By Toni G. Atkins
Every other December, the California Legislature begins a two-year session, starting fresh with a batch of new members of the Senate and the Assembly and plenty of new ideas for improving the quality of life in our state. On Dec. 3, we began the 2019-2020 legislative session, looking forward to the next era with a new Governor Gavin Newsom, starting work in January.
During the last two years, we made great progress on numerous fronts – bolstering our financial reserves, investing in programs that support struggling families and individuals, funding affordable housing and addressing homelessness, strengthening our world-leading climate laws, making record investments in K-12 and higher education and taking steps to prevent catastrophic wildfires and help communities recover from them when they do occur, among many others.
No matter how much progress we make, there will always be more work to do. Housing affordability remains a serious issue. At our current construction rate, we’ll be about 2.5 million homes short of demand by 2025. More than half of renters and more than a third of homeowners pay more than 30 percent of income toward housing.
The threat of wildfire is only increasing as California becomes ever hotter and drier. Since October of last year, our state has endured six of the 10 most destructive wildfires in our history. Some 44 percent of California’s land area is now considered to be at elevated or extreme risk of wildfire.
The income and wealth gaps are too wide, and too many residents haven’t felt the benefits of an expanding economy.
The Legislature will attempt to meet these and many other challenges with new bills and budget recommendations. Those efforts will begin in earnest after the new year, but a number of bills were introduced when the session officially started in December.
The first one was Senate Bill 1 — the California Environmental, Public Health, and Workers Defense Act of 2019 — which I introduced, along with my Senate colleagues Henry Stern and Anthony Portantino. SB 1 will preserve some of our most deeply held values, such as our desire to enjoy clean air, clean water, protected wildlife, workplace safety and worker rights, no matter what happens at the federal level.
The bill makes current federal clean air, climate, clean water, worker safety and endangered species standards enforceable under state law, even if the federal government rolls back and weakens those standards. It directs state environmental, public-health and worker-safety agencies to take all actions within their authorities to ensure that standards in effect as of January 2017 remain in effect.
SB 1 is just the first chapter of what I believe will be an uplifting story in 2019. I draw that confidence from California’s long history of success, innovation, imagination and bold action. We are the globe’s fifth largest economy and, in many ways, the envy of the world, and with strong leadership, creativity and hard work, no challenge is insurmountable.
As always, thank you for your trust in me. I look forward to another year of representing you in our state’s capital.
—Toni G. Atkins represents the 39th District in the California Senate. Follow her on Twitter @SenToniAtkins.