State bills address senior homeowners, flavored tobacco and power outages
My legislative agenda – including a three-bill package to help residents survive power outages – cleared the Senate this spring and moved to the Assembly despite challenging conditions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In addition to the power outage bills, I also carried measures to deter unsafe house parties in short-term rentals – prompted by an Orinda tragedy in which five people were killed – and another to ban the sale of flavored tobacco products, which have been used to lure kids into the nicotine habit.
Behind the scenes, I played a key role in passing a constitutional amendment that could make it easier for seniors to sell their house and buy another without incurring huge increases in their property tax bills. That measure would also raise money for fire protection by closing a loophole that has allowed out of state investors and absentee landlords to take advantage of a law meant to help people pass on their family home to their children.
The power outage package was intended to address issues with cell phone service, medical devices and hospitals during shutdowns triggered by utilities trying to avoid sparking a fire during high-wind events.
The bills were:
SB 431– (co-authored with Sen. Mike McGuire) to require a 72-hour backup power for cell towers to ensure people have access to cellphone communications during a wildfire power shutdown.
SB 801 – to require utilities to provide backup power sources to protect residents who rely on electricity to power life-saving medical devices.
SB 1099 (co-authored with Sen. Bill Dodd) – to allow hospitals to use backup power without facing local penalties;
The Senate also approved my bill, SB 1049, increasing penalties for short-term rentals that allow disruptive and dangerous events. Last Halloween in Orinda a mass shooting left five people dead at a party hosted at an AirBnB property.
In a few short months amidst a deadly crisis, lawmakers were asked to scale back their legislative agendas. So, I am thrilled with how much important work we were able to get done, and am especially glad I could address some critical issues for residents in my district.
The Senate also approved SB 793, which I co-authored with Sen. Jerry Hill, to ban the sale of flavored tobacco products. I have worked closely with schools in the Seventh Senate District to learn more about how tobacco and e-cigarette companies are marketing to children via flavored products – and how a state ban could help stop this harmful practice.
The Senate also approved my bill, SB 1232, to help student parents pay for books and college supplies with a Cal-WORKS grant. It would also exempt these students from having to meet work requirements.
Assembly Constitutional Amendment 11, which I helped push through the Senate, would allow seniors and disabled people to sell their home and buy another one without having to pay the substantially higher property taxes that would typically be assessed on the new purchase. This will allow more empty-nesters to move out of larger homes that have more space than they need while freeing up homes for young families who have been squeezed out by the housing shortage.
The constitutional amendment, if approved by voters in November, would also close a loophole that gives people a property tax break when they inherit a home from their parents. People who live in the home they inherit would still get the benefit but it would no longer be available to landlords.
The two changes could eventually raise $1 billion a year in new revenue that would be dedicated to fire protection. I worked with the authors of the measure to ensure that a portion of the revenue would be available to the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District, which has been forced to reduce services and close a number of stations because state funding formulas gave it far less property tax revenue than a typical fire district.
This fire district has never had the revenue it needs to serve the fast-growing East County. ACA 11 is a smart, fair tax reform that will help seniors while generating more resources for fighting fires. If it passes, I will work with my fellow legislators to make sure that the East County district gets its fair share.