My Progressive Record in the State Senate: Fighting for Our Values
For the past three years, I’ve had the deep privilege of representing San Francisco and northern San Mateo County in the California State Senate — the 11th Senate District. As a 23-year resident of San Francisco — 23 years of working hard for our community in many different respects, starting long before I began serving in elected office — serving this community in the Senate is the honor of a lifetime.
Our district is arguably the most progressive district in the entire state. Representing a district as progressive as ours is a privilege and also brings with it great responsibility. As my predecessor, former Senator Mark Leno, said to me as he handed off the baton after my election in 2016: “When you represent this district, your constituents give you the space to push the envelope on progressive change. Indeed, your constituents demand that you push the envelope on progressive change.”
Put another way, California has a responsibility to lead on progressive values, and those of us who represent progressive districts — in other words, those of us who have the political space to lead on progressive issues — have a responsibility to move California in a progressive direction.
During my service in the Senate, I’ve taken all of this to heart and have amassed an intensely progressive leadership record over that time, both in the cutting edge legislation I’ve authored — 36 bills I’ve authored have been signed into law — and the legislation I’ve supported either by co-authoring or with my vote. Based on my work and votes, I was recently rated as one of the most progressive members of the Legislature by Cal Matters. I consistently receive a 100% rating from the California Labor Federation and an A grade from the Courage Campaign. My average score from the Sierra Club is 94% and 97% from the California League of Conservation Voters. I was one of only nine California Legislators (out of 120) who received a 100% score from the ACLU. I consistently receive failing grades from the California Chamber of Commerce and Howard Jarvis Taxpayer Association, and although the NRA has not yet issued a grade for my reelection, I’m confident (and proud) that it will award me an F.
Following is an overview of my progressive work as your Senator. The listed bills have been signed into law unless indicated otherwise.
Housing and Homelessness
California — and especially the Bay Area — is in a deep housing crisis, caused by decades of bad housing policy. Over the past 50 years, California has made it impossible to build enough housing at any income level, has reduced investment in affordable housing, and has failed to protect renters. These deficiencies have had disastrous results: explosive housing costs, increased homelessness and evictions, overcrowded living conditions, young families being pushed out, and a growing class of “super commuters” who drive multiple hours each way to work.
As Chair of the Senate Housing Committee and as a Senator, I take to heart the solemn responsibility of prioritizing the repair of California’s broken down housing system and have authored some of the most aggressive pro-housing pieces of legislation and have supported pro-housing policy and funding:
SB 35 (Author: Wiener), SB 828 (Author: Wiener), and SB 765 (Author: Wiener): Streamlining and expediting housing approvals, including affordable housing, and ensuring strong housing goals that actually meet our state’s housing needs. I authored these three housing bills to expedite housing approvals and ensure that all communities are building housing. SB 35 and SB 765 streamline housing approvals in communities that aren’t meeting their housing goals, and SB 828 requires reality-based housing goals based on anticipated future needs. In combination, these laws are doing two things. First, they are streamlining a large amount of subsidized affordable housing for low income people, both in cities and suburbs. (San Francisco, in particular, is aggressively using this legislation to streamline a large amount of affordable housing). Second, these laws are forcing some of the most exclusionary suburbs in the state, such as Cupertino, to allow significant new housing.
SB 50 (Author: Wiener; bill pending): SB 50 overrides exclusionary low-density zoning by legalizing apartment buildings and affordable housing near public transportation and near job centers. SB 50 will help remedy the effects of low-density zoning, which has exacerbated income and racial segregation. It will help California reduce its 3.5 million home shortage, allow affordable housing to be built in many more parts of California, and address the impacts of climate change by allowing more people to live near transit and near where they work, thus reducing commutes and greenhouse gas emissions.
SB 48 (Author: Wiener; bill adopted as part of the budget): SB 48 streamlines approval of navigation centers, so that the obstruction we saw at the Embarcadero never happens again. Under SB 48, these critical homeless-serving facilities, which help people transition off the streets, will be easier and faster to get approved and implemented.
SB 918 (Author: Wiener): Homeless Youth Act. I partnered with Larkin Street Youth Services and other homeless youth advocates to pass SB 918, which sets up a structure to ensure the state focuses on the unique needs of homeless youth. Two-thirds of California counties have no youth-specific homeless programs, and SB 918 will help fix that problem. In connection with this legislation, we’ve obtained tens of millions in state funding specific for homeless youth.
SCA 1 (Authors: Allen/Wiener; bill pending): SCA 1 repeals Article 34 of the Constitution, a racist provision passed in 1950 that requires all publicly funded housing to be approved on the ballot. No other type of housing is subject to this requirement, and the purpose of Article 34 is to make it hard or impossible to place low income housing in majority white communities. We need more housing of all varieties in California — including publicly funded housing — and this constitutional amendment will help. I’m partnering with Senator Ben Allen on the bill.
AB 1482 (Author: Chiu; co-author: Wiener): Statewide rent cap and just cause eviction requirements. I co-authored this important tenant-protection legislation, which caps annual rent increases at 5% (plus the rate of inflation) for most of California’s housing supply, and which is the most aggressive in the country.
SB 329 (Author: Mitchell; co-author: Wiener): Banning discrimination by landlords against Section 8 voucher holders. SB 329 finally aligns California with other states by prohibiting landlords from refusing to rent to Section 8 voucher holders. Low income residents who receive housing assistance need housing, and SB 329 will help..
SB 2 (Author: Atkins; co-author: Wiener): Permanent source of funding for affordable housing. SB 2 imposes a recording fee on certain real estate transactions, with funds dedicated to affordable housing. SB 2 will generate billions in new state funding for affordable housing.
SB 3 (Author: Beall; co-author Wiener): Affordable housing bond. SB 3 placed a $3 billion bond on the ballot, which the voters subsequently passed, for affordable housing construction and preservation.
SB 5 (Author: Beall; co-author Wiener): Affordable housing funding. SB 5, which Governor Newsom vetoed but which will return in 2020, would provide billions in new funding for affordable housing in California.
SB 1206 (Author: de Leon): Homeless housing bond. SB 1206 placed a bond on the ballot, which the voters subsequently passed, to significantly expand available funds for housing for homeless residents.
Mental Health and Addiction
California is in the midst of a severe mental health and addiction crisis. We see it playing out in our streets and more broadly in our communities. Too many Californians are experiencing huge mental health and addiction challenges, and we haven’t done enough to ensure they can access services to get better
SB 1004 (Author: Wiener): Expanding mental health resources for young people. Most mental health issues manifest during teenage or college years, yet we do very little to intervene early and prevent these problems from spiraling into major mental health crisis and chronic homelessness. SB 1004 ensures that state funding from the millionaire tax focuses on intervening early and preventing major mental health issues among young people.
SB 1045/SB 40 (Author: Wiener): These two pieces of legislation create a new conservatorship tool to help the most debilitated people on our streets get the help they need: people with severe mental health and addiction issues who are dying and who are incapable of accepting voluntary services. It’s inhumane to allow these residents to unravel and ultimately die on our streets. These two laws, in combination, will allow San Francisco’s Department of Public Health to place these individuals in crisis into a six month conservatorship in order to get them the help they need, get them healthy, and ultimately transition them into permanent housing. The Mayor and Board of Supervisors are currently implementing this new state law.
AB 362 (Authors: Eggman/Wiener; bill pending): Safe injection sites. AB 362 will allow San Francisco to pilot a safe injection site program. I’m partnering with Assemblymember Susan Eggman on the bill. We hope to pass it in 2020, after Governor Brown vetoed it in 2018. Safe injection sites are supervised facilities, with healthcare professionals, where people who are addicted can consume their drugs under supervision in a safe and healthy setting. These sites have been wildly successful where they’ve been implemented in Canada, Australia, and Europe. The results speak for themselves: a majority of individuals ultimately transition into recovery, infections go down, overdoses drop (there’s never been a fatal overdose in one of these sites), crime goes down in the surrounding area, and syringe litter decreases. The City of San Francisco wants to implement safe injection sites, and we are working to pass this legislation to legalize them under state law.
Budget Allocation (Authors: Wiener/Ting): Peer Run Warm Line. We obtained robust funding for this hotline where people experiencing mental health challenges can speak with a peer — someone who has also experienced mental health challenges — to get help. We need to stop pushing people into ERs when there are other options, and the Warm Line will help.
Criminal Justice Reform
California’s criminal justice system is badly broken, and sadly, our state led the way in the 1980s and 1990s in implementing mass incarceration. Endless sentencing increases and enhancements exploded our prison population, with an increase in state prisons from 7 to 31 and about 160,000 people in the state prison system. In addition, other aspects of the system were intensely unjust. As a result of all of this, our broken system exploded the prison budget, harmed rehabilitation, and tore apart black and brown communities. As a member of the Senate Public Safety Committee and as a Senator, I am a strong proponent for massive reform of the system.
SB 233 (Author: Wiener): Protecting the health and safety of sex workers. SB 233 bans use of condoms as evidence of sex work (for arrest or at trial) and bans law enforcement from arresting sex workers for sex work or drug possession if the sex worker is reporting a violent crime. Without these groundbreaking legislative protections, sex workers can (and do) get arrested based on possession of condoms, thus making it less likely they will carry condoms, and refrain from reporting violent crimes for fear that they will be arrested for sex work or drug possession. SB 233 is an important reform, and, we hope, a step forward full decriminalization of sex work.
SB 136 (Author: Wiener): Repeal of one-year sentence enhancement that drives mass incarceration. SB 136 repealed the most common sentence enhancement (which lets a judge increase a sentence beyond the prescribed range based on prior convictions), affecting tens of thousands of inmates in California. This enhancement has been a driver of mass incarceration, and its repeal will reduce California’s rates of incarceration and give people a chance to get out of jail and back on their feet. Passing this repeal legislation was a huge fight with law enforcement, but we were able to get it across the finish line.
SB 239 (Author: Wiener): HIV decriminalization. SB 239 repealed a list of HIV-specific felonies that were adopted in the 1980s and 1990s. These draconian and unfair laws singled out people living with HIV for uniquely harsh criminal treatment, much harsher than other deadly infections such as Ebola. These felonies particularly targeted women of color and sex workers, turning misdemeanor prostitution charges into felonies. Trans women of color who engage in sex work were perhaps the most targeted. These felonies also trapped HIV-positive people in abusive relationships, with partners or human traffickers threatening HIV-positive people with prosecution if they left the relationship (“If you leave, I’ll call the police and tell them you never told me you’re positive.”). Repeal of these felonies was a long-time priority for a broad coalition of LGBTQ, HIV, public health, sex worker, women, civil rights, and immigration advocates. For the three years before I was elected, the coalition could not find a legislator to author the legislation. I authored it in my first year in office, and we were able to pass it and get it signed into law.
SB 384 (Author: Wiener) and SB 145 (Author: Wiener; bill pending): SB 384, signed into law in 2017, dramatically reforms California’s broken sex offender registry, which does little to separate LGBTQ sexual acts from actual sex crimes. The registry has long required all convicted sex offenders, including those who committed minor offenses, such as gay men arrested for having sex in the park, to remain on the registry for life. As a result, 1 in 400 Californians is on the sex offender registry, rendering it useless for law enforcement in terms of tracking people who actually present a risk to the community. Moreover, people’s lives have been destroyed due to an inability to get off of the registry after even a minor offense. SB 384 allows sex offenders who aren’t violent predators to petition to be removed from the registry after a period of time in which the person hasn’t reoffended. SB 145, which I introduced in 2019 and believe will pass in 2020, reduces discrimination against LGBTQ young people on the registry.
SB 923 (Author: Wiener): Modernizing eyewitness identification standards. SB 923 brings California into the 21st century by adopting modern eyewitness identification standards so that innocent people aren’t mis-identified and convicted. We worked closely with the Innocence Project on the bill, which was opposed by law enforcement but passed into law.
SB 281 (Authors: Wiener/Ting; bill pending): Banning gun shows at the Cow Palace. The Cow Palace fairgrounds, at the border of San Francisco and Daly City, has long hosted gun shows, despite near universal community sentiment that the gun shows should end. After decades of advocacy and vetoed or failed legislation, we were able to place a gun show ban on Governor Brown’s desk in 2018. While he vetoed the legislation, we are pursuing it again. Under pressure from our legislation, the Cow Palace Board of Directors voted to end the gun shows. We intend to pass the legislation to ensure that the end of the gun shows is permanent.
AB 931 (Author: Weber): Modernizing police use of lethal force standards. I’ve been a consistent supporter of this legislation which enforces strict guidelines regarding police use of deadly force, including its original 2018 version that was aggressively opposed by law enforcement.
SB 10 (Author: Hertzberg; co-author: Wiener): Bail reform. I co-authored and supported the measure to end money bail in California. Money bail means that after an arrest, low income people who can’t afford to pay are forced to stay in jail, while wealthier individuals can walk free.
ACA 12 (Author: Levine; co-author: Wiener; bill pending): Repeal of the death penalty. I’m a co-author of this measure.
I took office as a Senator shortly after Donald Trump was elected President. This Administration has created an atmosphere of intense fear among immigrant communities, with many immigrants afraid to go to work, to report crimes to the police, to go to court, to bring their kids to school, and so forth. The atrocities committed by this Administration at the border — particularly the separation of children from their parents and the inhumane detention conditions for both adults and children — violate basic standards of human decency. We have taken seriously our moral obligation to push back against this Administration’s immigration policies, to make clear that we won’t be part of Trump’s deportation machine, and to embrace and lift up our immigrant neighbors. In that spirit, we have passed, and I’ve authored or supported, strong pro-immigrant laws for California.
SB 785 (Author: Wiener): Protecting immigrants testifying in court. SB 785 prohibits attorneys from questioning witnesses on the stand about their immigration status unless an attorney first demonstrates to the judge that the question is specifically relevant to the case. We’ve seen various instances in which attorneys have intimidated witnesses by asking them irrelevant questions about their immigration status, particularly since we know that ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) is in courthouses. Immigrants, as a result, are often scared to go to court, which makes us all less safe. SB 785 ends this problem.
SB 54 (Author: de Leon; co-author: Wiener): Sanctuary state legislation. I co-authored this important legislation to prohibit California public officials, including law enforcement, from cooperating with ICE to deport immigrants absent extreme circumstances.
AB 291 (Author: Chiu; co-author: Wiener): Protecting immigrant tenants. AB 291 prohibits landlords from retaliating against immigrant tenants by reporting them to ICE. I co-authored the legislation.
AB 450 (Author: Chiu; co-author: Wiener): Protecting immigrants in the workplace. AB 450 restricts employers from cooperating with ICE in workplace deportation raids.
SB 6 (Author: Hueso; co-author: Wiener; adopted as part of the budget): Allocating funds for deportation defense counsel.
LGBTQ Civil Rights
As a gay man, I’ve devoted the past 30 years of my life to fight for LGBTQ civil rights, going back to 1990, when I volunteered on an HIV crisis line in North Carolina during a time period when there were no effective treatments for HIV and when our community was in deep crisis. During my 23 years working for the community in San Francisco, I’ve worked hard for our LGBTQ community, including as a core member of the team that built the San Francisco LGBT community Center, as the co-founder of an organization to protect the LGBTQ community’s safety, and as a long-time HIV advocate. I’ve continued that work in the Senate as the Chair of the California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus and as the author of aggressive and groundbreaking legislation to support LGBTQ people in California. (In addition to the legislation below, several pieces of legislation in the criminal justice reform section — SB 233, SB 384, SB 1045, and SB 239 — deeply impact the LGBTQ community.) I was also the first elected official in the country to talk publicly about my use of PrEP, a once-daily pill that almost entirely eliminates the risk of contracting HIV.
SB 219 (Author: Wiener): LGBTQ Senior Bill of Rights in long-term care facilities. SB 219 protects LGBTQ seniors living in long-term care facilities. Our seniors face significant discrimination in long-term care. Some are forced back into the closet, some are separated from their partners, and some trans seniors are forced to conform to their birth-assigned gender. LGBTQ seniors are less likely than other seniors to have adult children to advocate for them, and they need legal protection. SB 219 seeks to end this discrimination by mandating specific standards for how these facilities treat LGBTQ seniors.
SB 179 (Authors: Atkins/Wiener): Allowing non-binary gender markers on government documents. I joint-authored SB 179 with Senator Toni Atkins. It streamlines the ability of people to administratively (i.e., without going to court) correct their gender marker on drivers licenses and other government documents and allows, for the first time, people to identify as non-binary on these documents.
SB 132 (Author: Wiener; bill pending): Protecting trans incarcerated people. SB 132 ensures that trans people who are in state prison can choose to be housed according to their gender identity, instead of being forced to be housed according to their birth-assigned gender. It also ensures that trans people in prison are treated with respect, including being able to use chosen names and pronouns. I introduced the bill in 2019, and I am optimistic we will pass it in 2020. Over the past few months, we’ve been spending time in state prisons meeting with trans people to ensure we have full feedback from the impacted community.
SB 201 (Author Wiener; bill pending): SB 201 will ban medically unnecessary genital surgery on intersex babies. Currently, physicians and parents can decide whether to perform highly invasive reconstructive surgery on intersex babies to “normalize” their genitals –even if the surgery isn’t medically necessary, even if it potentially assigns the wrong gender, and even if the surgery can have significant negative side effects (e.g., sterilization and permanent loss of sexual sensation). SB 201 requires the impacted individual — the child — to be old enough to participate in the decision about whether to have this surgery. The major physician associations are aggressively opposing the legislation, and we are not guaranteed to pass it. But we are committed to this civil rights fight alongside the intersex community.
AB 1493 (Author: Gloria; co-author: Wiener): Teacher training. Requires all teachers in California to be trained around LGBTQ cultural competency. I’m a co-author of this legislation, which we passed in 2019 and which will be augmented with new legislation in 2020.
California must remain a leader on the environment and the fight against climate change, and we need to step up our game. For example, we need to ban fracking, impose an oil extraction fee (a bill that I’ll soon co-author), and ensure that we put an end to offshore oil drilling. I have a 100% consistent record voting against the oil industry and working to phase out fossil fuels in order to save our planet. We need to move toward a 100% clean energy future, protect our waterways and air, and ensure that ecosystems don’t collapse. Environmental protection is also a social and health equity issue. The communities most impacted by dirty water, pollution, and climate change are low income communities and communities of color. I have a strong record fighting for a sustainable climate, for environmental justice, and against climate change.
SB 700 (Author: Wiener): Expanding subsidies for clean energy storage systems. This major legislation creates a large subsidy/rebate program so that residents, businesses, public schools, and other public facilities can install energy storage systems. Energy storage is a key part of California’s clean energy future. This program will make it more affordable to install energy storage systems and will help spur innovation in the industry so that it becomes even more affordable, reliable, and available in the future.
SB 458 (Author: Wiener): Mobile recycling redemption pilot program. Recycling centers around California are closing down due to a collapse of the recycling industry. San Francisco is no exception, with about 80% of our recycling centers having closed. Yet, it was illegal for the City of San Francisco to implement a mobile recycling program, where recycling redemption trucks cycle around the city on a fixed schedule so that people can redeem their recyclables. SB 458 legalized mobile recycling redemption, and San Francisco is moving forward with its pilot program.
SB 966 (Author: Wiener): Expanding water recycling. California has a structural water shortage, and our state does not do nearly enough water recycling. SB 966 requires a statewide policy to make it easier for cities to adopt on-site water reuse programs for people’s homes, for businesses, and for schools and other public buildings.
SB 378 (Wiener; bill pending): Holding PG&E accountable for its mass blackouts. SB 378 will require PG&E to compensate people and businesses for damages they sustain during planned blackouts and prohibits PG&E from charging customers for service during these blackouts. The legislation also bans PG&E from lobbying against public power and other alternative approaches to power delivery. I’ve already announced that next year, I’ll be pursuing legislation to force PG&E to become a publicly owned utility.
SB 288 (Author: Wiener; bill failed): Streamlining installation of clean energy systems such as solar and storage. I authored this legislation to stop PG&E and other utilities from obstructing the installation of clean energy systems. Utilities use various techniques, such as discriminatory fees and delays in interconnection, to make it difficult or impossible for people (including small businesses, farmers, and schools) to install solar, storage, and other clean energy systems. After intense opposition from the utilities, the bill could not move forward, but we intend to continue to pursue this important climate policy.
SB 69 (Author: Wiener; bill pending): The Ocean Resiliency Act. Our oceans are ground zero for the impacts of climate change, and they can be ground zero for our fight against climate change. SB 69 is designed to restore collapsing ocean ecosystems, to reduce ocean nitrification, to restore the dying kelp forest, to reduce whale ship strikes, and to make the Pacific Ocean off our coast as healthy and resilient as possible. We anticipate passing the bill in 2020.
SB 54 (Author: Allen; joint author: Wiener): Phasing out single use plastics. I’m a joint author of this legislation, which will move California toward a future without single use plastics. Single use plastics are strangling our oceans and other waterways, harming wildlife, and leaving a chemical trail throughout our environment. We need to transition away from plastics and toward a more sustainable future.
SB 332 (Authors: Hertzberg/Wiener): Phasing out ocean discharges by water utilities. California needs to aggressively increase water reuse. Currently, our water utilities discharge treated wastewater into the ocean. SB 332 would have required utilities to phase out this practice by instead recycling the wastewater, but it stalled due to intense utility opposition. This is a bill that needs to pass, and I’m optimistic that it will eventually do so.
Health, Gender Equity, & Workplace Protections
California continues to face significant challenges in ensuring people can access healthcare and ensuring fair treatment of all workers in the workplace. I have a strong record in this regard.
SB 159 (Author: Wiener): Expanding PrEP and PEP access. SB 159 is first-in-the-nation legislation that allows pharmacists to provide PrEP and PEP — two powerful anti-HIV preventatives — to people without a physician’s prescription. Far too few people who need PrEP are on it, due to various financial and logistical barriers, as well as continuing stigma. Communities of color and rural communities are particularly likely to lack access. One barrier is lack of access (or lack of timely access) to physicians, another is that some physicians are hostile to these HIV preventatives and resistant to prescribing it. By allowing people to go to their neighborhood pharmacy to access PrEP and PEP, without first having to find a physician and perhaps wait months for an appointment, SB 159 will dramatically expand where people can access PrEP and PEP and will make it much to gain that access. SB 159 also bans insurance prior authorizations for PrEP and PEP, which can delay obtaining them.
SB 34 (Author: Wiener): The Dennis Peron and Brownie Mary Compassionate Care Act ensures access to medical cannabis by low income people. SB 34 allows “compassion programs” — which donate medical cannabis to low income people, including people living with HIV, veterans with PTSD, and low income families — to continue to exist. Given the cost of retail cannabis, many low income residents cannot afford their medicine and thus either go without it or resort to the dangerous illicit market. Compassion programs are essential for their health. California’s legalization of cannabis imposed significant taxes on these programs, which was gradually killing them off since they have no revenue. SB 34 exempts these programs from state taxes and allows them to continue to provide people with their medicine.
SB 1021 (Author: Wiener): Capping drug co-pays. Even if someone is fortunate enough to have insurance, drug co-pays can be prohibitively expensive and can effectively deny people access. SB 1021 reinstates and expands a strict cap on drug co-pays. SB 1021 also stops insurance companies from forcing people onto multi-pill PrEP regimens, which are less effective.
SB 142 (Author: Wiener): Expanding lactation access in the workplace. New mothers returning to work are frequently met with very inadequate spaces to lactate, even being forced to express milk in a bathroom, broom closet, or their car. As a result, too many mothers, particularly lower income mothers, are forced to choose between breastfeeding their baby and returning to work. This choice — between breastfeeding and a family’s economic security — is a choice that no one should have to make. SB 142 enacts strong standards for lactation facilities at work, including a private room or space, a table and chair, an electrical outlet, and a nearby refrigerator.
SB 1464 (Author: Wiener; adopted as part of the budget): Expanding dental care to people with special needs. People with developmental disabilities or cognitive impairments frequently need much more complex dental treatment than other people. For example, they may need more time with a dentist, multiple visits, or multiple people present. Yet, Denti-Cal only paid for one short, non-complex dental visit. As a result, these individuals with special needs frequently went without dental care and thus developed severe oral health problems. SB 1464, which we were able to pass as part of the budget, funds the needed complex care for people with special oral health needs.
SB 271 (Author: Wiener): Ensuring entertainment workers can access state-provided disability and family leave benefits. Entertainment workers frequently work outside of California on temporary assignment, which can preclude them from accessing their state-provided benefits. SB 271 ensures that these workers have full access to the benefits for which they’re paying via payroll deductions. SB 271 was a priority bill for the California Labor Federation and IATSE.
SB 562 (Authors: Lara/Atkins; co-author: Wiener; bill failed): I co-authored this single-payer healthcare legislation, which passed the Senate but did not pass the Assembly.
Reducing Poverty and Income Inequality
California has an obscene poverty rate, particularly when cost of living is taken into account. California’s extreme cost of housing is a key driver of poverty in our state. Alleviating poverty, making life better for low income families, and reducing income and wealth inequality have all been major focuses for me in the Senate.
SB 900 (Author: Wiener; adopted as part of the budget): Expanding access to fresh produce for Cal Fresh recipients. The “double up” program allows Cal Fresh recipients to receive double the value when they use their Cal Fresh benefits to purchase fresh produce. However, the program was paper-based and hard to use. SB 900 required the state to load this double-up benefit onto Cal Fresh recipients’ benefit cards, thus making it easier to use.
SB 378 (Author: Wiener; held in Senate Rules Committee): Adopting an estate tax in California. The estate tax is arguably the most progressive tax in existence — a pure wealth tax designed to reduce inter-generational dynasties. The federal estate tax has been decimated over the past 20 years, due to a gradual effort by Republicans in Congress to repeal it. The exemption has gone up twenty-fold since the late 1990s. California voters banned a state-level estate tax in the early 1980s, during the tax revolt. SB 378 would ask the voters to repeal that ban in order to reinstate a progressive estate tax. The proceeds would be dedicated to savings accounts for low income children, to help them build wealth to fund education, purchasing a home in the future, and so forth. The bill was never assigned to a committee and thus died.
SB 268 (Author: Wiener, adopted as part of the budget): SB 268 eliminated the “asset test” for CalWORKs. The asset test provided that if a low income family had more than a tiny amount of savings or owned a car more valuable than a junker, the family would lose its benefits. This creates a big disincentive for saving money to climb out of poverty and makes it hard for people to own cars that are reliable in order to get to work or school. SB 268 ultimately was adopted as part of the budget, though instead of repealing the asset test entirely, it significantly scaled it back so that low income families can save funds and own decent cars without risking their benefits.
SB 285 (Author: Wiener; held in Assembly Appropriations Committee): Streamlining the process to sign up for Cal Fresh. California has one of the lowest rates of accessing Cal Fresh by eligible people. As a result, many Californians are food-insecure, and California is leaving a huge amount of federal money on the table. The process in California to sign up for Cal Fresh is onerous. SB 268 would have streamlined the process in various respects, including improving translation for people who don’t speak English, requiring counties to accept applications by phone, and other improvements. The bill faced opposition by county governments and came close but did not pass.
SB 278 (Author: Wiener) and SB 726 (Author Wiener): CalFresh and CalWORKs overissuance protections. Due to system malfunctions, counties occasionally provide Cal Fresh and CalWORKs recipients with a small amount more than the amount to which they’re entitled. If the recipient doesn’t notice the over-issuance, it can go on for months or years. The law required counties to seek collections of over-payments, even for small amounts where the cost of collection was higher than the amount owed. Over-issuance repayments could also be devastating for low income families. These two bills gave counties the ability to forego repayment where the over-issuance did not result from fraud and where it was no more than a few hundred dollars.
SB 282 (Author: Wiener): Allowed people on Cal Fresh to access prepared foods with their benefits. For homeless people and people without kitchens, preparing food is often not possible. This change allows some of our most vulnerable residents to ensure they can eat properly.
Consumer Protection and Government Transparency
SB 822 (Author: Wiener): Protecting net neutrality in California. SB 822 was a huge win over the big telecom and cable companies. It enacted the nation’s strongest net neutrality protections in the country. After it was signed into law, the telecom and cable industries filed a lawsuit against it, as did the Trump Administration. The law is currently still pending in court.
SB 27 (Authors: McGuire/Wiener): Requiring presidential candidates to disclose tax returns. This legislation required that presidential candidates disclose five years worth of tax returns in order to appear on the California primary ballot. The legislation became necessary after President Trump violated decades of practice by refusing to disclose his tax returns. By doing so, he revealed a major gap in transparency laws and made the need for the legislation apparent. After Governor Brown vetoed the legislation in 2018, we reintroduced it in 2019, and Governor Newsom signed it. Unfortunately, the California Supreme Court then struck the law down under its interpretation of the California Constitution.
AB 1611 (Authors: Chiu/Wiener): Ending surprise massive ER bills. After it became public that San Francisco General Hospital did not have any contracts with private health insurance companies and that, as a result, people with private insurance who went to the SFGH ER room were receiving massive bills, we introduce legislation to end this practice. While we were unable to pass the legislation, given massive hospital opposition, SFGH has announced that it is moving away from the practice.
AB 857 (Author: Chiu; co-author: Wiener): Authorizing public banks. I co-authored this legislation to authorize cities to create public banks. AB 857 is critical in San Francisco’s effort to create its own municipal bank.
SB 127 (Author: Wiener; vetoed by the Governor): SB 127 would have forced Caltrans to make state-owned roads (e.g., 19th Avenue, Van Ness Avenue, Park Presidio, Lombard Street, Sloan Boulevard) friendly to and safe for cyclists and pedestrians. It was the California Bicycle Coalition’s top priority bill. Unfortunately, Governor Newsom vetoed the bill, after it received large majorities in both houses of the Legislature, but we are committed to the issue and will not give up.
SCA 6 (Author: Wiener; bill merged into broader bill): Lowering voter threshold to pass transportation infrastructure measures. Senate Constitutional Amendment 6 would have lowered the voter threshold for local transportation funding measures (e.g., for public transportation and bike and pedestrian projects) from 2/3 to 55%. The idea was ultimately merged into a broader proposed constitutional amendment, ACA 1 (Author Aguiar-Curry; co-author: Wiener) covering all local infrastructure funding measures, including transportation measures. I’m now a co-author of that broader measure.
SB 1 (Author: Beall; co-author: Wiener): Massive transportation funding increase. SB 1, which we passed in 2017, is the largest transportation funding measure in California history. Through an increase to the gas tax, vehicle registration fees, and the diesel gas tax, it raises over $5 billion annually for road repairs, freeway repairs, and public transportation. I advocated strongly to increase the share of the measure dedicated to public transportation, and we ultimately were able to increase the public transit share to nearly $1 billion annual in new transit investment.
SB 58 (Author: Wiener; pending): Allowing extend nightlife hours. SB 58 will allow San Francisco and other pilot cities to extend nightlife hours to 3 a.m. Nightlife is an important economic driver in California and plays a big role in culturally defining San Francisco and other cities. I’ve authored this bill three years running, extending hours to 4 a.m., until I was forced to limit it to 3 a.m. The bill was first held in the Assembly Appropriations Committee (2017). It then passed both houses of the Legislature but was vetoed by Governor Brown (2018). It then passed the Senate and failed on the Assembly floor (2019) but was granted reconsideration and is now pending on the Assembly floor.