On March 2, 2019 LWVSSMC President, Shirley DesMarais and a number of LWVSSMC members met with California State Senator Jerry Hill. Following is a recap of that interview.
♦ Redistricting, State and Local
Would you support a bill to require local governments that have district representation to establish independent redistricting commissions that would use a transparent process and fair criteria similar to the State, including safeguards against discriminating against any political party? (Using the example of Sunnyvale)
Senator Hill is reluctant to add more legislation here as he isn’t sure there is really a problem to address in each city. There seems to be a lack of trust in the local redistricting process, but he doesn’t sense a need today for legislation. Senator Hill supports the idea in principle. An example of Daly City was given, where there were no Asian council members, even though Asians are a majority in that city. After district elections were started, there are now Asian council members. Senator Hill responded with a look at San Mateo County Supervisors, who now must reside in their districts, but are more often looking only to issues in their district rather than looking at issues countywide. Each locale should look at district elections when a concern is raised.
♦ Water Resources
What ideas to you have for addressing the needs of your own constituency while advancing water management planning that benefits all Californians?
Senator Hill stated that his first priority is to ensure that San Mateo County has the water it needs. The Water Board sets the allocation of resources and we (SMC) get our water from San Francisco, whose views differ from the State Board. One issue is the length of drought planning, whether for 5 or for 8 years, but we cannot be assured a drought will last only that long. Senator Hill stated that he views our water needs first and the environmental issues second, that there needs to be a balance. As for diverting water to Southern California, the conveyance doesn’t matter so much when any method may harm the Bay eco system, the Bay is what’s more important. So how do we manage this, find a balance? The proposal to cut San Francisco water supply (BAWSCA) should be put to a vote by all SFPUC voters. Any plan should be flexible with how much water is taken from the Tuolumne River.
Solution ideas include storage, capturing rain water, and water treatment reuse. The San Joaquin Valley is sinking, we could recharge ground water. There is a new bill to allow more uses of recycled water too. Senator Hill gave an example of San Jose which is bottling treated water to give away (it can’t be sold). Agricultural water use needs to be held to higher standards, but not necessarily via legislation. Today 1 million people in CA can’t drink the water from their tap, it’s contaminated from nitrates in the soil (from Agricultural practices). Senator Hill considers it important to find funding to help small rural districts provide clean drinking water. Another solution might include draining treated waste water back in ground water storage, for further purification.
♦ Public Education in California – Closing the Achievement Gap
For years closing the achievement and opportunity gaps has been both a clear state and local priority. We join with the researchers in asking a different and equally important question: “Are there ways to avoid the gaps in the first place?" As a legislator, what are your thoughts about the findings of Getting Down to Facts II? What action(s) would you support to further these goals?
Senator Hill stated that while Governor Brown did not see early childhood education as a priority, he is happy that Governor Newsom does. Senator Hill supports Governor Newsom’s initiative to add $1 billion for education. Senator Hill is proposing a bill to change the requirement for successful passage of parcel taxes from 2/3 to 55% (SCA 5 Taxation: school districts: parcel tax). It has been shown that pre-school with day care help with the achievement gap. When asked about Universal Preschool, Senator Hill replied that he is in favor but doesn’t know how it will be paid for. The question was raised if we could pay for this locally through local control funding. Senator Hill did not think that would work due to higher costs in SMC for pensions, healthcare, and other costs. For example, $27 million from Santa Clara county is being pulled from education funding to help pay for the court system (this is funding from Prop 10 that has been allocated to the courts in some counties). Governor Newsom has a ballot initiative to tackle this as all funds from the recession have now been paid back, except funds are still being taken from education for the courts. Senator Hill explained that the excess property tax money generated the counties that pay for the trial courts, should be directed back into the county offices of education budgets to offset costs of unfunded/underfunded programs and services. There are currently 11 counties in the state where this is an issue. To make this right, Senator Hill will be working with the Governor’s Office and he is drafting a letter that will be circulated to the legislators in the 11 counties, asking them to support his budget request to give those 11 county education offices the authority to retain and expend funds raised locally via property taxes beyond the current Local Control Funding target. This mechanism would need to be done through the state budget.
♦ What other major issues do you think the Legislature must deal with in 2019? What are your personal priorities?
Senator Hill started with the question “what motivates Jerry Hill?” and his answer is simple: He gets mad! And then he looks for a way to fix the problem.
Here are some of the bills Senator Hill highlighted for us -
(see https://sd13.senate.ca.gov/news/press-releases for more details on these bills and others Senator Hill has recently introduced):
SB 38 Flavored Tobacco Products
Would ban retail sale of all flavored tobacco; see Dec. 4, 2018 news release, “State lawmakers introduce bill to ban sales of flavored tobacco e-cigarettes and all other flavored tobacco products to combat use by youths; also introduce bill to set stricter rules for age verification in sales of tobacco products online and by mail”
SB 220 Firearms Dealers: Storage and Security
Requires gun stores to have stronger security measures to prevent theft; this follows on previous Hill legislation. See Feb. 7, 2019 news release, “Senator Hill introduces bills to end housing bias against veterans, increase police firearm and gun store security, and ensure students who rely on medical cannabis can take it to school.”
SB 304 Criminal Procedure: Prosecuting Jurisdiction in Multi-Jurisdictional elder-Abuse Cases
Allows district attorneys to consolidate elderly abuse and fraud cases that span multiple counties into a single prosecution; see Feb. 15, 2019 news release, “Senator Hill introduces bill to aid Das in prosecuting suspects in prosecuting suspects accused of victimizing the elderly in crime sprees that hop from county to county.”
SB 360 Mandated Reporters: Clergy
Requires clergy to report suspected child abuse or neglect, even if they acquired the knowledge or suspicion during a penitential communication. See Feb. 20, 2019 news release: “New bill by Senator Hill requires clergy to report child abuse and neglect under any circumstances.”
SB 425 Health Care Practitioners: Licensee’s File: Probationary Physician’s and Surgeon’s Certificate: Unprofessional Conduct
Gives hospitals, clinics and other health facilities 15 days from the time they receive an allegation of patient sexual abuse or sexual misconduct involving medical professionals who work on their premises to report the allegation to the appropriate state licensing board. See Feb. 21, 2019 news release, “Senator Jerry Hill introduces bill requiring hospitals and clinics to report allegations of sexual abuse involving doctors to licensing authorities within 15 days.”
SB 549 Public Utilities Commission: Rates: Capital Structure Changes
Prohibits the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) from approving changes in rates of Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) without Legislative authorization. See Feb. 22, 2019 news release, “Senator Hill introduces legislation to protect PG&E ratepayers.”