California’s legislative year would not be complete without passing some legislation that supports progressive hobbyhorses. This latest bill was no exception. Last weekend’s deadline saw Gov. Gavin Newsom signed 770 bills (and vetoed 66 bills)—including a few measures that no doubt spurred a few more Texas relocations.
Perhaps the worst one was a ban on the sale of new gas-powered lawn equipment beginning 2024, or whenever regulators determine it to be “feasible.” The Democratic legislators’ attitude to global warming is exemplified by this ban. These symbolic laws won’t help the Earth’s climate, as the worst emissions are from India and China. They annoy Californians more than anything and raise our living costs.
Heck, the 2020 wildfires pumped more metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than leaf blowers and lawn mowers do over decades, but we have to “do something.” My mower is on its last legs, so the something I’ll do is come up with extra cash to replace it while I can—rather than wait to sneak one across the border from South Lake Tahoe.
Aside from the small-engine ban (and that weird law forcing large retailers to create gender-neutral toy sections), this wasn’t that horrific of a legislative season. It was actually quite good. The governor signed laws that improve governmental oversight and—try not to faint—roll back onerous land-use regulations. Unfortunately, most “limited-government” Republicans were against these reforms.
Regarding accountability, lawmakers finally put law-enforcement unions in their place by reminding them they work for us—and it does nothing to improve the safety of the public or officers to allow miscreants to have a badge. While policing is an essential public service, it’s even more important that the state expel officers who cheat, lie or abuse the public.
Toward that end, Newsom signed into law Senate Bill 2, which creates a deliberative system for decertifying misbehaving officers. California, which was previously one of the four unaffiliated states, now has the ability to use the same process for lawyers, contractors, agents, and real estate agents. As the old saying goes, bad apples spoil the entire bunch—and overly aggressive cops distort the entire culture within their departments.
Without a decertification process, abusive officers—and check out the news reporting on officers who were involved in disturbing misconduct, but continued to patrol our streets—would simply get jobs at other departments after they were fired. It is not our intention to have incompetent teachers at the school, or numbskulls working in the police force.
The governor also signed several other police-reform and criminal-justice-related bills, including limits on sentencing enhancements that prosecutors use to scare defendants into copping pleas. It was amazing to see how the California Legislature can do so much useful, nuanced work. I’m scratching my head as I work through the cognitive dissonance.
In the latest signings, Newsom approved a bill that gives journalists access to closed-off protests—and forbids officers from arresting and harassing reporters who only are doing their job. In the past, Newsom signed laws that made it mandatory for police agencies and other agencies to make public use-of-force data; required officers to report any incidents of excessive force immediately; prohibited the use or “kinetic energy missiles” in protests; restricted local authorities from buying military equipment; tightened chokehold use; and banned officers from becoming law-enforcement officers. There’s nothing to love?
Although the law-and order crowd portrays these measures as a war on cops, their use of exaggerated rhetoric is actually an admission that they have very few substantive flaws. Democrats are often doing the Democrats’ bidding, but unions have been in control for a long time. The pendulum is swinging in the other direction, and we saw the largest advance of civil liberties in decades.
Regarding those land-use changes, I’ve previously expressed my view that Senate Bills 9 and 10, which mandate ministerial (rather than subjective) approval of duplexes in single-family neighborhoods and mid-rise condos along transit lines, respectively, represent an advancement in property rights and freedom. Now, property owners have greater freedom to manage their assets.
They also exempt certain residential developments of the California Environmental Quality Act. Environmentalists can use these laws to delay or halt any type of construction. The Legislature should indeed reform CEQA for all projects and not just ones they favor, but it’s better than nothing. This legislation might make a slight dent in the housing crisis.
Yes, money was spent this year like it came from the heavens. But the worst pandemic restrictions are gone (including the awful eviction moratorium), the most troublesome anti-charter bill was shelved, and the governor even vetoed a costly expansion of student aid.
Maybe Democrats punted on the craziest stuff—e.g., single-payer healthcare—mainly to keep Newsom off the hot seat during the recall, but they punted nonetheless. You know what? I have nothing to complain about, aside from a possible lawnmower purchase.
This column first appeared in The Orange County Register.