Senator Stern reflects on freshman year in office

State Senator Henry Stern, right, talks with College of the Canyons' chair of welding technology Tim Baber, left, about the skills students learn in the program during a tour of the campus on Friday, June 24, 2017. Katharine Lotze/The Signal
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Bringing his total signed bills up to eight for his first legislative year, Senator Henry Stern (D-Canoga Park) had two more bills he authored signed into law.

Governor Jerry Brown gave Senate Bill 286 his signature, which allows voters who lost their vote-by-mail ballots or never received it to cast a regular ballot instead of a provisional one.

“I felt frustrated because I’ve been that guy who shows up at the voting booth and am not sure if I sent in my vote-by-mail ballot,” Stern said. “There is that anxiety of casting a provisional ballot about whether it will be counted that day. This helps voters feel much more secure about the voting process.”

This law will save millions of dollars in sorting through extra provisional ballots, according to Stern.

The governor also signed Stern’s SB 801, which ensures funds for penalty assessments related to Aliso Canyon will go back into the community and not into a slush fund.

While Stern said this is a step in the right direction, he is still advocating for Aliso Canyon to be shut down permanently.

“We’re not giving up,” Stern said. “I don’t have a lot of confidence right now in those safety protocols. Don’t pretend it’s safe when you haven’t finished doing your testing.”

To further his effort, Stern wrote Governor Brown a letter on Monday urging him to close the natural gas facility.  Also, Stern said several pending lawsuits could affect whether it stays open.

The first year

Though it’s been nearly a year since Stern won the election, he said he feels like he was just sworn into office because it went by so fast.

“There is a busy and sort of relentless pace to it all,” Stern said. “Trying to make really careful, deliberate decisions at 150 miles an hour is why I thought I was worth voting for.”

In his time in the Capitol, Stern said he has been most proud of his ability to push his Democratic allies and not just go with the flow of the party.

“I learned a lesson in working above the aisle, not just across the aisle,” Stern said. “Everyone likes to wave bipartisanship flag.”

Defining himself as both fiscally and environmentally conservative, Stern said he was happy with the end result of the state budget because of its large rainy day fund and emphasis on funding education.

“California is really setting itself apart,” he said. “We can be as compassionate as we are strong.”

Of the eight bills Stern had signed, he said he was most proud of Senate Bill 225, which created a texting hotline for victims of human trafficking.

“The human trafficking bill is simple, but is a really important lesson for a broader agenda I have to give youth tools to protect themselves,” the senator said. “I want to see us modernize and empower kids. They’re smart, they can use the tools, we just have to provide them.”

This plan includes a texting line for all teens in need of help, whether it be for those who are bullied or assaulted or face another issue.

Admittedly, Stern said he isn’t thrilled with the political process, but he does like the opportunity it gives him to provide for his community.

“I don’t like politics that much,” he said. “I love the ability of government to fill gaps and deliver for people.”

Stern said he went into office thinking most problems could be solved through law, but quickly realized there is a lot that the government cannot do, and communities have an important role to play.

The senator and the rest of California’s legislators will be home in the district until January.

He said he’s most looking forward to spending time with his family and dogs and going to the beach.

“I’m trying to be a person and not a politician,” Stern said.

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