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A Landmark Year for Important Policy

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 2/11/2015 Toni G. Atkins

"Landmark legislation" is a term that gets thrown around pretty easily in political circles, but many of the bills passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown this year live up to that lofty description.
As Speaker, I led the Assembly in joining the Senate and the Governor to make transformative laws that will lead the nation in the fight against climate change, finally fix the state's medical-marijuana industry, and protect the public from the spread of long-dormant disease. We passed legislation that seeks to close the pay gap between women and men, created a new way for communities to revitalize downtrodden neighborhoods, and gave terminally ill patients the option to end their lives on their own terms.
The Legislature also passed laws that reduce racial profiling in police stops, eliminate grand-jury secrecy after officer-involved shootings, and guard Californians' digital records, as well as increase political participation by automatically registering people to vote when they get or renew a driver's license, and protect marine wildlife from the harmful plastic "microbeads" found in many personal-hygiene products.
In addition to those headline grabbers, there were lots of bills that flew further under the radar yet still were close to my heart.
For instance, the Governor signed no fewer than 14 bills that will improve life for homeless and current or former foster youth. Among other fixes, these bills will reform the group-home system of foster care, provide more support for foster kids in K-12 schools, help foster youths get into college, prioritize homeless college students for onsite housing, and require greater oversight when it comes to administering psychotropic medications to foster youth.
Meanwhile, we created laws that will help crack down on companies engaged in what's known as wage theft--illegally withholding pay that's been rightfully earned by an employee--dramatically improve sex education in schools, and compel landlords to get rid of mold in renters' homes.
We also required licensed pregnancy centers to inform clients that abortion and other family-planning services are available to them while also requiring unlicensed facilities to post notices saying they're not licensed. That latter bill, the ReproFACT Act, is an important step toward continuing to ensure reproductive rights and choice in California.
But that isn't all. Earlier this year, Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León and I announced a package of 10 bills seeking justice and protection for California's undocumented immigrants, recognizing that the state is stronger when we empower those who've been marginalized. Nine of the bills were signed by the governor, and the 10th was provided for in the budget.
For example, one bill that I co-authored allows immigrants who are victims of crime and helpful to the police and prosecution to live and work legally in the U.S. Another major piece of legislation, the Health for All Kids Act, expands medical coverage to California's undocumented children.
The Legislature sent some environmental help to San Diego and the border region, too. In addition to my bill making the San Diego River Conservancy permanent (see below for a rundown on my bills that were signed by the Governor), other new laws will help rehabilitate the embattled Salton Sea and clean up a polluted river that flows into it from Mexico.
We also passed a handful of measures that will improve life for LGBT Californians. For example, one new law will put unmarried couples on equal footing with married couples when it comes to assisted reproduction, helping LGBT parents start their families with full rights. Another will limit how much money insurance companies can charge for prescription drugs for AIDS and HIV patients.
All of this is in addition to a successful budget process this past spring, when we created the state's first-ever Earned Income Tax Credit to help 2 million working-poor Californians, invested heavily in public schools and higher education and dramatically expanded access to childcare and preschool.
Clearly, there were many successes among the 808 bills that the Governor signed--too many to mention here. However, we have unfinished business. I was happy to have helped start the conversation about how to fix the state's vast network of decaying roads and bridges, but we haven't yet reached a solution. Nor have we solved the funding shortfall in the Medi-Cal program or decided on a plan to increase funding for those who care for Californians with developmental disabilities. I am as committed as ever to doing my part to find sensible solutions to these issues.
Governor Signs Nine of My Bills

The Legislature sent 10 of my bills to the governor during the 2015 legislative session, and he signed all but one.
I'm very, very proud of what my staff and I were able to achieve this year. We helped save elephants and rhinos, boost San Diego's economy, preserve the San Diego River watershed, reduce prison recidivism, guard disadvantaged communities from pollution, and protect domestic-violence victims. Here's a list of my bills that were signed into law:

  • AB 96 closes loopholes that prevent the effective enforcement of existing California law prohibiting the sale of ivory. On average, 96 elephants per day are brutally killed for their ivory, translating to an average of more than 35,000 elephants per year. This type of species loss is unsustainable. African elephants are now being slaughtered faster than they are being born.
  • AB 226, the "Pacific to Plate" Act, makes it easier for communities to hold fishermen's markets, similar to farmers markets. Pacific to Plate will help keep red tape from tangling up this boon to San Diego's Blue Economy. By removing unnecessary barriers in state law, this law will help fishermen's markets thrive in coastal communities throughout California.
  • AB 313 fills some holes left by last year's SB 628, which allowed for creation of enhanced infrastructure financing districts (EIFDs) to fund infrastructure projects and facilities. Among other fixes, it clarifies procedures that should be followed when replacing dwelling units that are removed or destroyed within a district.
  • AB 392 removes the sunset on the San Diego River Conservancy and extends the program indefinitely. During the past 13 years, the San Diego River Conservancy has established its value in the region, allocating20 million in state funds for the watershed while leveraging millions of dollars more in federal, local, and private funds. Now it will be a permanent agency of the state.
  • AB 795 ratifies the tribal gaming compact negotiated between Governor Brown and the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation.
  • AB 1056 aims to reduce recidivism by using Proposition 47 savings to help get former inmates into stable homes. Increasing numbers of formerly incarcerated individuals are returning to our communities as a result of prison-overcrowding directives and public-safety reforms. AB 1056 will help ensure that the Prop. 47 savings are used meaningfully, to help reduce recidivism, and enhance the safety of our communities.
  • AB 1071 requires all divisions within the California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA) to establish Supplemental Environmental Project policies to assist disadvantaged communities. Many communities, both rural and urban, across California are disproportionately impacted by pollution. Supplemental Environmental Projects are direct investments in these neighborhoods.
  • AB 1288 emerged from negotiations over climate-change legislation. It adds two more members to the state Air Resources Board and requires the new members to have worked in disadvantaged communities that have been overburdened by pollution. One will be appointed by the Speaker of the Assembly and the other by the Senate Rules Committee.
  • AB 1407 authorizes a court to direct a wireless telephone service provider to transfer billing rights and responsibilities to a requesting party in domestic-violence cases. Allowing victims to use their wireless number and access their contacts and other information stored in the phone is important to maintain a lifeline to life-saving resources and their support network.

Unfortunately, Governor Brown vetoed AB 437, which would have closed a loophole that has prevented small businesses from accessing research-and-development tax credits that they are eligible for, and would have allowed them to reinvest the funds back into their companies. The bill got caught in a net of other tax-credit bills vetoed by the Governor because of outstanding health care-funding issues, but I'm confident that we can get it enacted in the future.
Also, we weren't able to find a permanent source of funding for affordable housing. My bill AB 1335 would do that by charging a modest fee on certain real-estate transactions, excluding property sales. I remain hopeful that I can get the few more votes needed to get this important legislation to the governor for his signature.

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