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California Lawmakers Halt Stack of Bills Facing Budget Pressure

By Tran Nguyen and Sophie Austin

SACRAMENTO — As California faces a multibillion-dollar budget deficit, lawmakers face tough decisions about which of the more than 1,000 measures still in the Legislature this year will pass.

On Thursday, they blocked hundreds of bills from moving forward in the Senate and Assembly through what’s called the holding docket. It’s a mysterious process in which lawmakers on two committees decide — without explanation — which bills will have the chance to become law later this year and which should not move forward.

Typically, lawmakers pass about three-quarters of bills during the process. But this year, something “out of the ordinary” happened, said veteran lobbyist Chris Micheli. He estimated that the Assembly Appropriations Committee had approved only about 65 percent of pending bills, leaving more than 230 bills without a chance to move forward.

Buffy Wicks, a Democratic Assembly member and chair of the committee, said the state’s budget problems are “no secret.” The committee introduced a bill to create a government-funded universal health care system, which Wicks has supported in the past.

“We have an obligation to balance the budget here in California,” she said. “We can’t go into debt, so we have to be very judicious with the budget.”

In both chambers, lawmakers have presented hundreds of proposals. Here are some important points:

REPAIRS

It was a good day – mostly – for advocates of reparations for black Californians. The State Assembly overwhelmingly passed a state apology for the legacy of slavery, and the Senate Appropriations Committee advanced several other proposals aimed at repairing harm to the descendants of slaves .

Key proposals to create an agency to administer reparations programs and help black families trace their family lineage; paying black families for land that was unjustly taken through eminent domain; and create a state fund for all-advanced reparations programs.

But bills to provide a property tax and financial aid to descendants of slaves were held up by the Senate committee. State Sen. Steven Bradford, a Los Angeles-area Democrat who authored the bills, said much of that was due to the state’s budget problems.

“It’s a financial challenge this year,” Bradford said. “But we always knew it wasn’t going to be successful. This is going to be a multi-year approach.

PSYCHEDELIC THERAPY

The Senate committee stopped a bill that would have allowed people 21 and older to consume psychedelic mushrooms under the supervision of a professional. The legislation would not have permitted personal possession and use.

The bipartisan bill was introduced after Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed a law last year that would have decriminalized the possession and personal use of several plant-based hallucinogens, including psychedelic mushrooms.

Supporters of the bill, including veterans and first responders, said it would have shifted the state’s response to the mental health crisis away from criminalization and punishment. Opponents said the bill was too broad and would have allowed people without medical training to supervise therapeutic treatment.

ELECTRICITY BILL FEES

A bill that would have repealed a new fixed charge on Californians’ utility bills in 2028 did not survive after the majority of lawmakers on the Assembly Appropriations Committee refused to vote on the bill.

The $24.15 monthly fee was approved by state regulators last week. In exchange, the cost of using electricity would decrease. People who use a lot of energy, especially to cool their homes in summer or charge their electric cars, would save money. But people who use less energy, including solar customers, could see an increase.

The bill would have eliminated that $24.15 fee starting in 2028, replacing it with a fee of no more than $10 for most people.

WORKERS’ RIGHTS TO DISCONNECTION

Lawmakers also scrapped a bill that would have given California workers the right not to send work-related emails and text messages outside of work hours.

California would have been the first state in the country to do so. The bill, modeled after a policy launched in Europe, would have also required employers to create action plans to implement the standard.

Supporters said workers are often expected to be constantly accessible and the bill would have helped them establish clear boundaries between work and home life. But opponents, including the California Chamber of Commerce, said the bill was too vague and would have hindered businesses’ ability to operate efficiently.