Big Wins for the Association’s Priority Legislation

The Legislature has Approved Association-Sponsored and Supported Measures. What Happens Now?

By Arianna Smith
Managing Editor
Transit California

Already in 2023, Association members have reaped the benefits of strong state advocacy efforts through the successful lobbying effort to secure billions of dollars in flexible budget funds and reasonable accountability requirements to recover from the post-pandemic fiscal cliff crisis, to grow ridership, and to invest in critical infrastructure projects. Soon, members may have more reasons to celebrate: The Legislature has passed several Association-sponsored priority measures, which now await Governor Newsom’s signature for final approval.

Where are Bills in the Legislative Process?

The first year of the 2023-24 legislative session has ended. From January through mid-September 2023, Senators and Assemblymembers took action on thousands of policy proposals: they considered thousands of bills, resolutions, and constitutional amendments. Hundreds of measures failed passage or remained in their committees for further consideration next year. Hundreds more measures were approved. Now that the deadline has passed on legislative business for the year, the Legislature is in recess, and State Senators and Assemblymembers have returned to their districts across the state. They’ll return to Sacramento when the Legislature reconvenes for the second year of session in 2024.  

Governor Newsom has until October 14 to take action on the measures that the Legislature sent to his desk for consideration, and he has already signed many and vetoed a few. Measures that the Governor signs into law this year will go into effect on January 1, 2024 unless the measure specifies a different date.

Amongst the measures sent to the Governor are dozens that the Association’s State Legislative Committee determined to be of interest to members and our industry at large. These bills span policy topics from infrastructure investment to affordable housing to labor issues to climate change, and more. For a list of all the bills that the Association has tracked this session, including their current status, please check here.

The Association’s Priority Legislation for 2023

This year, the Association prioritized six key measures that would improve transit operations and access. Some measures were “sponsored” or “co-sponsored” by the Association, while others were simply supported. To sponsor or co-sponsor legislation means that the Association worked closely with the legislator who introduced the measure at the beginning of session, including providing expertise and technical assistance with the proposed statutory language and amendments, arranging for expert testimony from Association members at legislative committee hearings, and coordinating support amongst a range of organizations to ensure the passage of the sponsored or co-sponsored measures. To support legislation is less intensive but also very important; in general, it means that the Association worked with other organizations to register support, provide expert testimony, and lobby legislators for their votes.

Each measure ultimately passed the legislature and now awaits gubernatorial or voter action.

“The fact that aso many of the Association's priority measures passed the Legislature with bipartisan support is a testament to the well-regarded expertise of our member agencies in the Capitol, and the strength of the Association’s advocacy strategies,” said Michael Pimentel, Executive Director of the Association.“If the Governor signs into law each of these measures – and we’re hopefully optimistic that he will – our transit agencies will begin 2024 with more statutory tools and greater access to funds that will benefit their riders, local economies, and regional communities.”

The following measures were supported, sponsored, or co-sponsored by the Association:

ACA 1 (Aguiar-Curry): This proposed constitutional amendment is strongly supported by the Association. It will place a measure on the ballot asking voters to make it simpler and faster to fund and build affordable housing and public infrastructure projects. The measure would lower the voter approval threshold of local general obligation bonds and special taxes that support these purposes from the current requirement of ⅔ supermajority to 55%. The measure passed the legislature largely on party lines and has been filed with the Secretary of State to appear on a future ballot for the voters’ consideration. It does not require gubernatorial action.

Assembly Speaker pro Tempore Cecilia Aguiar-Curry said of the measure: “ACA 1 is targeted to help the urgent needs of local communities to increase the supply of affordable housing and supportive housing for our working families and vulnerable populations, but you can’t build housing without roads, sewers, and fire stations. This is why we are focused on housing and the infrastructure supporting it.” Asm. Aguiar-Curry provides more insight into this measure in this month’s “On Board With” interview.

AB 719 (Boerner) is co-sponsored by the Association and member organization San Diego Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) in order to help ensure that public transit systems can better serve and provide access to transportation services to fixed-income, elderly, and disabled riders who rely on paratransit to go to medical appointments and other trips. While 2016 legislation built transportation costs into Medi-Cal managed care plan rates, the law didn’t include reimbursements for public transit operators and left these operators without sufficient means to recoup the costs of the services they provided – and for which they had once received compensation. AB 719 would require Medi-Cal managed care plans to contract with public paratransit service operators who are enrolled Medi-Cal providers to establish reimbursement rates for nonemergency medical transportation (NEMT) and nonmedical transportation (NMT) trips. Critically, the reimbursement rates would be based on the Department of Health Care Services’ existing fee-for-service rates for NEMT and NMT services that don’t include fixed-route transportation service. The measure received unanimous, bipartisan support and now awaits the Governor’s signature.

“This measure ensures that we can continue to provide our most vulnerable riders with the paratransit services they rely on to get from place to place. We’re so appreciative of Asm. Boerner for her recognition that public transit systems need the same Medi-Cal reimbursements for transportation costs that other transportation providers already receive,” said Sharon Cooney, CEO of MTS.

AB 1377 (Friedman) is sponsored by member organization Los Angeles County Metropolitan Authority and is supported by the Association; the measure is designed to strengthen coordination between homeless support providers and local transit agencies, and it requires data collection that would help provide critically needed insights about the unhoused population and those at risk of homelessness who are seeking shelter on transit facilities. Specifically, the bill requires applications or planning materials for new state funding through Homeless Housing, Assistance, and Prevention (HHAP) grant funding to include data and steps that the applicant has taken to improve the delivery of housing and services to the unhoused population on transit facilities. 
“Transit operators like Metro are at the front-lines of our homelessness emergency in the state of California, but we are ineligible for state grants that could help people experiencing homelessness access housing and services.  The reporting requirements of AB 1377 would help transit agencies across the state collect data that can give the public and the state a better understanding of how state funding sources are currently being used – or could be more effectively directed – to best help unhoused people on transit,” said Stephanie Wiggins, CEO of LA Metro.  “We were proud to partner with the Association and Asm. Friedman to move this policy forward.”

SB 617 (Newman) is co-sponsored by the Association along with the Self-Help Counties Coalition. The measure authorizes transit agencies and regional transportation planning agencies to use the progressive design-build procurement method for up to 10 projects through January 1, 2029.

“As the federal government prepares to disburse the largest federal infrastructure investment in over a generation under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, it is incumbent that California grant transportation agencies the necessary flexibility to utilize an alternative contracting method which reduces risk, stretches taxpayer dollars, and renders projects more competitive in qualifying for federal funding,” said Senator Josh Newman (D-Fullerton), author of the bill.  

SB 434 (Min) is sponsored by Stop AAPI Hate and is supported by the Association. The measure requires California’s ten public transit systems with the most annual unlinked passenger trips to collect and publish survey data on riders’ demographic information and experiences with safety. That data would inform efforts to improve rider safety and reduce harassment on public transit, and it builds on Senator Min’s 2022 law requiring the Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) at San Jose State University to develop the survey.

“No Californian should feel unsafe commuting from one place to the next. Period.  As we rebuild and reimagine a post-pandemic world, improving public transit should top our list of priorities,” said Senator Dave Min (D-Irvine) of the measure. “A majority of women, elderly, LGBTQ+, and disabled Californians experience street harassment or worse while using public transit. It’s time we step up and give public transit providers the tools necessary to keep all passengers safe.”

SB 747 (Caballero) was sponsored by the Association and passed with unanimous, bipartisan support. The measure removes bureaucratic hurdles in the Surplus Land Act (SLA) regarding the disposal process, exemptions, and penalties that currently cause delays for public agencies that want to dispose of lands they own.

What’s next?

With the exception of ACA 1, each of the above measures is currently on the Governor’s desk awaiting his action between now and the deadline to act in mid-October. The Association's Advocacy Team has already submitted letters requesting the Governor’s signature of these bills and remains in contact with the Administration’s legislative, policy, and fiscal staff to provide technical assistance.

Your agency can provide support for these bills as well by email. Please refer to our Legislative Bulletin, released September 26, for template support letters for our co-sponsored bills. These template letters make it easy to complete a formal support letter, which should be submitted to as soon as possible. Alternatively, visit the Governor’s contact page, select the topic “an active bill,” and under “select the specific bill,” choose the bill number above. Please make sure to select the correct “SB” or “AB.” For the purpose of your message, select “leave a comment.” After clicking “next,” select “pro” for “What is your stance on this topic?” Finally, leave a short email comment of one to three sentences per bill that explains which of the above bills you support and why, and leave your name, organization and title in the body of the message. The final step is to leave your contact information on the last page.

The Association will know in the coming weeks whether these bills will be signed and will send out frequent legislative updates over the next month. Watch for these important updates!

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