Our 2019 Legislative Wrap-Up
It’s been quite a year at the California Capitol, with a new Governor, hard fought legislative battles, and sometimes overly-passionate advocates rallying for their causes. The League of Women Voters of California was out in force. We experienced notable wins, a few disappointments, and several cliffhangers - the outcomes of which won’t be known until 2020. Below are highlights of the legislative year in our three issue areas - government, natural resources, and social policy. To view a full summary of our advocacy efforts, view our Bill Status Report for 2019-2020.
Our chief legislative mission is to empower people to have a voice in their civic life, ensure that local and state government is representative of California’s diversity, and eradicate impediments to those goals. To those ends, the League co-sponsored four bills this cycle: Free the Vote, Assembly Constitutional Amendment 6 (McCarty); Election Day Registration, SB 72 (Umberg); the Fair Maps Act, AB 849 (Bonta); and the People’s Map Act, SB 139 (Allen).
While they weren’t among our co-sponsored bills, we provided high levels of support for AB 571 (Mullin) and SB 212 (Allen). Our success on AB 571 will curtail the influence of money in politics by placing a default limit on local candidate contributions, while also allowing each jurisdiction to set its own limits. SB 212 would have given every local government the option to use new voting methods, like ranked-choice, to ensure more inclusive majority-winner elections. Unfortunately, Governor Newsom vetoed the legislation, expressing concerns about voter confusion.
Heat records are breaking, glaciers are melting, and the seas are rising. Protecting natural resources and mitigating against climate change are critical League priorities. As a coastal state, many of our communities are threatened by rising sea levels. The successful passage of AB 65 (Petrie-Norris) will prioritize projects that use natural infrastructure, an important tool to protect coastal communities from the impacts of climate change.
A robust network of stream gages, mandated by SB 19 (Dodd), will help us learn more about the timing and volume of flow, thereby allowing for more effective water resource management and preparation for both droughts and floods. Despite a hard fight by advocates, Governor Newsom vetoed SB 1 (Atkins). Faced with threats from the current federal administration, the legislation would have ensured continued legal protections for the state’s environment, natural resources, public health, and workers’ health and safety. Next year we will continue our work to pass SB 54 (Allen) and AB 1080 (Gonzalez), companion bills aimed at reducing single-use plastic waste in landfills and oceans.
The League successfully advocated for a plethora of bills focused on criminal justice, housing, and education. All share a common purpose to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion.
League members testified, wrote letters, and lobbied hard to pass the California Act to Save Lives, AB 392 (Weber).
This new law requires law enforcement to use deadly force only when necessary to defend against the threat of death or serious injury. We believe that strengthening the standard will reduce police violence, rebuild the community trust, and bring state policies on the use of force into compliance with recent court decisions and national best practices.
Incarcerated people are at high risk for medical problems due to conditions of confinement like crowding, malnutrition, stress, and trauma. They often face the Hobbesian choice between either suffering or incurring crippling medical debt. The passage of AB 45 (Stone) addresses the issue by eliminating burdensome medical copays and equipment charges for people in county jails.
Housing & Homelessness
The League supported several bills aimed at California’s housing crisis. The Tenant Protection Act of 2019, AB 1482 (Chiu), increases equal opportunity to decent, stable, and affordable housing. It keeps families in their homes by limiting extreme or unreasonable rent increases and protects against discriminatory and retaliatory evictions.
Accessory dwelling units (AKA in-law units or backyard cottages) are a key piece of the puzzle to relieve California’s housing crisis. We supported AB 68 (Ting), which eases barriers to building these low-cost, energy efficient, affordable homes.
The Housing Opportunities Act, SB 329 (Mitchell), prohibits housing discrimination based on specified personal characteristics, including source of income. The legislation will protect prospective tenants from being turned away solely because they want to use housing vouchers - a practice that disproportionately impacts communities of color.
Charter school governing boards will observe the same open meeting, conflict-of-interest, and disclosure laws as traditional public schools thanks to the passage of SB 126 (Leyva) - a huge victory for transparency and accountability. The League advocated for a more equitable school-facilities funding formula in AB 48 (O'Donnell). This four-year school bond bill passed the legislature with significant last-minute amendments and is slated for the March 2020 ballot. While there was some progress toward addressing differences in property wealth between districts, we will continue to work in coalition with other advocates to achieve more equity in future bond measures.
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Since the ban was lifted in 2004, gun massacres involving military-style weapons are way up.
By John Donohue and Theodora Boulouta
Mr. Donohue is law professor at Stanford, where Ms. Boulouta is a senior.
Sept. 4, 2019
Assault rifles for sale at a store in Maryland. Credit Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency, via Getty Images
Recent mass shootings have revived demands for meaningful gun control. But many opponents of a renewed federal ban on assault weapons, led by the National Rifle Association, say the earlier ban, from 1994 to 2004, made no difference. Our new research shows otherwise.
We found that public mass shootings — which we defined as incidents in which a gunman killed at least six people in public — dropped during the decade of the federal ban. Yet, in the 15 years since the ban ended, the trajectory of gun massacres has been sharply upward, largely tracking the growth in ownership of military-style weapons and high-capacity magazines.
Using the Mother Jones mass shooting database, we identified the number of gun massacres over a 35-year period. (And following the F.B.I.’s approach, we excluded crimes of armed robbery and gang or domestic violence in evaluating public active shooter incidents.) Compared with the decade before its adoption, the federal assault weapon ban in effect from September 1994 through 2004 was associated with a 25 percent drop in gun massacres (from eight to six) and a 40 percent drop in fatalities (from 81 to 49).
This decline is plausible because assault weapons are semiautomatic firearms designed for rapid fire and combat use, and large-capacity magazines increase the number of rounds that can be fired without reloading. While the gun lobby prevented the ban from being as effective as it could have been and saddled the law with a 10-year sunset provision, the ban did impede the easy access to the type of lethal weaponry that those intent on mass killing have readily available in most of the country today. (Assault weapons are legal in 43 states; large-capacity magazines, commonly understood as ammunition-feeding devices holding more than 10 rounds, are legal in 41.)
The first studies of the law’s effectiveness were inconclusive. For example, it was initially unclear whether a decline in gun massacres and deaths was simply part of a larger drop in crime, since violent crime declined by roughly 14 percent during the federal ban.
But data from the 15 years following the ban’s expiration now provide stronger evidence that permitting the gun industry to flood the market with increasingly powerful weapons that allow for faster killing has facilitated exactly that outcome. In the decade after the ban, there was a 347 percent increase in fatalities in gun massacres, even as overall violent crime continued downward.
Indeed, the number of gun-massacre fatalities in the past five years alone has already topped the previous high for the decade after the ban was lifted. If we continue at the post-2014 pace, by 2024 we will have had more than 10 times as many gun massacre deaths in that 10-year period as we had during the decade of the federal assault weapons ban.
Similarly, fatalities per shooting incident fell during the assault weapon ban and have risen sharply since. With increasingly potent and readily available weaponry, the average number of people who die in a gun massacre has increased by 81 percent in just five years. Assault weapons were used in at least 11 of the 15 gun massacres since 2014; at least 234 of the 271 people who died in gun massacres since 2014 were killed by weapons prohibited under the federal assault weapons ban.
And despite what critics of gun control may assert, mental illness is not driving the alarming growth in fatalities from gun massacres. The percentage of mentally ill Americans did not drop substantially during the 10 years of the federal ban and then suddenly rise rapidly when it was lifted.
Gun industry advertisements play on the weaknesses of troubled young men, persuading them that their perceived grievances could be remedied if they possessed the latest assault weapons. The deeply troubled 20-year-old Adam Lanza used a semiautomatic Bushmaster rifle — advertised under the slogan “Consider Your Man Card Reissued” — to kill 26 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. No other industry is allowed to act so recklessly without facing legal challenge. But a 2005 law immunized gun manufacturers against lawsuits for harm caused by the criminal use of firearms.
The 19-year-old killer of 17 at Parkland High School and the recent Dayton shooter possessed traits that would have disqualified them in many other countries from access to any firearm, let alone a military-style weapon. Numerous steps need to be taken if our mass shooting problem is to be effectively addressed.
There is no reason to think that this ghastly trend will abate without concerted government effort. We should enact a comprehensive federal assault weapons ban and limit on high-capacity magazines, repeal the federal immunity statute and create a more comprehensive and effective background check and red-flag system to ensure that the growing power of advanced weaponry is not readily available to dangerous individuals.
Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, pivotal in getting the first ban through Congress, is among the many Democrats — both presidential candidates and on Capitol Hill — who are pressing to reinstate it or enact a new one. Strong majorities of Americans favor such a ban.
But President Trump and Republicans, who hold the majority in the Senate, strongly oppose this. And the N.R.A. has initiated lawsuits across the country to overturn existing state bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. It also wants the Supreme Court — enriched by two Trump appointees — to effectively end all serious gun safety measures by inflicting an extreme interpretation of the Second Amendment.
The Supreme Court should heed the words of the conservative Reagan appointee Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson when the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit voted to uphold the Maryland assault weapons ban:
“To say in the wake of so many mass shootings in so many localities across this country that the people themselves are now to be rendered newly powerless, that all they can do is stand by and watch as federal courts design their destiny — this would deliver a body blow to democracy.”
The extraordinary increase in the body count from public gun massacres since the end of the federal assault weapons ban and the passage of the federal immunity statute for the gun industry has one obvious explanation: the brazen promotion and the proliferating, loosely regulated, highly profitable sales of the most desirable and effective weaponry for committing mass murder.
While there are certainly considerable political risks in pursuing gun safety measures, if the goal is to save lives, it is time to turn in earnest to the task generations of graduating law students have been directed to undertake: “the shaping and application of those wise restraints that make men free.”
John Donohue is a law professor at Stanford Law School. Theodora Boulouta is a senior at Stanford.
by JESSICA JONES CAPPARELL
The path forward on the Equal Rights Amendment has never been clearer. With just one more state needed to ratify the amendment, our country is closer than ever to ensuring that equal rights, regardless of sex or gender, is guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution.
“Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” —Section 1 of the Equal Rights Amendment
The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was originally passed by Congress in 1972 and went to states for final ratification. Since that time 37 states have approved the amendment for inclusion in the U.S. Constitution. Ratification by Nevada and Illinois, in 2017 and 2018, respectively, leaves the country one state away from achieving the 38-state threshold for ratification. Legislation has been introduced in 11 out of the 13 states who could still take advantage of an opportunity to help ratify the ERA. And currently, North Carolina, Arizona, and Virginia are all poised to be the 38th state to ratify the amendment.
The groundswell of activity at the state level has brought Congress’ attention back to the amendment as they consider the constitutional questions around whether the inclusion of the timeline for ratification is valid. The idea of time limits on constitutional amendments is a modern congressional addition to the amendment ratification process. Prior to the twentieth century, there was no discussion of imposing a time constraint on the states’ consideration of a proposed amendment. Congress derives its power to set a time limit from its authority to designate a mode of ratification. Through the courts, Congress has a clearly established basis for its authority to extend or remove the time limit from the resolving clause of the Equal Right Amendment.
Legislation eliminating the timeline for ratification has been introduced in the form of a joint resolution in the U.S. House and Senate. In the U.S. Senate, Senators, activists, and scholars joined the ERA Coalition recently for a briefing to discuss the resolution. Senators Cardin and Murkowski are leading the effort in the Senate to move this bill forward and both spoke about the need for a constitutional right to equal rights for women in our country. As Senator Murkowski stated at the briefing, “We should never have a time limit on women’s equality.”
The League of Women Voters supports S.J. Res. 6 and H.J. Res 38, the joint resolutions eliminating the deadline for ratification of the ERA. Despite the significant legal and legislative advances that have been made in recent decades, women continue to face discrimination on the basis of sex. The symptoms of this systemic discrimination are clear in the ongoing fights against unequal pay, workplace harassment, pregnancy discrimination, domestic violence and limited access to comprehensive healthcare. It is not enough to treat the symptoms; we must address the root cause of inequality by amending the Constitution. The League will continue to work with our members, interested organizations, and lawmakers on Capitol Hill to move toward final ratification.