California Legislature: Slouching towards end of session
California lawmakers have less than two weeks to wrap up their work before the end of the legislative session on Aug. 31. And so begins the final legislative traffic jam, as bills line up for final votes.
A piece of legislation’s particular place in that line is the complex product of political horse-trading, the competing priorities of the state Assembly and Senate and the whims of legislative leadership. So it’s not always easy to predict when the final vote will come.
The timing for Sen. Maria Elena Durazo was particularly unlucky.
As CalMatters politics intern Ariel Gans reports, the Los Angeles Democrat tested positive for COVID last week. So after more than two years of work, she missed the final legislative passage Thursday of a bill that expands the kinds of arrests and convictions that are deleted from most criminal background checks.
The 28-10 vote in the Senate sent the legislation to Gov. Gavin Newsom. If he signs it, the bill will take effect on July 1, 2023.
Durazo told CalMatters that these records make it difficult for formerly incarcerated individuals to “move forward with their lives.”
- Durazo: “We spend literally billions of dollars into many programs, both while they’re incarcerated, and right after they leave and they’re released. And it hit me that here we are preparing them in the best way that we can, and yet when they leave, they’re facing all these obstacles. So our own investment — our own tax dollars — we’re not getting the best of them.”
But Sen. Shannon Grove, a Bakersfield Republican, pointed out that the bill expands this relief to perpetrators of domestic violence. She joined other Republicans, plus Democratic Sen. Melissa Hurtado of Sanger, in voting no.
- Grove: “These things are very violent things, even though they’re not listed as serious and violent in the penal code.”
The Peace Officers Research Association of California also opposed the bill, warning that it would reduce deterrence for repeat offenses and jeopardize public safety.
But a long list of labor organizations and criminal justice reform groups supported the bill, arguing that the criminal records disproportionately limit access to jobs and housing for Black, Latino and poor Californians.
Nearly one in three adults in California have a past arrest or conviction on their record, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. While many cases are never prosecuted, in California, these incidents can remain on an individual’s record until they’re 100 years old.
The bill expands relief to those arrested for felonies who have not been prosecuted after three years, or six years for more serious felonies. The relief does not apply to a “serious or violent” felony, or felonies requiring registration as a sex offender. The state Assembly also amended the bill to require that criminal records be disclosed to school districts for hiring decisions.
Here are a couple of other bills that are about to head to the governor’s desk:
- A bill by Napa Democratic Sen. Bill Dodd to set up a program designed to make it easier for landowners who want to conduct prescribed burns on their land to get insurance.
- A bill by Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer, a Los Angeles Democrat, to put strict limits on when “a form of creative expression” — for example, a song lyric — can be used as evidence in a criminal trial.
There are a lot of goodbyes in order. At least 22 members of the Assembly and 9 members of the Senate won’t be coming back next year. That’s not including any members who lose their reelection bids to non-incumbents or win a job elsewhere this November.
CalMatters is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.