With the annual Easter break in the books, the Legislative session will swing into overdrive as policy committees begin their work in earnest. The Legislature is deadline driven and all bills having a requirement that they also go to their respective house’s appropriations committee must clear their policy committee by April 27.
Bills that are slated to go directly to the floor of their respective house have until May 11 to clear policy committee. All of this by way of saying that committee hearings to process the bills facing the April 27 deadline will be long with bill-laden testimony. During this period, the Legislature will be wading through some 2,000 bills
Just before the Easter break the leadership in the Senate changed. Senator Toni Atkins, newly minted to the Senate in the 2016 election, has assumed the position of Senate President Pro Tem. She replaces Kevin de Leon, who is termed out later this year. Senator Atkins was previously Speaker of the California Assembly, making her the only Senate Pro Tem in memory who previously served as Speaker of the Assembly in the modern era. In fact, one would have to go back 100 years to find another Legislator who served both as Assembly Speaker and Senate President Pro Tempore..
The advent of new leadership in either house is accompanied by a change in the composition of that house’s committees. Typically, those who supported the new leader’s successful rise are rewarded with committee assignments that are the envy of their colleagues. And some of those early supporters become part of the leadership inner circle.
Senator Atkins got her political start with her election to the San Diego City Council in 2000. During that time, she developed a relationship of trust with then San Diego Police Chief David Bejarano. Years later, when Atkins was Speaker of the Assembly, and Chief Bejarano was the President of the California Police Chiefs Association, Atkins played a pivotal role in restoring budgetary funding for municipal law enforcement after that funding had been deleted in the 2015-2016 Budget process.
Atkins was first elected to the Assembly in 2010 and was elevated to the office of Assembly Speaker in 2014. In 2016 she was elected to the Senate and was elevated to the office of Senate President Pro Tempore after having served in the Senate for less than two years. In theory, she could serve as Senate President Pro Tempore until 2024.
The recent events in Sacramento have created a political tsunami of adverse sentiment about the use of force by peace officers. These events which include the fatal shooting of an African American male, who turned out to be unarmed, and a subsequent incident by a sheriffs deputy hitting a civilian protester with his cruiser, has headlined local, state and national news.
To date, three bills have been introduced which focus on issues of police transparency and use of force. Senator Nancy Skinner has signaled that Senate Bill 1421 will open the door to compromise the confidentiality of peace officer personnel records. Readers will recall the last time such an effort was attempted was in 2016 when Senator Mark Leno’a Senate Bill 1286 was held in Senate Appropriations Committee after intense lobbying by ALADS.
SB 1421 will focus on public disclosure of personnel records of officers involved in incidents involving the discharge of firearms, use of tasers, physical strikes to the head or neck by an impact weapon or projectile, sexual assault by an officer and incidents resulting in death or serious bodily injury.
AB 748 by Assemblymember Phil Ting would mandate the release of video from an officer’s body worn camera under the California Public Records Act whenever use of force or an “alleged law or policy violation” occurs, unless the public interest in non disclosure clearly outweighs the public interest in disclosure. Finally, Assemblymember Shirley Weber has introduced legislation which would limit an officer’s decision to use deadly force to cases when such use of force is “necessary”, limiting use of deadly force to cases where there is an “immediate threat “ to the life of the officer or a third party.
AB 2010 . by Assemblymember Ed Chau, was introduced to prohibit the use of pepper spray in any juvenile facility. AFSCME Local 685 actively opposed this measure which is not only short sighted but could very well end up endangering both wards and staff alike. There are already tight restrictions on the use of pepper spray under current Department regulations.
Assemblymember Chau pulled his bill from a hearing in the Assembly Public Safety Committee when it was evident he did not have the votes needed for passage. He has until the end of April to reset, hear and have his bill passed or it will be dead for the 2018 session.
Until next time, stay safe!
Brothers and Sisters,