On February 14, 2019 on behalf of LWVC and LWVSJC, Cate White and Bea Lingenfelter interviewed Assembly Member Heath Flora (District 12). The first three questions were from LWVC. LWVSJC provided the fourth question about recycling and solid waste management. The fifth question asked for Mr. Flora's legislative priorities in 2019.
We began the interview by thanking Assemblyman Flora on his support of the Social Media Disclose Act AB2188 passed in the 2017/18 legislative session. This bill was supported by the League and took effect Jan 1, 2019. We expressed our appreciation for his support and interest in this issue.
Question 1 – Would you support a bill to require local governments that have district representation to establish independent redistricting commissions, which would use a transparent process and fair criteria similar to the State, including safeguards against discriminating against any political party?
Assemblyman Flora is in support of ensuring all voters have equal representation and believes commissions at the local level for local jurisdictions could work. He expressed some concern with how those commissions might be constituted and referenced the commission for congressional districts that had 30,000 applicants. He cautioned that special interests could still influence redistricting. He supports commissions that represent all the diversity in the community.
Question 2 – What ideas do you have for addressing the needs of your own constituency for clean potable water and water for agriculture in the midst of many conflicting challenges, while advancing water management planning that benefits all California?
Assemblyman Flora is encouraged by the removal of Felicia Marcus as head of the State Water Resources Control Board. He is hopeful that the new chair, Joaquin Esquivel, will be more open to concerns of valley residents. He is also pleased that a woman who formerly worked with the NRDC has also been named as a new Director. He stated that there is no “single bullet” solution. Creation of additional storage is critical before discussion of new distribution plans. He named Sites and Temperance Flat reservoirs as “being in the works”, but also felt more work on de-salinization could be done, especially in southern California. When asked about ground-water recharge, he said we should revisit our policies on converting agricultural irrigation from flood to drip, since flooding did provide some recharge benefits.
He also was pleased that Governor Newsom has come out against the twin tunnel “Water Fix” plan. He is aware that a single tunnel plan would trigger a new environmental review process, and sees that as a good thing.
Question 3 – Early childhood education is identified as one of the three areas representing the public education policy challenges of the coming decade. The achievement and opportunity gaps still persist in California by race, ethnicity, income and English learner status. What are your thoughts about actions you believe would make a positive impact on these differences and help to close these gaps?
Assemblyman Flora referenced his personal knowledge of children who need additional support during preschool and Kindergarten years and the importance of providing that support during the early childhood years. He believes that there are huge issues with the high percentage of General Fund dollars going to public education and yet our per pupil expenditures still hover significantly below the national average. He understands the enormous costs of special education and the needs of those children. Funding for special education is inadequate starting with the federal government’s commitment. He believes in the importance of universal ECE but doesn’t know how it can be funded. He would like to see audits of public education funds to determine if some funds could be spent more effectively. He also expressed frustration with union leadership and strong lobbying presence that, he believes, often stand in the way of effective strategies for teachers and students.
Question 4 – Recycling has become a major issue for many cities including Manteca and others in your district. Huge reductions have been made in what can be recycled resulting in overflows into landfills of plastics and other materials that will take decades or longer to disintegrate. What ideas do you have in this area?
Assemblyman Flora is aware that we have been sending our recycling to China where there is very little regulation, and that China has begun rejecting our shipments. He stated that California doesn’t want to take the problem on, especially the burning of plastics. He thinks this could be done in an environmentally sound way with appropriate mitigation measures (smoke filters, etc.). He also stated that there is a sorting issue with both “dirty” recycling items that sludge machines and with people hours needed to sort. He thinks that the state has created a quagmire with a system of fines for cities for failure to recycle, but lack of options for those cities on what to do with recyclables collected. He would support a bill requiring all plastic packaging to be of the 1 or 2 category that can be easily recycled. He would also support a bill to include wine bottles in the California CRV system, and he thinks both those things could be passed by the Legislature in the next 2 years.
Question 5 – What are your priorities for 2019?
Assemblyman Flora stated he has 3 major priorities:
- Public safety e.g. Enhancements in DUI punishment such as incidents categorized as a felony, impounding of cars, losing use of personal cars and other measures.
- Special Education funding – investigating how the federal and state special education funds can effectively meet the actual costs of special ed students and teachers. Currently special education is woefully underfunded in real need dollars
- Water issues – discussed the proposed water tax by the Governor at about 95cents per month per household. He stated that the surplus at a claimed $19billion could be used to address infrastructure and other water issues
- Agricultural needs continue to be an important area for Assemblyman Flora especially due to his many rural constituents.