of California’s trillion-dollar economy through the Legislature at the end of session and without time for a thorough debate addressing reliability, affordability and equity is the wrong approach,” the coalition, which includes the California Business Roundtable and California Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement.
Farmworker unionization. Lawmakers have amended a contentious bill — a version of which Newsom vetoed last year — that would allow farmworkers to vote remotely in union elections, CalMatters’ Jeanne Kuang reports. The bill, which is awaiting a vote in the Senate, now gives agricultural employers the option of a union election — during which workers could choose to vote by mail — or a simpler process known as a “card check,” in which a majority of workers sign up indicating they want union representation. If growers choose the election, they must agree to maintain neutrality, and workers would no longer be able to hand in their ballots to a union representative — a response to employers’ complaints that the bill would give unions undue influence. The bill also now includes a provision to sunset the new rules after five years. Elizabeth Strater, a spokesperson for the United Farm Workers union, said the amendments reflect “a workable compromise” after meetings between the union, Newsom’s office and Assemblymember Mark Stone, the Santa Cruz Democrat authoring the bill. The union is on its third week of a 355-mile march from Delano to Sacramento to demand Newsom sign the bill, and is expected to arrive at the state Capitol on Friday.
Nursing workforce. The Board of Registered Nursing, which oversees the licensing of registered nurses in California, is seeking to extend its authority over nursing school class sizes as part of a bill granting the board its regulatory power for the next five years. But opponents of the measure — primarily private nursing school programs — are lobbying for a last-minute amendment to strip the board of this power, CalMatters health reporter Kristen Hwang writes.
- The bill currently gives the board the authority to require nursing schools to get board approval to increase class sizes by just one student. Most (but not all) board members say this is necessary to ensure schools produce quality graduates and expansion doesn’t displace existing students or strain the hospital staff who train them.
- But opponents say that schools — not appointed board members — are the best judge of enrollment capacity and argue the proposed regulations would hamper their ability to meet student and workforce demands.
- California faces a shortage of nearly 41,000 nurses over the next five years, according to a UCSF study based on the nursing board’s own data. Workforce shortages have only worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic, with some facilities reporting 20% turnover among all health care staff.
- And the board’s own study indicates that although the number of nursing school applicants has increased substantially in the past decade, class sizes have largely remained unchanged. During the 2020-21 school year, 74% of qualified applications were denied.