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Uncertainties Amidst New Session In California

Michael Belote

By Michael Belote, Esq., UTA California Lobbyist, California Advocates

And so ends the worst collective year of our lives.  With the end of 2020 comes the end of the 2019-2020 two-year session of the California Legislature, and the beginning of the new, 2021-2022 session. With the fervent hope that better times are on the near horizon, here are some random thoughts about the coming year in Sacramento.

Changes in Executive and Legislative Branches: The upcoming inauguration of President-Elect Biden and Vice-President Elect Harris could mean significant movement in Sacramento.  Recently California Attorney General Xavier Becerra was announced as the new Secretary of Health and Human Services.  That gives Governor Newsom the opportunity to appoint a replacement AG for California, and several legislators could be in the mix for consideration.

And a New U.S. Senator (or two) as Well: The election of Kamala Harris as Vice-President gives Newsom the opportunity to appoint her successor in the Senate.  As of this writing, the leading candidate appears to be Alex Padilla, currently California’s Secretary of State.  Should Padilla be appointed, that gives Newsom yet another appointment for his replacement as Secretary of State, continuing the domino effect.

And More: Biden will be responsible for thousands of appointments in the coming months, and it is likely that more executive and legislative figures will be named. Right now there is broad speculation, for example, that Newsom’s Chief of Staff may be moving to Washington, D.C. and other administration officials are often mentioned.  Meanwhile:

The California Legislature Retains Its Super-Blue Tint: Coming in to the November general elections, California’s 80-member Assembly was made up of 61 Democrats, 18 Republicans and one independent.  The state Senate makeup was 29 Democrats and 11 Republicans. While Republicans actually picked up a seat in the Assembly (something of a fluke in Santa Clarita when two Republicans advanced from the primary to the general election pursuant to our “Top Two” system), Republicans lost two seats in the Senate.  Heading into the new year, the Assembly will contain 60 Democrats, 19 Republicans and one independent, for a 75% mega-majority, while the Senate will have 31 Democrats and 9 Republicans, for an astonishing percentage of 77.5%.  Each majority is far above the two-thirds required for raising taxes, placing measures on the ballot, and overriding gubernatorial vetoes.  And it makes it harder than ever in modern times to defeat Democratic proposals on the floors of the Assembly and Senate, which tend to vote as caucuses.

New Chair of Senate Judiciary Committee Coming:  With Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson of Santa Barbara leaving office due to term limits, a new Judiciary Committee Chair for the state Senate will be named.  Almost all of UTA’s issues are considered by the Judiciary committees in each house.  The names most often mentioned as potential chairs include Tom Umberg from Orange County, Henry Stern from the San Fernando Valley, and possibly Bob Wieckowski from the Fremont area of Alameda County.  Senator Wieckowski is termed out of office in 2022, so his appointment would be for a relatively short tenure.  Wieckowski was the author this year of SB 908, the debt collector licensing law, which excludes trustees performing acts required by the Civil Code.

More Action on Evictions and Foreclosures:  Depending on the status of the pandemic in the early months of 2022, some believe that the California Legislature is not done acting on evictions and foreclosures. Will there be further federal pandemic relief, and will it moderate the wave of evictions feared?  Are homeowners receiving forebearances in appropriate circumstances?  Whether AB 3088 is the last word on this subject will be revealed in the coming months.

How Will SB 1079 Work in Practice: This bill, strongly opposed by UTA and a host of other organizations, creates a 45-day window following trustees sales for entitled parties to basically overbid the last and highest bid at the sale.  There are fears that this could chill bidding at sales, to the detriment of homeowners losing their homes.  It is imperative that UTA members keep the association apprised of how the bill is working and what modifications may be necessary, as the bill takes effect.

Taxation Will be Big Issue:  Although California tax revenue continues above projections due to the strength of the stock market, there are fears that prolonged stay at home orders or a stall in the securities markets could put the state in a serious deficit position.  With the defeat of the split-roll initiative in November, and unease about further income tax increases in our already income tax-dependent state, it seems likely that the Legislature will debate the expansion of sales taxes to services in 2021.  No state has ever tried a broad sales tax on services.  If such a proposal comes under active consideration, figuring out which services are covered could be quite a donnybrook.

All told, 2021 just HAS to be better than this year!

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