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Psychedelic Therapy and Workers' Rights Bills Fail to Advance in California's Tough Budget Year
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By Associated Press
Published 1 month ago on
May 17, 2024

California lawmakers halt hundreds of bills due to budget deficit, including those on psychedelic therapy and workers' rights to disconnect. (AP/Adam Beam)

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SACRAMENTO — As California faces a multibillion-dollar budget deficit, lawmakers must make tough decisions about which of the more than 1,000 measures still alive in the Legislature this year will not make the cut.

On Thursday, they stopped hundreds of bills from advancing to the Senate and Assembly floors via the so-called suspense file. It’s a mysterious process where lawmakers on two committees decide — with no explanation — which bills will get a chance to become law later this year and which ones should not move forward.

Typically, lawmakers pass roughly three-quarters of the bills during the process. But this year, something “out of the ordinary” happened, veteran lobbyist Chris Micheli said. He estimated that the Assembly Appropriations Committee only approved about 65% of bills on its suspense file, leaving more than 230 bills without a path to move forward.

Democratic Assemblymember Buffy Wicks, the committee chair, said the state’s budget troubles are “no secret.” The committee held a bill to create a government-funded universal health care system, which Wicks has supported in the past.

“We have an obligation to balance the budget here in California,” she said. “We can’t go into debt, so we have to be very judicious with the budget.”

Across both houses, lawmakers held hundreds of proposals. Here are some of the highlights:

Reparations

It was a good day — mostly — for proponents of reparations for Black Californians. The state Assembly overwhelmingly passed a state apology for the legacy of slavery, and the Senate Appropriations Committee advanced several other proposals to rectify harms against descendants of enslaved people.

Key proposals to establish an agency to administer reparations programs and help Black families research their family lineage; to pay Black families for land that was taken unjustly through eminent domain; and to create a state fund for reparations programs all advanced.

But bills to give property tax and financial assistance to descendants of enslaved people were held by the Senate committee. State Sen. Steven Bradford, a Los Angeles-area Democrat who authored the bills, said that was largely because of the state’s budget troubles.

“It’s a financial challenge this year,” Bradford said. “But we always knew it wasn’t going to be a one and done. This is going to be a multiyear approach.”

Psychedelic Therapy

The Senate committee stopped a bill that would have allowed people 21 and older to consume psychedelic mushrooms under professional supervision. The legislation wouldn’t have allowed for personal possession and use.

The bipartisan bill was introduced after Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom last year vetoed legislation that would have decriminalized the possession and personal use of several plant-based hallucinogens, including psychedelic mushrooms.

Supporters of the bill, including veterans and first responders, said it would have shifted the state’s response to mental health crisis away from criminalization and punishment. Opponents said the bill was too broad and would have allowed those without medical training to oversee the therapeutic treatment.

Electric Bill Charges

A bill that would have repealed a new fixed charge on Californians’ utility bills in 2028 did not survive after the majority of lawmakers on the Assembly Appropriations Committee refused to vote on it.

The monthly charge of $24.15 was approved by state regulators last week. In exchange, the cost of using electricity would go down. People who use lots of energy, including cooling their homes in the summer or charge electric cars, would see savings. But people who use less energy, including solar customers, could see increases.

The bill would have eliminated that $24.15 charge starting in 2028, replacing it with a charge not to exceed $10 for most people.

Workers’ Rights to Disconnect

Lawmakers also shelved a bill that would have given California workers the right to not engage in work-related emails and text messages outside of working hours.

California would have been the first state in the nation to do so. The bill, modeled after a policy started in Europe, also would have required employers to create action plans to implement the standard.

Proponents said workers are often expected to be constantly accessible and that the bill would have helped them set clear boundaries between work and home life. But opponents, including the California Chamber of Commerce, said the bill was too vague and would have impeded companies’ ability to operate effectively.

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