Legislature is Done for the Year. But Numerous Calls for a Special Session

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

During the waning days of the shortened legislative session there were at least three appeals to the governor to call a special session of the legislature to complete pressing business. His office has indicated he is unlikely to do so. 

Not that many legislators want the session to continue. Normally legislators would rather be out campaigning in an election year, and do not want to be debating controversial legislation in September or October right before facing voters. But these are not normal times and we live in a one-party state so that changes the usual rules of the political game. However, it is hugely unlikely we’ll see a special session mainly because those advocating for a special session don’t have leverage with the governor at the moment to make it happen.

It might seem surprising that the public employee unions that were the first to ask for a special session might not be able to push the governor toward making the move. The public unions are major powers in Sacramento and chief benefactors to the governor’s Democratic Party.

With tax revenue taking a hit during the pandemic, influential unions like the California Teachers Association (CTA) and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) pleaded with the governor to keep the legislature active in order to raise taxes. CTA and SEIU are both proponents of wealth taxes and higher income taxes, not to mention increased property taxes on business, but they are trying to take care of the latter themselves with a ballot initiative. They want the legislature to pass the wealth and income tax increases immediately.

Gov. Gavin Newsom seems unmoved about a special session for taxes, telling a press conference a few days ago that he wants to see how financial matters play out over the next few months. Tax revenue came in better than expected recently with the end of the fiscal year in June exceeding the May forecast by 2.6% and the July revenue take was 5.6% better than expected, according to the Wall Street Journal. The economy may be opening up in fits and starts, but it is opening. 

The governor is also keeping an eye on the property tax increase on the ballot. The public unions ability to bend the governor toward its wishes will be more transparent here if he supports the measure. It will be a way to make good with his funding supporters, while not having to sign any new tax measure into law.

A second call for a special session came from more unions for police, along with organizations that represent law enforcement personnel. The police associations wanted time to negotiate bills on police reform that mushroomed after the George Floyd killing. While a couple of police reform measures did reach the governor’s desk including a bill that requires the Attorney General’s office to investigate police shootings in the state, the lead bill police had issues with was SB 731, which set up expanded policy to decertify police officers.  The decertification bill failed.

Police influence in political circles has waned with the growing demands for social justice, so with no pressing reason to call a special session or a reason to use up political capitol on police organizations at this moment in time, this second call for a special session will go by the boards.

The most recent call for a special session comes from a group who don’t have a whole lot of muscle with the governor—Republican legislators. The Republicans argue because of the shortened legislative season and the consequences and havoc caused by the pandemic, the legislature should be in Sacramento working on issues such as small business relief, labor law reforms to help workers, and safe school re-openings.

Given that some of the Republicans have had to quarantine at the end of the session because of a Covid-19 contact with a member of their caucus, they would like to be meeting and making decisions in the room where it happens, so to speak.

They won’t have the chance. The governor has little reason politically to prolong the bill making period.

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