By MADISON HIRNEISEN
THE CENTER SQUARE STAFF REPORTER
(The Center Square) — California lawmakers hit the ground running to start the new legislative session, introducing a slew of new measures they will consider in the coming months that include the latest proposal to allow legislative staff to unionize, bills to address the fentanyl crisis and a measure to impose a new tax on firearms and ammunition.
Monday marked the start of the 2023-2024 legislative session, which brought with it the ceremonial swearing-in of new lawmakers and the convening of a special session to discuss oil industry profits called by Gov. Gavin Newsom. It was also the first day lawmakers could introduce bills, resulting in a torrent of new measures that will be assigned to committees in the coming weeks.
Around 113 bills were introduced on the first day of session, with roughly one-third lacking substantive language, according to veteran Sacramento lobbyist Chris Micheli.
Lawmakers expressed a renewed determination to push Assembly Bill 1 over the finish line this year — a measure introduced Monday that will give employees of the Legislature the right to unionize. A similar measure, Assembly Bill 1577, failed to pass a key committee in August and did not receive a vote on the Assembly floor.
Assemblymember Tina McKinnor, D-Inglewood, and 26 other lawmakers introduced Assembly Bill 1 Monday, expressing optimism that the Legislature has the “political will” to get the bill passed this year. This marks the fifth time lawmakers have introduced a measure to allow their legislative staffs to unionize, and Democratic legislators argue it is the “height of hypocrisy” to support the work of unions without allowing their staffs to organize.
“It is hypocritical as legislators that we ask our employees to staff committees and write legislation that often expands collective bargaining rights for other workers in California, but we intentionally prohibit our own workers from doing this from having the same right,” Assemblymember McKinnor said Monday. “The legislature has failed to show the political will to respect its staff for far too long.”
Assemblymember McKinnor added that she believes the Legislature has the “political courage” to pass the bill this year after several former legislators are “no longer here to impede the rights of legislative staff.” During the last Legislative session, former Democratic Assemblymember Jim Cooper chaired the committee where the bill ultimately met its demise.
AB 1 was among dozens of measures introduced on Monday, including several measures involving taxes. One such measure, Assembly Bill 28, expresses the “intent of the legislature” to enact a tax on firearms and ammunition to protect against gun violence. California lawmakers rejected a bill in August that would have imposed an excise tax on handguns, rifles and ammunition.
Assembly Republicans also unveiled a new package of proposals on Monday, which includes a proposal attempting once again to enact a “gas tax holiday” to suspend the state’s gas tax. Republican lawmakers tried to push for a gas tax suspension several times during the last legislative session, but it lacked necessary support from Democrats.
Other proposals in the Republican’s “California Promise” package call for increased penalties for the sale of fentanyl, additional income tax credits for working families, requirements for schools to have Narcan (naloxone) kits in the event of an overdose and bans on homeless encampments within 500 feet of schools. Several bills in the package have yet to be formally introduced by Republican lawmakers.
While Monday marked the start of the new legislative session, the real work begins in January when lawmakers will return from recess after the holidays when bills will be debated and face key votes in committees. Lawmakers will also continue a special session called by Gov. Newsom to discuss his newly unveiled proposal to enact a “price gouging penalty” against the oil industry.
Madison Hirneisen covers California for The Center Square.