The first week back after summer break has been a busy one in Sacramento, and today might’ve been the busiest day yet. Earlier this summer, Governor Jerry Brown signed a budget deal that stipulated two special legislative sessions, one on health care (particularly Medi-Cal) and developmental services, and the other focused on transportation funding. Today, we saw several hearings as part of both of these special sessions.
Senate Special Session on Transportation
This morning’s Senate special session on transportation focused on a number of strategies to raise revenues for transportation and infrastructure projects. The highlight of the hearing was Senator Jim Beall’s comprehensive transportation funding bill SBx1 1, which includes an increase in the state’s gas tax. Citing a lack of increase over the past two decades, Senator Beall noted that the increases included in his bill would adjust the tax to where it should be had it been increased as a result of inflation since the 1990s. There was testimony from a wide array of advocates in support of the proposal. However, some environmental and equitable transportation advocates expressed a desire for the bill to more explicitly gauge environmental impact and promote active transportation projects. The bill passed out of the committee on a partisan vote. Streetsblog California recently posted an excellent summary of the issues at stake with SBx1 1 and the special session on transportation.
Assembly Informational Hearing on Public Health and Developmental Services
For 30 years, California has led the crusade against Big Tobacco. The state blazed trails in tobacco control with bold media campaigns, smoke-free air laws, and tobacco taxes to fund public health. In 1994, when California passed its smoke-free workplace law, it became the first state to change its Labor Code to reflect the growing recognition that smoking in the workplace exposes people to toxic secondhand smoke. To protect workers, California amended its Labor Code to prohibit smoking in enclosed places of employment.
But the law didn’t cover all workplaces. The smoke-free workplace law left gaping holes in the Labor Code, and permitted smoking in hotels, cabs of trucks, warehouses, small businesses, long-term health care facilities, and outdoor places of employment. These holes have left many workers – hotel maids, truck drivers, nannies, orderlies, and construction workers – unprotected. The exemptions still exist today, even though more than 25 states and the District of Columbia have since adopted more comprehensive smoke-free laws.
Unfortunately, the law’s shortcomings disproportionately affect populations too often hurt by flawed and unfair policies. Many people from low-income communities and communities of color work in industries that are not protected under the law. Because the places where they work are not smoke-free, these groups are regularly exposed to secondhand smoke and residual toxins on surfaces (also known as thirdhand smoke) in hotel rooms, trucks, and even their employers’ homes.