Housing, charter schools, vaccines: Lawmakers return to Capitol with a big to-do list

It’s back to the Capitol for California lawmakers, who are returning on Monday from a month-long break to finish out the 2019 session.

They’ve killed bills, shelved others, amended some, overhauled a few and passed several new laws. But their work isn’t done.

In the next month, state legislators are scheduled to pass or ax hundreds of proposals that range from slight legal modifications to systemic overhauls.

Here are the signature items that the California Legislature will consider before the session ends in October.

Upgrading the use-of-force law

California’s 1872 deadly force law is poised to get a massive makeover any day now.

Though Assembly Bill 392 started as the most controversial proposal in the Legislature this year, Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, worked with police lobbyists throughout session to get a signable measure to Gov. Gavin Newsom.

The legislation would change the legal standard for when officers can employ deadly force from when “reasonable” to “necessary,” based on the totality of circumstances.

The bill further defines “necessary” as when officers or the public face an immediate threat of death or serious bodily harm. It would require evaluating an officer’s conduct before and after deadly force is used and emphasizes the use of deescalation as an effective alternative to pulling a trigger.

Law enforcement advocates once called the bill’s standard “impossible,” but rescinded their opposition after Weber took amendments that made it a bipartisan-backed, passable measure.

Weber said AB 392 would serve as a use-of-force model for other states to follow suit.

“Finally, folks are serious about it,” Weber said. “We were fighting some of the most difficult issues in the state. Who should do it better than California?”

Tightening vaccine medical exemptions

Perhaps the most controversial legislative effort this year comes in the form of Senate Bill 276, a legislative plan to restrict vaccine medical exemptions in California.

The proposal has sparked outrage from vaccine-hesitant and anti-vaccine families across California, as well as inspired emotional testimony from parents of sick children who can’t get the shots.

After state Sen. Richard Pan, a Sacramento Democrat, relaxed some of the provisions that would have handed greater oversight authority to the state, Gov. Gavin Newsom signaled that he was more likely to sign the bill.

The proposed law would add to Pan’s 2015 law that eliminated personal beliefs, including religion, from a list of reasons to skip the shots for kids enrolling in school.

Since then, medical exemptions have more than tripled in California schools. Pan said the increase is a result of “unscrupulous” physicians issuing “fraudulent medical exemptions” to parents who question the safety of vaccines.

“(The bill) maintains and restores the integrity of the medical exemptions system,” Pan said. “This bill protects the rights of these children to attend school and ensures Californians have the freedom to go about their community without being at risk of becoming infected with serious, preventable diseases.”

Cracking down on charter schools

The California Teachers Association is backing two bills that would restrict charter school power throughout the state, and has put more than $4 million into lobbying this year for the effort.

One idea, Assembly Bill 1505, would hand greater jurisdiction over charter authorization to local school districts. Its author, Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach, said it’s a necessary attempt to bring back local control over the alternative public schools.

“Many of the charter operations have run around local control,” O’Donnell said. “What they’ve done is gone authorizer shopping. If they don’t get authorized by the local district they’ll go to the county. If they don’t get authorized by the county, they’ll go to the state board of education.”

Its partner proposal, Assembly Bill 1507, would eliminate the ability for a charter school to operate outside of the boundaries of the agency that authorized it.

Charter school proponents spent hours opposing the measures during committee hearings this year. They wore shirts that said “#DefendGreatSchools” and defended charter schools’ role in advancing education in California.

Changing ‘independent contractors’ to ‘employees’

Backed by unions and labor rights groups, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez wrote Assembly Bill 5 to classify independent contractors as employees in most cases.

The San Diego Democrat’s legislation would codify a 2018 California Supreme Court decision that determined most contractors should have employment status, unless they can check off a list of exemptions.

The bill has drawn the ire of gig economy companies like Uber and Lyft, whose executives have said the proposed law would crumble their business model. Some of their drivers, along with truck owners and small business operators, have said employment status would disrupt their flexible schedules and remove control over their work.

Other drivers said the bill is just a start.

“People keep acting like they’ve invented new things. It’s the same old thing,” Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood, said in support of the bill. “It’s about corporations trying to oppress workers. When you hear about folks talking about the new economy, the gig economy, the innovation economy, it’s f-----g feudalism all over again.”

Putting housing pieces together

Gov. Gavin Newsom isn’t likely to find a comprehensive solution to the housing crisis he promised to sign if lawmakers delivered legislation to do so.

Ahead of an important legislative deadline in May, the most powerful housing bill was shelved for the year. Senate Bill 50 would have rewritten zoning regulations across California and required local jurisdictions to make room for housing along jobs- and transit-rich areas.

Few sweeping options remain, though the Senate is still considering a tenant protection measure to cap rent increases and restrict evictions. Assembly Bill 1482 was made a two-for-one proposal after it was amended to impose regulations against throwing out tenants for reasons other than violations of their lease. It would also place a 7 percent plus inflation cap on certain buildings.

Another plan would set aside money for affordable housing projects that local officials would have to apply for. Another would increase access to accessory dwelling units, or “in-law units.”

Hannah Wiley joined The Bee as a legislative reporter in 2019. She produces the morning newsletter for Capitol Alert and previously reported on immigration, education and criminal justice. She’s a Chicago-area native and a graduate of Saint Louis University and Northwestern.