Budget Committee perspective
Not going to speak for whole legislature; CA is about to be 4th largest economy in the world; as a state, we have incredible success in the world and yet high levels of poverty that mostly affect women and children
The situation got worse during the pandemic; for those in service jobs, conditions haven’t really changed, but their economic circumstance are worse now because costs of everything have gone up
Income inequality really stands out in CA even though the entire country is confronting this
Reports about wealth increases during pandemic for the wealthiest people – imagine what this amount of wealth could do; even a $500/month basic income could lift many out of poverty; an example of this was pandemic relief that lifted many out of poverty
The legislature and governor have done well to shore up a safety net
now providing 2 meals to all public school children K-12
SSI payment have gone up
CalWorks payment to families has gone up
Cal Fresh, Medical have gone up
but because we are working against inflation, people are kind of breaking even
Governor Newsom didn’t cut safety net programs when state in deficit = exactly right thing though other governors before him did
With the general fund budget, we have discretion over CDCR (prison system); CA is now the only state in the nation that has dropped the number of incarcerated individuals (by about 45%), but the budget for CDCR has not dropped; we are closing prisons, but keeping the same budget
CDCR had commercials recruiting staff during the Superbowl
A lot of the budget is in health care costs. We also have unionized workforce, so have to pay prison staff effectively
The state has given tools to CDCR to allow for medical release, compassion release, etc., but they aren’t using these
Right sizing the prison budget is essential
What led to the reduction?
Reduced prison population through realignment = many people who were in prisons are now in county jails; and now we’re under DOJ Fed investigation of jails due to abysmal conditions
Prop 57 and 47 also helped by reducing the sentences for lesser crimes
Changed felony murder statute – Skinner’s bill, resulted in 500 people released who had no active role in the crimes; Indeterminate Release means a lot of denials and can keep people in prison for 20 years with 5 out of 6 paroles denied
Covid court order resulted in lots of releases
want to be rational in sentencing policies
Parole board reform
parole rate is 22% and if denied, 2-3 years before can go back; even if on paper look ready, parole is still denied
Social media SB2878 – have algorithms designed to hook you after one search; kids do one search and keep getting served up the ads for the problem they searched for; fentanyl is often bought online; bill allows parents to sue companies for design of the algorithm when it causes harm to the child https://sd09.senate.ca.gov/news/20230202-skinner-introduces-bill-hold-social-media-companies-accountable-sale-fentanyl-ghost
Gun violence – we have lower per capita gun violence than many states; but loophole has allowed foreign law enforcement to use and sell unlawful guns; bill will close this loophole. not allow law enforcement to sell arms
All of Sen. Skinner’s bills: https://sd09.senate.ca.gov/2023-legislation - updated weekly
There are inequities around education funding. We need more investment in career readiness in high school and at community college. I went to community college. It shouldn’t cost a student $100,000 to get trained for a job.
I also have concerns about re-entry programs for formerly incarcerated people. They come out into the same environment that got them into trouble. If they were offered education, housing, and a job to give them dignity after serving their time, perhaps they would not resort to crime again as a way to survive. Better re-entry programs are essential.
LWV question: What is the climate in the legislature now? Do you think this will be a productive session?
BW: I always have high expectations. I have a 2-year old and a 6-year old. I’m not messing around because I need to be efficient with my time. I’m pushing for big things. For example, there is the issue of social media regulation. Tech companies need to be held to account. I did a bill last year regarding tech regulation that has become a model in 6 other states.
We are transitioning Speakers. I’m a big fan of Rob Rivas. He will bring experience with farmworker housing. I’m excited to serve alongside him on the leadership team. I think he’ll bring fresh air to the legislature.
A lot of problems feel insoluble, but I believe they can be solved. It won’t happen overnight, but I believe we can do it.