By Jason Bryant, WUD Government Affairs

On Monday, December 5, the California Legislature convened its 2023-2024 Session. The November 8 election resulted in one of the most diverse Legislatures we have seen in recent history. California elected at least 49 female lawmakers and could seat as many as 50 — up from the previous record of 39, set during the previous legislative session. Republican Bill Essayli of Riverside is the state’s first Muslim legislator and Democrat Jasmeet Bains, who won an Assembly seat representing Bakersfield and will become the first South Asian woman in the Legislature.

Nearly half of the 20 Senators sworn into office are newcomers to the Senate. Senator-elect Janet Nguyen is the only newcomer who has previously served in the Senate (2014-2018) and in the Assembly. Nearly one-third of lawmakers — at least 37 of 120 — are new to Sacramento, which will usher in new political dynamics and legislative priorities reflecting new perspectives.

The outcome of the number of competitive races throughout the state this year does not change the Democrats’ supermajority, which allows them to pass bills and budgets unilaterally without a single Republican vote. At this point, Democrats control 62 of 80 Assembly seats and 31 of 40 Senate seats and it’s expected that the Democrat-controlled supermajority will remain for the foreseeable future given the outcome of the redistricting process.

The December 5th Reconvening

Why does the Legislature convene on December 5, and then recess until January 4? The Joint Rules of the Legislature require the Senate and the Assembly to convene the first Monday in December to organize. Organization involves electing leadership of the house, appointing certain officers, and adopting rules. On Monday, the Senate elected Toni Atkins as President pro Tempore, and the Assembly elected Anthony Rendon as Speaker. The Assembly Democrats also designated that Rendon would remain as head of the party’s caucus, and thus Speaker of the Assembly until June 30, then transfer power and the Speakership to Assemblymember Robert Rivas on June 30. This transition comes after months of tense and sometimes acrimonious struggle for power between the two lawmakers and their supporters within the Assembly Democratic Caucus.

Introduction of Bills

The Legislature convenes for one day in December, not only organize itself, but also to introduce legislation. As such, 132 bills were introduced on Monday December 5th and the Legislature can continue to introduce bills until December 16th when the desk closes. When the two Houses return to Session on January 4, 2023, they will resume introducing bills (thousands of bills) until the Bill Introduction Deadline on February 17.

Extraordinary Session

The Legislature also convened an Extraordinary Session on Monday, called by Governor Gavin Newsom as provided in the State Constitution. The Extraordinary Session’s purpose is to act upon legislation necessary to deter price gouging by oil companies by imposing a financial penalty on excessive margins, and to provide greater regulatory oversight of the refining, distribution, and retail segments of the market to prevent avoidable supply shortages and excessive price increases. There will be a great deal of high-tension political maneuvering in the Extraordinary Session, which based on recent reports, may not convene until January.

Upcoming Issues

Lawmakers convene the new session under fiscal uncertainty and a State Budget cloud. The Department of Finance has projected $25 billion budget deficit which means legislators, including dozens of freshmen, have an unenviable task ahead: deciding what programs to cut or defer, or whether to draw down state budget reserves. Economists have stopped short of predicting a full-blown recession, and the last few weeks have brought shreds of optimism, but the state’s fiscal experts warn that the state’s economic picture remains shaky and unclear.

Other major public policy issues the Legislature is expected to tackle next year includes homelessness and affordable housing, drought and wildfire, inflation and costs of goods, reproductive rights, gun violence, worker rights and environmental sustainability.

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