As California Legislature reached the end of its legislative term last month, Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez (D-Los Angeles) looked back on a busy year of legislation, headlined by the passage of a balanced budget.
“In this first year of our two-year session we passed an on-time balanced budget for the third year in a row, the first time that’s happened in 30 years,” Pérez said in an address to California Assembly members on the last night of the legislative session.
But aside from reaching an accord on the budget—no mean feat given gridlock between state Democrats and Republicans in recent memory—Pérez is also responsible for driving the portfolio of legislation that the California Assembly considers and passes each year, a role that affords Pérez’s considerable power to set an agenda tackling the diverse range of issues facing the country’s most populous state.
On October 22, Speaker Pérez will join Bedrosian Center Director Raphael Bostic for a conversation about efforts to address California’s most important policy needs and his experiences governing in the age of the Democratic supermajority as part of the Bedrosian Center’s Leading from the West speaker series. (A limited number of free tickets are available here.)
Some of the conversation will center on notable 2013 accomplishments in the California Assembly, where under Pérez’s watch the chamber focused on the healthcare, housing, veterans rights, affordable education, economic development, and immigration, among other issues.
- Creating California’s Health Benefits Exchange. With the implementation of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act underway, Pérez has helped spearhead efforts to increase coverage in California, including expanding Medi-Cal coverage to more than a million low-income and uninsured Californians and authoring the legislation behind Covered California, the nation’s flagship health benefits exchange that hopes to provide coverage to more than two million families and small businesses in California.
- Assistance for Veterans. With homelessness among military veterans a pronounced issue in California, Pérez introduced the legislation behind the Veterans Housing and Homeless Prevention Bond Act. Last week Governor Brown approved the legislation that will ask voters in June to let California use $600 million in bond funds for transitional housing for veterans. This law comes on the heels of a dozen other initiatives aimed at increasing benefits and opportunities for veterans.
- Improving the Business Climate in the Golden State. Creating opportunities for businesses in California was a major focus area for the Speaker, highlighted by laws designed to attract new investment to the state as well as make it easier for all companies to deal with state bureaucracy and laws.
- Making Education Affordable. Pérez addressed affordability concerns in higher education with the Middle Class Scholarship legislation. The Pérez-authored law will slash student fees at the UC and CSU systems by up to 40% for middle-class families in the attempt to bring college costs in the reach of more families.
- Minimum Wage Boost. The California Legislature passed the first increase to the state’s minimum wage in six years, which will raise the state’s wage to $10 an hour starting in 2016. Added as a co-author, Pérez’s support helped strengthen legislation that had previously been defeated in the 2011 and 2012 under objections from state business leaders.
- Driver’s Licenses for Immigrants. In the absence of comprehensive national immigration reform on the national level, the California State Assembly developed a program designed to enable legal non-citizens to obtain driver’s licenses. Governor Brown signed the bill into law in September, making California the highest profile state to develop a way to include immigrants as part of license, registration, and insurance efforts.
Pérez’s ability to lead has been considerably aided by the Democratic supermajority in the California Assembly. After the fall 2012 elections, Democrats obtained a 54-26 advantage, allowing the party the golden two-thirds threshold necessary to approve legislation in the chamber. Previously, the Assembly and the State Senate had faced crippling stalemates that once characterized the political process at the state level and often made the legislature an unproductive place. Aided by new redistricting procedures made possible through the Voters First Act, California Democrats took majorities in both the Assembly and the State Senate. As a result, leaders like Pérez have enjoyed a powerful opportunity to develop and implement legislation, a far cry from the political dysfunction that marked the budget impasses of 2008 and 2009.
Even with the extension of some lawmakers’ terms under Proposition 28 (legislators elected after June 5, 2012, are now able to serve 12 years in either the Senate or the Assembly), there is no guarantee that the Democrats will enjoy their delicate advantage after next year’s midterm elections. However, the Democratic supermajority is assured for another year, and the last year of Pérez’s leadership in the Assembly promises another year of prolific and far-reaching legislation for California.