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The top 5 stories in California politics in 2022

The dome of the California state Capitol is silhouetted by the setting sun in Sacramento, Calif., Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022.
Rich Pedroncelli
AP Photo
The dome of the California state Capitol is silhouetted by the setting sun in Sacramento, Calif., Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022.

From an election to hundreds of new laws debated and passed, 2022 was full of big political stories in California.

Rumors and speculation about Gov. Gavin Newsom’s presidential ambitions swirled and made headlines. A racist leaked audio recording prompted the resignation of multiple Los Angeles officials.

Lawmakers approved new gun laws and courts struck down others, including a ban on semi-automatic weapon sales to those under 21 and a provision of a gun law modeled after an abortion law in Texas, which would have allowed private citizens to sue manufacturers and sellers of illegal firearms.

Here are some of the top stories in California politics in 2022:

1. The Dobbs decision and California’s response

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization – which overturned the national right to an abortion and allowed states to set new restrictions on reproductive health care – had immediate impacts across the nation.

In California abortion remains legal, but state lawmakers moved quickly to prepare for an expected increase in visitors and expand access to the procedure through a suite of legislation and $205 million in state funding.

In November, California voters overwhelmingly approved a measure to enshrine the right to reproductive freedom – including the right to abortion and contraception – in the state constitution.

New abortion laws signed in 2022 include measures to protect patient privacy and shield medical information from potential out-of-state subpoenas, allow nurse practitioners to provide first-trimester abortions, and no longer require coroners to investigate stillbirths.

2. Sky-high gasoline prices

For much of 2022, gas in California cost over $6 per gallon, leading to pain for manydrivers struggling to afford a full tank.

Though gas prices are generally higher in California due to environmental regulations, taxes and fees, the high prices were felt beyond the Golden State: fuel prices spiked globally after Russia invaded Ukraine and countries including the US banned Russian oil imports.

Republican lawmakers called for their Democratic counterparts to suspend the gas tax, which rose to 54 cents per gallon in July. Instead, Democrats approved taxpayer rebate checks ranging from $250 to $1,050 depending on income and household size.

But as the state’s gas prices began to spike for a second time in the late summer– at the same time large oil companies were reporting record profits – Newsom began pushing for legislation that would limit the price per gallon, depending on market factors.

He also wants more transparency regarding refinery production and pricing models. The profit cap proposal lacks some key details and is poised to become a major legislative push in 2023.

3. CARE Court

Newsom used considerable political capital to the Community Assistance, Recovery and Empowerment Act – also known as CARE Court – as a way to get people with severe mental and behavioral health problems off the streets and into treatment. That treatment would be ordered by a civil court judge at the request of family or first responders.

The governor and other supporters of the new program championed it as a more compassionate option than leaving people to suffer on the street. But it has received pushback from civil rights groups who compare it to forced treatment. Some local governments have also raised concerns about a shortage of workers in the behavioral health sector.

Seven counties – Orange, San Francisco, San Diego, Riverside, Tuolumne, Stanislaus and Glenn – will launch the program in October 2023. The rest of the state will follow before 2025.

4. New gains for women & LGBTQ lawmakers

November’s election ushered ina record number of women and LGBTQ lawmakers elected to the California Legislature.

Forty-one percent of lawmakers are women and ten percent identify as out-LGBTQ, which makes California the first state in the nation to reach proportional representation for LGBTW residents.

The gains in representation “has the potential to change the climate of the legislature in terms of bipartisanship, cooperation [and] actual productivity,” said Susannah Delano, executive director of Close the Gap, a group that works to recruit and train female candidates.

Advocates say the makeup of a legislature affects which policies are introduced and passed. Incoming lawmakers have listed childcare, environmental justice and financial barriers to housing as issues they want to address during their tenure.

5. California’s budget volatility

In 2022, Newsom and state lawmakers approved a state budget that, for a second year in a row, included a staggering nearly $100 billion surplus.

Since 2021, that money has been spent on housing and homelessness, building a new universal pre-Kindergarten program, expanded health care for undocumented workers and more.

But the picture is shaping up to be very different next year, with the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s office projecting a $25 billion deficit in 2023. Budget analysts say the dip in revenue is to be expected and that lawmakers may not need to make cuts thanks to a souped-up Rainy Day Fund and other reserves.

But the dramatic swing illustrates the volatility of California’s progressive tax revenue system, which relies heavily on wealthy earners. According to a Department of Finance spokesperson, about 49% of the state’s revenues come from the top 1% of earners.

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