Who killed California utility bill legislation?
Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas quietly nixes a legislative proposal to cap the fixed fees utility companies charge customers.
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Who killed CA utility bill legislation?

Assemblymember Robert Rivas , now speaker, on the Assembly floor on May 31, 2022. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters

From CalMatters’ Ben Christopher

A bill to rein in a proposed monthly fee on California electric bills has been quietly shelved in the Assembly without receiving a single vote.

Assembly Bill 1999, written by Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin, was a response to the California Public Utilities Commission's proposal on fixed charges. The version to be voted on next month would let California’s largest for-profit utility companies charge customers $24 per month — with fees as low as $6 for lower-income customers — as a kind of membership fee for the power grid.

In exchange, power providers would be required to lower the rate that customers pay for every unit of electricity consumed. Customers who draw relatively little from the grid — including those with solar panels — would likely face higher overall bills. Customers who buy more electricity from the utilities are more likely to see their bills decline.

Irwin’s legislative rejoinder would have capped the set fees at $10 per month — and just $5 for lower income customers. 

But that effort appears to be on ice, though Rivas’ office says that while the bill will not move forward in its current form, talks with Irwin on possible amendments are ongoing.

Bills that cost the state money, like AB 1999, have until today to make it out of their first policy committees. Earlier this week, Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas’ leadership team rerouted the bill away from its debut hearing, thus depriving it of that necessary first vote. 

A GOP-backed measure to totally nix the fixed charge authored by San Diego Republican Sen. Brian Jones was voted down in committee earlier this week.

Irwin, who is a Thousand Oaks Democrat and co-authored her bill with 19 other Democrats, called the move a “step backward” and denounced the “runaway process” at the Public Utilities Commission.

  • Cynthia Moreno, Rivas’ press secretary: “The Public Utilities Commission’s recent proposal to reform energy rates should reduce bills for low-income customers and rein-in surging costs for a majority of Californians. And importantly, it will not lead to increased revenues for utility companies.”

Because the proposal strikes that balance, Irwin’s bill is “no longer necessary,” Moreno said, but she left open the possibility of future discussion.  

Speaking of stopping bills: After a spicy one-hour debate, the Assembly’s election committee blocked a proposal Thursday to bar lobbyists, certain public officials and employees of the Legislature or office of the governor from signing or requesting non-disclosure agreements when developing legislation. The measure was proposed after KCRA revealed that the Service Employees International Union required these agreements during negotiations for a law it sponsored to bump the hourly minimum wage for fast food workers to $20. 

At the hearing, the bill’s author, Republican Assemblymember Vince Fong of Bakersfield, said “we deserve to know how the legislative sausage was made.” Some business groups, including the California Business Roundtable, supported the measure. But the California Chamber of Commerce strongly opposed it. Calling it a “complicated issue,” committee chairperson Assemblymember Gail Pellerin of Santa Cruz was the only Democrat to vote against the bill (all other Democrats abstained). In addition to the “rushed process,” Pellerin faulted the bill because she said it addressed conversations between private parties, rather than “legislative negotiations involving public officials.”

Other goings-on in the Legislature Thursday:

  • Public safety: Republican Assemblymembers attempted to force a floor vote on 12 crime bills that they say were “unilaterally denied a hearing in the Public Safety Committee.” Though most of the bills were from Democrats, the motion was denied by the Democratic supermajority. Five bills were by Republican lawmakers, including one to classify domestic violence as a violent felony. Another would have classified child abuse that results in death as a serious felony.
  • Campaign funds: With no floor votes in opposition, the Assembly advanced a bill to allow candidates and elected officials to use campaign funds for personal security for themselves, family members and staff. It now heads to the Senate. Democratic Assemblymember Mia Bonta of Oakland is resurrecting the proposal after Newsom vetoed similar legislation last year.


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Controlling health costs

A nurse checks on a patient in the Emergency Room unit of Hazel Hawkins Memorial Hospital in Hollister on March 30, 2023. Photo by Larry Valenzuela, CalMatters/CatchLight Local

To curb rising medical costs in California, the Office of Health Care Affordability approved the state’s first spending cap on the health industry this week. Compared to eight other states that have developed similar growth standards, California is setting one of the more aggressive plans, writes CalMatters health reporter Kristen Hwang.

Wednesday's vote by the board (whose members are appointed by the governor and approved by the Legislature) limits the industry to a 3.5% spending increase next year and 3% by 2029.

What does that mean exactly? For hospitals, doctors and health insurers, they will need to cut costs to avoid exceeding the annual per capita spending target. How they do it is up to them; health plans can include reining in administrative inefficiencies or reducing redundant testing. To show that they are complying with the cap, health care organizations will have to submit spending data to the state.

For patients, health insurance costs won’t plummet overnight or in the next year. And for Californians who already can’t afford health care, the cap won’t bring any immediate relief. Rather, the cap aims to prevent future prices from soaring uncontrollably. According to federal data, per capita health spending in California grew more than 5% a year between 2015 and 2020.

To learn more about this new health care mandate, read Kristen’s story.

Garvey wades into Gaza protests

Pro-Palestine USC students listen to speakers during a protest in Alumni Park at University of Southern California in Los Angeles on April 24, 2024. Photo by Jules Hotz for CalMatters

From CalMatters politics reporter Yue Stella Yu

Steve Garvey, one of the final two candidates for California’s U.S. Senate seat, called pro-Palestinian protesters who build encampments on college campuses “terrorists,” as tension over the Gaza war intensifies.

Garvey, a Republican, made the statements Thursday in Los Angeles about the University of Southern California — a day after police arrested almost 100 anti-war protesters on campus on trespassing charges during a largely peaceful demonstration Wednesday.

The event was part of the latest nationwide wave of student-led protests at public and private colleges and universities as the humanitarian crisis worsens in Gaza during the Israeli offensive in response to the Oct. 7 Hamas attack that killed 1,200 people in Israel. For months, demonstrators have been calling for a permanent ceasefire in the war that has now killed more than 33,000 Palestinians in Gaza. 

At the University of Southern California, tension has been brewing for more than a week after administrators canceled the commencement speech by valedictorian Asna Tabassum, after a pro-Israel group deemed her social media post of a pro-Palestinian link antisemitic, which she disputed. Thursday, USC canceled its main-stage commencement entirely.

Thursday, Garvey waded into the debate. Making a rare public appearance after the March 5 primary, he claimed that the protesters supported terrorists, calling the USC protest “terrorism disguised as free speech” without pointing to any specific language used by demonstrators. 

  • Garvey: “These organizations aren't by kids in dormitories who are making a statement that they probably don't really understand what it's about. This is organized support of terrorism. I believe demonstrations that allow people to build encampments that obstruct the pathway to classes, and the opportunity to learn, is terrorism.”

Garvey’s campaign did not immediately respond to an inquiry for evidence supporting claims of protesters’ ties to terrorism, which the Federal Bureau of Investigation defines as involving unlawful use of violence to “intimidate or coerce” the government or civilians to advance a political or social agenda. 

Garvey said he would support charging protesters with terrorism if the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office decided to do so. When asked if the office plans to bring those charges, spokesperson Venusse Dunn said: “When law enforcement presents a case to our office, we apply the law to the facts of each case and determine what charges, if any, are appropriate.” 

Rep. Adam Schiff, the Democrat from Burbank who advanced from the March primary with Garvey, has also supported Israel in the war. Schiff was reluctant to call for a ceasefire for months, but supported President Joe Biden’s call last month for a ceasefire tied to a larger deal. Schiff also voted alongside most Democrats to send $26 billion in aid to Israel last week.

Schiff’s campaign did not respond to an inquiry for comment on Garvey’s comments. But it did later send a statement about the campus protests. 

  • Schiff, in the statement: “Jewish students need to both be safe and feel safe on their college campuses — but that will never be the case as long as universities allow hateful, antisemitic rhetoric, or even violence, to be tolerated.”

For more on the debate, read the story.

Improving mental health

Supporters of Proposition 1 hang banners before the start of a rally at the state Capitol on Jan. 31, 2024. Photo by José Luis Villegas for CalMatters

From CalMatters health reporter Ana B. Ibarra:

There are perhaps few more pressing issues in California than the growing mental health crisis. But the doctors, patients and advocates within California's mental health system agree that despite the state’s ongoing efforts to make improvements, much of today’s fragmented system is not working for people. 

That sentiment was front and center Wednesday in San Francisco for a CalMatters half-day forum moderated by projects and mental health reporter Jocelyn Wiener.

In a keynote conversation, Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg spoke about his decades in public service spearheading initiatives such as permanent housing for people in need of mental services and the state’s millionaire’s tax to fund mental health services. California recently narrowly approved a $6.4 billion plan that would allow some of that tax revenue to be redirected to housing instead of other services. Steinberg noted that the challenge to get people off the streets and into treatment goes beyond money.

  • Steinberg: “I actually think more money is not the only answer, it may not even be the primary answer. The systems are still broken. ... Think about it for a moment, I could argue that we have five, six separate mental health systems in California that don’t necessarily coordinate or work with one another.”

The two-panel event also explored workforce challenges: As the state’s mental health demands grow, therapists, psychologists, social workers and other providers continue to be in short supply. 

  • Hillary Kunins, San Francisco Department of Public Health’s director of behavioral health services: “We have money in programs… that are not running at full capacity, that is they can’t take care of all the people they are funded to because of a workforce challenge. It is really serious.”

In children, rates of anxiety and depression have skyrocketed. Advocates and leaders said helping kids will need more focused investments, compassion and a look in the mirror. 

  • Sohil Sud, a pediatrician and director of the state's Children and Youth Behavioral Health Initiative, hears children saying this about adults: “You have to take care of yourselves, you have to take care of each other, you have to take care of this planet, and I think we have to keep all of that in mind as we go forward.” 

You can watch the event here.


CalMatters Commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: California was once a leader in government transparency, but it has descended into secrecy that makes it difficult for the public to know what’s happening.

Despite a year of headlines about AI, elderly immigrant communities are left vulnerable to the technology’s dangerous uses, writes Lam Thuy Vo, an investigative reporter at The Markup.


Other things worth your time:

Some stories may require a subscription to read.

Big city CA mayors urge Newsom to spare homelessness funding // The Mercury News

Newsom is sending CHP officers to fight crime in Bakersfield // Los Angeles Times

Biden's new overtime pay proposal follows CA law // Los Angeles Times

SFMOMA workers urge museum to join boycott of Israeli institutions // KQED

Top advisor to LA DA charged with misusing confidential police files // Los Angeles Times

CA is investing $500M in therapy apps for youth. Advocates fear it won’t pay off. // California Healthline

San Diego is now the top border region for migrant arrivals // Los Angeles Times

TikTok’s safety chief, a former SF district attorney, talks about company’s fight for survival // San Francisco Chronicle

Frontier myth vilified the CA grizzly. Science tells a new story. // The Washington Post

Kern County supervisor stabbed by own child, under investigation for alleged sexual assault // KVPR

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