Over the course of the past decade I've watched a fair amount of bills make their way through the California Legislature. I've had occasion to lobby in support of, or opposition to dozens of measures, interact with hundreds of legislators and staff, and offer testimony before numerous legislative committees. Sometimes my efforts contributed to outcomes that are consistent with my hopes. At other times I've been left disappointed. Such is life. The State Capitol is something of a battlefield on which strategy and execution play important roles, but where the advantage obtained from the exercise of raw power cannot be overstated. Win or lose, the formal legislative process is almost always conducted in a decorous manner in which even bills that stand little or no prospects of passage are subject to an informal code of legislative etiquette.
It's against that background that a recent indignity suffered by AB 337 (Jones-Sawyer) stands out like a sore thumb. This is a piece of legislation designed to provide beginning teachers with a modicum of relief for spending money out-of-pocket to purchase classroom supplies and materials. The relief was to have come in the form of a statewide dollar-for-dollar tax credit to a maximum amount of $500 in a tax year. The benefit would have become available to fulltime public and private school teachers during their first three years on the job - a period during which they can be expected to earn at-or-near the bottom end of the pay scale.
In essence, the law would have given qualifying teachers the following options:
A.) Send $250 of the money you earn to the State Treasury, where 40 cents on the dollar will be allocated for K-14 public education, and roughly 60 percent of those dollars (or, about 24 cents for every dollar sent to the Treasury) will find their way to public school classrooms; or,
B.) Keep up to $250 dollars on condition that 100 cents-on-the-dollar must be used to purchase supplies and materials that you get to choose and use in your classroom.
Even though the bill was opposed by the California Teachers Association, its author believed it possessed the necessary votes to win passage out of the Assembly Committee on Revenue and Taxation. And pass it did, but not before a deal was struck to remove private school teachers.
Then something unusual happened. Having been passed by the Revenue and Taxation Committee, the bill headed to the Assembly Appropriations Committee, where it was promptly left to rot. What is odd about the bill's demise is that limiting its benefits to public school teachers did nothing to advance the bill's prospects for passage. Writing private school teachers out of the measure appears to have been gratuitous.
Yesterday, SB 277 - the so-called "Vaccination Bill" - which has proven to be the single most contentious piece of legislation introduced during the current session, was passed out of the State Assembly's Health Committee. Through its proposed elimination of the "personal beliefs exemption" the measure hopes to achieve "herd immunity," or local and state-wide immunity levels that are sufficiently high (i.e. in the 90-95 percent range) to protect those who cannot receive vaccinations owing to medical considerations.
When it comes to securing public health, legislators have no difficulty acknowledging the role played by private schools in promoting the desired outcome. If only all lawmakers could see fit to view private schools' contributions to the economic, civic, social and cultural health of the state in much the same manner! It's one thing to be valued for being part of a remedy to an outbreak of measles, and quite another to be appreciated for educating 8 percent of the state's children while saving the state at least $5 billion in the process. As was pointed out when AB 337 was heard by the Revenue and Taxation Committee, one medium size private school saves the state more money than the sum of all tax credits that would have been available to private school teachers had the original version of AB 337 become law.
Here's to a healthy summer for all of our readers, and a healthy future for our state!
There are an unusually large number of new faces in the California Legislature. In terms of legislative history, this may well be the least experienced lineup of Golden State lawmakers in a very long time, given that the majority of State Assembly and State Senate members - 72 of 140 - have held office for a maximum of two years. Yet, many of the newcomers bring interesting stories and accomplishments along with them.
They say that in order to be a politician one need not be a rocket scientist. Bill Quirk is one, anyway. The second-term Democratic Assembly member, whose home office is located in Hayward, earned a Ph.D. in Astrophysics from Columbia University at the tender age of 24. He may not have much experience as a lawmaker, but he has plenty as a scientist, having worked at Lawrence Livermore National Lab for 26 years. The Boston area native is the oldest of seven siblings, and an Eagle Scout who first came to California as a postdoctoral fellow at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.
The path that brought Janet Nguyen to Sacramento is considerably different. The first-term Republican Senator whose home office is situated in Santa Ana was born in Saigon, Vietnam. Her family were among the "boat people" who fled the war ravaged nation in the years following 1975. Arriving in California when Janet was 5, her family first settled in San Bernardino before making their way to Garden Grove. Janet graduated from U.C. Irvine and, at the age of 30, became the youngest person ever elected to the Orange County Board of Supervisors. She is now the first Vietnamese-American state senator in the United States.
Ben Allen is a member of the California Senate's freshman class who, at the ripe old age of 37, arrives with an impressive resume. The native Californian, a Democrat whose district office is located in Redondo Beach, earned degrees from Harvard, Cambridge, and UC Berkeley. An attorney and litigator who also serves as a Lecturer at UCLA's School of Law, Senator Allen is also deeply involved in education. Not only did he play an instrumental role in launching The Spark Program, a non-profit organization that connects at-risk middle school students with apprenticeships, he is a former board president of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District. And he's fluent in Spanish.
Jimmy Gomez is also the child of immigrants. The second-term Assembly member, a Democrat whose district office is located in the city of his birth, Los Angeles, is the youngest of six children born to parents who moved from Mexico to California in the early 1970s. After working at a fast-food restaurant following his graduation from high school, the young man realized that a higher education offered the surest route to upward mobility. He enrolled in a community college, then transferred to UCLA, where he graduated magna cum laude. Ten years later, he earned a Master's Degree in Public Policy from Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government.
Tom Lackey worked as a cop for 28 years. If you ever developed a heavy foot while driving through the Antelope Valley, you may have participated in a "meet and greet" with the former Highway Patrol officer. A first-term Republican member of the State Assembly whose home office is found in Palmdale, Mr. Lackey is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints who was born in the small high desert mining town of Boron, became an Eagle Scout, and served his faith by completing a two-year stint as a missionary prior to earning a Bachelor of Science degree from Utah State University. Before becoming a peace officer, Mr. Lackey worked as a special education teacher.
These are just a few of the new (or relatively new) cadre of state legislators who represent us. We may not recognize them by face, but their stories are well known to us. They are, after all, our stories. Collectively, we know them as the story of America.
At present, our nation faces considerable unrest. We see strife in the streets of Baltimore and divisiveness before the U.S. Supreme Court. Such tensions are nothing new to our nation, and we will continue to endure as long as we maintain the ability to see our own stories in those of others. That's something worth remembering, and teaching.