Calm Before The Storm at State Capitol as Summer Recess Nears End

  • by Adam Quiñonez
  • Jul 22, 2022
  • Voices on Water

In the midst of the California Legislature’s summer recess, Capitol hearing rooms are quiet, but budget and bill negotiations continue behind the scenes and ACWA’s advocates continue to meet with legislative and Newsom Administration officials to ensure public water agencies are well represented in Sacramento.

It’s been a challenging year for those who work at the Capitol. COVID has continued to impact the legislative process, limiting in-person meetings and hearings. Adding to the hectic legislative schedule is the multi-year construction project that has commenced at the State Capitol Building, forcing many legislative offices and committees into what has been dubbed the “Swing Space” – a temporary open-concept building largely comprised of cubicles and shared spaces.

In addition, California is also facing an unprecedented turnover in the Legislature with 39 legislators either terming out or deciding to pursue other opportunities. As a result, for one-quarter of legislators, this means one last opportunity to advance their policy objectives. In practice, this has meant that legislators are pulling out all the stops to ensure their bills move forward. Legislative leadership has also appeared more willing to let legislation continue to move forward even if the bill needs work. Despite this dynamic, ACWA advocates have been successful in stopping some legislation and securing amendments that address concerns on others.   

So, as we take a brief pause from committee hearings and letter writing, we look ahead to what the remainder of the 2022 Legislative Session may hold when the Legislature returns on Aug. 1 to begin the month-long sprint to the end of the session.

Notably moving through the Legislature are a pair of water conservation bills. ACWA’s sponsored bill AB 2142, by Assembly Member Jesse Gabriel (D-Encino), would provide a tax exemption for turf rebates and SB 1157 by Senator Robert Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys), which ACWA is opposed to, unless amended, would further reduce California’s indoor water-use efficiency standards by the end of the decade. 

These bills have been a high priority for ACWA staff, who have spent countless hours coordinating with member agencies and other associations, writing position letters, meeting with legislators and their staff and testifying during committee hearings. ACWA has been advocating throughout the year to legislators and staff regarding the serious negative impacts of SB 1157 and in support of AB 2142.  The outcome of both bills will be decided in the coming weeks. 

Also high on the list of priorities for the Legislature, and ACWA, is finalizing this year’s state budget. What was once a process that took place in the spring, over the last few years California’s budget process has extended late into the summer months with some major negotiations taking place in the final days of the Legislative Session. 

This year, the Legislature passed a budget by the constitutional deadline of June 15, ensuring that legislators continue to get paid; however, they chose to again defer some major categories of funding to later in the session. This includes a $2.5 billion climate and energy package that will direct funding to drought response and other water management issues. 

For the last several years, ACWA has been advocating for large investments in water infrastructure in response to California’s changing climate. Last year, this advocacy resulted in a state budget that included $5.2 billion over three years for water infrastructure projects. This is a good start, but more is needed. This year, ACWA is again advocating for another significant investment that includes funding for dam safety, recycled water, desalination, conveyance, water conservation, groundwater and several other critical water infrastructure categories. 

ACWA has been engaged in this issue all year and has provided a list of priority infrastructure investments to every member of the legislature and many top Administration officials. If last year was any guide, ACWA will continue negotiating on the remaining budget funds late into the final days of the Legislative Session. This will include meetings with members of the Assembly and Senate Budget Committees, legislative leadership and the Newsom Administration. 

Other significant legislation includes controversial bills on water quality, water rights and a low-income water rate assistance program, all of which must be acted on by the Aug. 31 deadline. While ACWA will remain heavily engaged in negotiations with the Legislature and Newsom Administration, there may yet be surprises in the remaining weeks of the session. I encourage members to keep an eye out for Legislative Alerts and Advisories to stay up to date on end-of-session developments.

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