California Democrats now enjoy their biggest legislative advantages in decades, with veto-proof majorities in both the Assembly and Senate. Besides a brief stretch from 1995 to 1996 when Republicans had a slim majority in the Assembly, Democrats have had complete control of the Legislature for the last 48 years.
As Democrats have increased their power in the Capitol, they have championed bolder and more progressive policies in the last decade. While Democrats in office praise the changes they’ve made, Republicans worry the state has gone off the rails.
The Sacramento Bee spoke to more than a dozen current and former lawmakers, asking them to reflect on the most left-leaning laws that have come out of Sacramento. Here are some that made our “liberal list”:
Boards of public companies must include women
By the end of the year, public companies in California must have at least one woman on their boards of directors. The law by Democratic Sens. Hannah Beth-Jackson and Toni Atkins also requires companies to have at least two or three women on boards by the end of 2021, depending on the number of directors in the company.
The bill narrowly cleared the Legislature last year, as all Republicans and a few Democrats worried about intruding on the business community. Even former Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown said it “may prove fatal” in the courts, although he signed the bill.
For Jackson, increasing female representation in the workplace outweighs all concerns.
“California’s the first state in the country to do this,” Jackson said. “Some might call it our ‘liberal agenda,’ but I look at it as our ‘equality agenda.’ This is the state where we are meeting the expectations and promises of this country.”
While many Republicans acknowledge women need to have a greater voice in the business community, some don’t like the idea of the state forcing companies to do so.
“I don’t like mandates, and I’d rather not government force people to do the right thing,” said Cynthia Bryant, executive director and chief operating officer of the California GOP.
California has led the way on a number of other issues to promote equality for women. Jackson introduced the California Fair Pay Act in 2015 to prohibit employers for paying women less than men for “substantially similar work.”
Undocumented students can get state financial aid
The California Dream Act has extended financial aid opportunities to undocumented students since 2013.
After President Donald Trump took office in 2017, California saw a drop in applicants seeking financial aid. State officials worried that immigrant families were declining to apply over fears that their information would be shared with the federal government.
In response, state lawmakers and top education officials released a video urging people to apply for state grants.
Eloy Oakley, chancellor of the state’s community colleges, said at the time the only way applicants’ immigration status would be shared is “when there is a genuine court order or subpoena.”
California has taken a number of other steps to benefit people who did not enter the United States legally. By April 2018, more than 1 million undocumented immigrants had received driver’s licenses under legislation Brown signed in 2013.
Over past three years, California set aside tens of millions of dollars to help young immigrants fight deportation.
Former Senate leader Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, introduced the California Values Act in 2017, which effectively makes California a sanctuary state by limiting cooperation between local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities.
Trump has repeatedly criticized California for its immigration policies. In 2018, he considered pulling Immigration and Customs Enforcement and other federal law enforcement groups out of California.
“If we ever pulled our ICE out and we ever said, ‘Hey, let California alone. Let them figure it out for themselves,’ in two months, they’d be begging for us to come back,” Trump said.
Top California Democrats insist the state is paving the way on immigration through its more welcoming approach. Once Trump got elected in 2016, de León said he realized there was a greater need to protect residents.
“If Trump is not president, California is still a progressive state,” de León said. “What we’ve done is amp it up 10 times because there is a direct conflict with our values.”
You can register to vote on Election Day without an ID
While some states with Republicans in control have drawn criticism for efforts to restrict voting, California Democrats – who tend to benefit when more voters show up – have made it increasingly easy to cast a ballot.
According to a Cost of Voting Index published last year in the Election Law Journal, California is the third easiest state to vote in, following Oregon and Colorado, respectively.
Californians, for example, can register and vote on the same day – without showing identification.
California’s conditional voter registration process was adopted at the start of 2017. The state uses a voter registration database called VoteCal to prevent ineligible votes from being counted. VoteCal stores registration information for all voters in all 58 counties, and county elections officials use it to transfer records if a person moves to a different county and make sure there are no duplicate registrations.
New policies out of Sacramento have continued to make voting easier.
The state launched a program last year that adds eligible Californians onto the voter rolls when they visit the Department of Motor Vehicles, unless they choose to opt out. Since Motor Voter began in April 2018, the state has registered 1 million new voters.
“Automatic registration is a huge, powerful tool to strengthen our democracy and increase civic participation,” said California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, who championed the proposal.
The California Republican Party has called for a halt to the program, citing errors that included registering 1,500 voters by mistake.
A Democratic-led effort is underway in the Assembly, meanwhile, to lower the voting age from 18 to 17.
You have to ask for a plastic straw. Paper receipts might be next.
California decided to make it more difficult to get plastic straws in an effort to crack down on pollution.
Starting this year, restaurants and other businesses are no longer allowed to give customers plastic straws, unless customers explicitly ask for them. Many cities, such as Manhattan Beach, had already taken the lead in banning the straws.
“It is a very small step to make a customer who wants a plastic straw ask for it,” Brown wrote in a signing message last year. “And it might make them pause and think again about an alternative.”
Businesses would get two warnings if they violate the law, followed by a $25 fine per subsequent violation up to $300 annually.
Assemblyman Ian Calderon, D-Whittier, introduced the bill to ban straws. This year, Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, is targeting paper receipts by requiring customers to ask for printed copies rather than be given one automatically.
California bans state government travel to 10 other states
In an effort to promote equality for the LGBT community, California has banned taxpayer-funded trips to 10 states, most of which are located in the South.
The 2016 law by Assemblyman Evan Low, D-Campbell, requires the attorney general to restrict taxpayer-funded travel to any state that adopts a policy allowing organizations to deny services to gay and transgender people.
Since then, Alabama, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee and Texas landed on California’s no-go list.
North Carolina was placed on the list once it took effect at the start of 2017, following the passage of House Bill 2 — a North Carolina law known as the “bathroom bill” that banned people from using restrooms that didn’t correspond with the gender listed on birth certificates. North Carolina lawmakers toned down the original bathroom bill, but the state is still subjected to California’s travel ban because of a law that prohibits local governments from adopting anti-discrimination ordinances.
Last year, California cut travel to Oklahoma after a law was signed allowing private adoption agencies to use moral or religious reasons to prevent same-sex parents from adopting children.
California added South Carolina onto the list earlier this month over a law permitting private faith-based groups to withhold adoption services.
Under certain circumstances, including criminal investigations and meeting contractual agreements, California officials can still visit the 10 prohibited states.
TOMORROW: Can California get more liberal? It will if these ideas become law