While many of us are focused on national politics and the presidential campaign, there is a lot we are doing at the state level to help move us forward.
Despite the partisan politics that often gridlocks the legislature, I was proud to work with both sides of the aisle to achieve a number of significant accomplishments this year.
As the Assembly’s Assistant Majority Leader, I worked with my colleagues to pass an on-time, in-balance state budget this year. Just two short months later, I was proud to help lead the effort to pass a bi-partisan, comprehensive plan to reform public employee pensions in California.
Making thoughtful, meaningful changes to something as complex as pension reform is never easy, but I’m proud of the work we did to outlaw some objectionable practices (such as pension spiking and double-dipping), create new accountability for pensions in ways that will save the state and local governments tens of billions of dollars, while preserving retirement security for public employees. This reform package is a significant step forward, but not the last step that we will take.
We also came together – Democrats and Republicans alike – to pass comprehensive reform of our state’s workers’ compensation system. These changes will save employers money – money that they can use to hire new workers and expand their businesses to help our overall recovery. It will increase benefits for permanently injured workers while helping to ensure that other injured workers get the treatment they need to get back on the job. And it will ensure that the final decision as to whether workers are disabled will be left to doctors instead of judges.
I was fortunate to have Governor Brown sign into law 11 of the bills that I authored - the second highest number of bills signed for a legislator in the North Bay.
As a former psychiatric nurse and chair of the Assembly Select Committee on State Hospital Safety, I know how important it is to make changes to our current mental health laws. That’s why I passed key legislation to tackle mental health issues, such as AB 1569, which makes our communities safer and helps protect mentally ill patients. The bill permits counties to provide court-ordered outpatient treatment services for people with serious mental illnesses when a court finds that a person's recent history of hospitalizations or violent behavior indicate the person is likely to become dangerous or gravely disabled without the court-ordered outpatient treatment. I’m particularly proud that this bill passed both houses of the Legislature by super-majority votes.
I also joined with Assemblymember Jared Huffman to pass the California State Parks Stewardship Act of 2012. This bill puts into place several measures to address short and long term needs for California State Parks in order to achieve substantial budget savings without wide scale park closures. This bill, AB 1589, was supported by Save Our State Parks, California State Parks Foundation, and many more organizations across the state who are fighting to keep our parks open.
I also passed legislation to help protect consumers and to secure women’s rights in the workplace. The Governor signed my AB 1525, which adds another layer of protection for senior citizens against attempted acts of fraud, and AB 2386, to help ensure that breastfeeding or lactating women are not harassed by employers or other employees for exercising their rights in the workplace. Both of these bills also received bi-partisan support.
With regard to small businesses, I passed AB 1320 into law. This bill will help support new eating establishments in Marin by authorizing five additional liquor licenses per year, for three years only, to be available for full-service restaurants which seat 50 or more diners. This bill gained the near-unanimous approval of my colleagues in both houses.
AB 1524 received similar levels of support. This is another pro-small business bill which ensures that hot air balloon operators will continue to access to reasonably priced liability insurance. I passed legislation to help protect the environment and increase organic farming in our community.
AB 1625 would have helped small farmers offset some of the costs of transitioning from conventional farming to organic. Unfortunately, it was vetoed by the Governor despite the fact that it received bi-partisan support from my colleagues. This is an issue that I care about quite a bit and I look forward to getting back to work next year to ensure this bill is passed into law.
Next year, I also would like to focus again on AB 1513, another bill that the Governor unfortunately chose to veto, which would have simply required restaurants to keep their children’s playground areas clean and safe. This is the least that California’s children deserve.
In a message explaining his veto, the Governor said that there was not enough evidence that a new law was needed, in part because local health inspectors already had jurisdiction over restaurant playgrounds. I don’t agree with him on this point. When AB 1513 was discussed in committee, many local inspectors testified that they don’t have clear authority to inspect restaurant playground areas. In addition, there is also overwhelming evidence that a number of restaurant playgrounds in California have broken play structures which resulted in injuries to children, and spoiled, rotting food which made children sick. If given the opportunity, I will pursue this issue again.
I'm proud of the work we accomplished this year. The bills that I have highlighted will help our communities by protecting the rights of women in the workplace, making our state hospitals safer, helping small businesses and consumers, and much more.
As I reflect on the accomplishments of this past year, I also want to take this moment to thank you for giving me the amazing privilege of representing our communities. To me, the lawmaking process is not one that I coordinate in a vacuum. On the contrary, lawmaking is about understanding your dreams, ambitions, and hopes for the future.
I encourage you to reach out to me, and share your ideas and concerns. Together, let’s continue working together in making the North Bay a model for the rest of California.