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California's chaotic, disappointing legislative year

Like most everything else in 2020, California’s state legislative session unfolded far from normal. Early on, lawmakers received notice that the abbreviated session and budget chaos meant they should scrap any bills unrelated to COVID-19, homelessness, housing, wildfires or otherwise immediate and imperative. Several bills Surfrider had looked forward to supporting ended up sidelined as a result. But as summer continued, we still had a decent – if smaller than usual – list of proposed laws tackling plastic pollution, reducing the human health impacts of fossil fuel refineries and promoting the kind of big-picture conservation we need if we’re going to have any hope of mitigating the effects of climate change.

Unfortunately, nearly all these bills wound up held in committee (the legislative version of purgatory). In a particularly ugly moment, AB 345 went down in a hearing “fraught with technical difficulties and the comment period unfairly dominated by the oil and gas industry.” By the final days of session, only three of our bills remained:

  1. AB 1426, meant to permanently protect San Onofre State Beach;
  2. SB 54 and AB 1080, a pair of bills together known as the California Circular Economy and Plastic Reduction Act. If passed, SB 54 and AB 1080 would have put California on the road to becoming a Zero Waste State and affirmed our place as national leaders on ending plastic pollution. 

Hope remained until the final minute of the Assembly floor votes, but when SB 54 came up for the final time, at 11:59 p.m. last Monday, it remained four short of the 41 votes needed to pass. Given the vast public support and relentless pressure applied by our activists, the failure of the legislature to move these bills forward stings – but we’ve been here before (the California bag ban took seven years to get through!) and the fact that we came as close as we did despite extensive lobbying by well-financed oil companies, plastics manufacturers and plastic packaging-backed groups bodes well for the future. 

The good news is that AB 1426 did pass both houses and is awaiting the Governor’s desk. Please join us in asking Governor Newsom to sign it into law!