Stern Bills on Climate, Wildfire, Mental Health, Elder Care, Signed and Pending Before Governor

September 27, 2021

SACRAMENTO –  As the Legislature recessed for the remainder of the year, Senator Henry Stern (D-Los Angeles) was able to move bills to improve conditions for nursing home patients,  help those in need of mental health assistance, promote wildlife corridors, and tackle wildfire prevention, power shut offs, and oil pollution to the Governor’s desk.  To date, Governor Newsom has signed two of those bills regarding public safety power shutoff and electric grid resilience, and the Governor has until October 10, 2021, to sign, veto, or allow Stern’s other measures to become law without his signature.

Extreme Heat, Power Shutoffs, Grid Reliability and Wildfires

As the Chair of the Senate Natural Resources & Water Committee and a member of the Senate’s Environmental Budget subcommittee, Stern worked to secure funding to prepare and protect California communities equitably from climate crises. Budget measures approved earlier this month and signed by the Governor include $36.1 million in funding for the Santa Monica Mountain Conservancy this year, plus a legislative commitment to allocate over $800 million on the next two years to address wildfire, extreme heat and resilience, including funding for low income weatherization, community resilience and urban cooling and forestry projects.  

“This budget represents an unprecedented statewide commitment to protect the entire state population from the effects of catastrophic wildfire and extreme heat that are the results of climate change, while shoring up our coastlines and watershed,” said  Stern.  “There is so much more we need  to do, and I’m enormously proud of our state and Governor for acting and thinking so boldly.” 

Senate Bill 533 the Power Shutoff Prevention & Disclosure Act and Senate Bill 423 the Grid Reliability through Clean Energy Act, both authored by Stern, were signed into law last week as part of Governor Newsom’s $15 billion climate resiliency package.

SB 533 requires utilities to disclose in their wildfire mitigation plans the energy circuits prone to public safety power shutoff (PSPS) events and their plans to reduce the risks and impacts of PSPS events that severely impact communities, small businesses, schools and local governments.   

“Public safety power shutoffs are supposed to serve as a ‘last resort’ option to avoid a catastrophic wildfire,” said Stern.  “What we’ve seen is the same energy circuits getting shut off over and over again resulting in loss of power to the same tens of thousands of energy customers.  These events riddle people with frustration, anxiety and anger. SB 533 adds much needed transparency and accountability on how utilities move forward with these events,” continued Stern.

“SB 533 adds transparency and accountability for those areas hit hardest by PSPS power outages. Understanding what steps SCE and other electric utilities are taking to reduce the frequency of outages is good for local government and the public,” said Ventura County Supervisor Linda Parks.

“Communities like Moorpark have been hammered by PSPS outages.  Investor owned utilities must be held accountable and use PSPS events responsibly.  SB 533 will ensure investor-owned utilities are transparent in identifying PSPS prone zones and what steps they are taking to reduce outages in these specific areas,” said Mayor Janice Parvin of Moorpark

SB 533 was approved with bipartisan support in both houses.  In the Senate the bill passed on a 37-0 vote in the Assembly the vote was 77-0. 

SB 423 requires California’s top energy agencies (the Energy Commission, Public Utilities Commission, Air Resources Board, and the Independent System Operator) to examine and assess which zero carbon energy resources and combinations of those resources will maintain energy resiliency against the effects of climate change while successfully moving the state away from using harmful fossil fuels.   The bill also requires the California Energy Commission to incorporate firm zero carbon resources into its integrated resources plans.

“Diversity is resilience, and green is the only way to prevent a blacked out future,” said Senator Stern, of SB 423.  

“Senator Stern has given statutory direction to California’s energy agencies to step up their efforts to develop and commercialize advanced zero carbon technologies, such as long duration and seasonal energy storage, geothermal, offshore wind, and green electrolytic hydrogen. These technologies can together reduce dependence on fossil gas, while also reducing electric rates." said V. John White, Executive Director of the Center for Energy Efficiency & Renewable Technologies (CEERT).

SB 423 directs top energy agencies to work to lower ratepayer costs through existing and emerging technologies. By incentivizing the development of existing and emerging clean energy resources, these technologies will more rapidly achieve economies of scale and bring down costs associated with meeting the state’s clean energy goals.

Stern’s SB 423 addresses the growing risk of extreme heat and wildfire on the grid, requiring the state’s energy agencies to provide a more flexible mix of zero carbon power, like offshore wind combined with geothermal, solar and long duration storage to replace less reliable fossil fuel plants that have shut down during recent heat waves.  

SB 423 passed the Assembly on a bipartisan 77-0 vote and passed the Senate on a bipartisan 29-7 vote. 

SB 63, The Wildfire Resilience through Community and Ecology Act, will establish a Fire Resiliency Corps at the state and neighborhood level designed to link with the President’s Civilian Climate Corps proposal. SB 63 also requires the state to identify moderate and high severity fire zones which the Building Standards Commission will use to identify modified ignition-resistant building standards for the new zones. SB 63 also makes important clarifications in defensible space and vegetation management law to ensure all ecological systems are treated appropriately. 

“Climate change isn’t one dimensional and the fires, ecology, and development patterns we have in southern California present unique challenges compared to northern California.  That’s why I’ve been fighting for the past three years in the budget and through SB 63 this year to make sure our regional needs are funded appropriately,:” continued Stern.  “That work is bearing fruit in this budget, with tens of millions of dollars going to the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, L.A. County Fire, local cities, resource conservation districts, fire safe councils, and many others to pay for fire prevention and wildfire resilience work.”

Wildlife Corridors

SB 790, the Keep California Wild Act, ensures that as we build more transportation and housing, and as climate change threatens biodiversity, we keep California’s wildlife thriving with habitat connectivity projects like the Liberty Canyon Wildlife Corridor.  Stern has partnered up with the National Wildlife Federation and is on the verge of the final planning stage and begin construction on this land bridge over the 101 freeway in Los Angeles County, the largest wildlife passage ever proposed. 

“We have failed to account for wildlife and the habitat they need to roam as we built our freeways and housing in the Los Angeles region,” said Stern.  “The Southern California mountain lion will go extinct in our lifetime if we don’t start planning and building visionary projects right now.”

Since 2018, there have been about 7,000 vehicle crashes a year in California involving large wildlife, costing drivers and government more than $1 billion over the last three years.  To learn more about this issue, see this recent article published in CalMatters.  

SB 790 was approved by the Legislature on bipartisan 37-0 and 76-0 votes.

Oil & Gas Reform 

SB 406, The Neighborhood Oil & Gas Drilling Community Rights Act, gives renters and unhoused residents living near oil & gas sites like Aliso Canyon and the oil fields of Los Angeles the right to file complaints with state regulators at the California Geologic Energy Management Division (CalGEM).  CalGEM is responsible for managing the state’s more than 200,000 oil and gas wells, more than 13,000 of which are in L.A. County and date back to the early 1900’s.  An estimated 250,000 Angelenos live within half a mile of an active oil or gas extraction site. 

The bill requires the oil industry to disclose the locations and environmental compliance records for these sites, which a recent investigation by ProPublica found to be largely hidden from view on CalGEM’s “Well Finder” website.  While prior Stern-authored legislation requires this data to be disclosed for fracking jobs in California, the same transparency and standing requirements don’t apply to the vast majority of other oil and gas sites.  SB 406 passed the Assembly on a 55-8 vote and passed the Senate on a bipartisan 30-0 vote.

“You shouldn’t have to be a homeowner to know if an oil company is drilling your neighborhood,” said Stern.  “Many Californians do not even realize they live near, or sometimes, right on top of, potentially dangerous oil and gas sites, let alone whether the company that’s operating that site has been a bad actor with a history of unenforced violations.”

Mental Health 

SB 317 (Stern) allows all misdemeanor defendants to earn equal credits for time served, so those deemed “incompetent to stand trial” can earn credit while involuntarily held in a hospital. The bill also provides more options for appropriate mental health treatment for these defendants. Instead of sitting on a waiting list for months, these defendants could be placed in a mental health diversion program or collaborative court where there are resources available to help them.

“We need a treatment approach that’s tailored to a defendant’s needs,” said Stern. “Rather than being shackled to the problems which all but debilitate the current system, this will allow defendants to get the treatment they need to avoid furthering the cycle of incarceration.”

SB 317 passed the Legislature on bipartisan 32-5 and 65-0 votes.

Stern also jointly-authored SB 507 (Eggman-Stern), which makes it easier for mental health patients to receive assisted outpatient treatment services.   This will help patients get the care they need without requiring them to be committed to an inpatient facility to get help.

SB 507 passed the Legislature on bipartisan 39-0 and 70-0 votes.

Transparency in Elder Care

SB 650, The Corporate Transparency in Elder Care Act of 2021, requires skilled nursing facilities to provide consolidated financial reports and documentation of the corporate structure to the public and the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development.

“Many large, for-profit skilled nursing facility (SNF) chains use complex ownership structures to increase their profitability by making it appear they can’t do anything to control their costs, when in reality they’re keeping the money all in the dark recesses of the corporate family,” said Stern.  “This shines the bright light of day on this practice by requiring nursing home chains to place consolidated financial reports on each individual facility’s website.”

SB 650 cleared the Legislature on bipartisan 32-6 and 65-4 votes

All of the bills pending before the Governor must be signed or vetoed by midnight on October 10, 2021.  If the Governor does not act by that time, the bills will become law without his signature.  SB 423 and SB 533, which were signed last week, will take effect on January 1, 2022.