California Legislature starts 2024 session in big budget hole

A binder for Gov. Gavin Newsom’s revised budget proposal for 2023-24 during a press briefing at the state Natural Resources Agency in Sacramento on May 12, 2023. Photo by Rahul Lal, CalMatters
A binder for Gov. Gavin Newsom’s revised budget proposal for 2023-24 during a press briefing at the state Natural Resources Agency in Sacramento on May 12, 2023. Photo by Rahul Lal, CalMatters
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By Lynn La 
CalMatters Writer 

After three and a half months at home, California legislators returned to Sacramento on Wednesday for a seven-month session where a budget deficit and the election will be top of mind. 

All 80 Assembly seats and half the 40 Senate seats are on the ballot, so many lawmakers will be pulling double duty between policy-making and campaigning. And they won’t have as much state money to bring home to their constituents. 

The estimated $68 billion shortfall will also mean less money for programs that support health care, housing, education, the environment and more as lawmakers must reconsider their priorities to help bring the state out of the red.  

Not only will these interest groups compete with one another, but Democratic legislators who advocate on behalf of these issues will have to jockey for a slice of the budget pie. Meanwhile, expect Republicans to grab opportunities throughout the session to propose cuts for programs they already oppose.  

But it’s not just the budget on lawmakers’ to-do list. Among other issues: 

• Artificial Intelligence: Concerns about artificial intelligence and its applications aren’t new — including around campaigns and elections — and we’ll likely see more legislative proposals in 2024 that hope to rein in the technology. This year, legislators will consider bills to create a new regulatory framework for AI systems, and to give entertainment artists some authority to nullify contracts over the use of their “digital replicas” if the usage is “contrary to public policy and deemed unconscionable.” And an AI-related law passed last year requires the state’s department of technology to create an inventory of “high-risk automated decision systems” by September and submit its first report by January 2025. 

• Maternity wards: Citing CalMatters’ reporting about the alarming rate at which California maternity wards are shutting down, Democratic Assemblymember Akilah Weber of La Mesa announced Friday that she will introduce a measure to “enhance the existing state review process” before a maternity ward shuts down. The process will include an analysis of how a closure will impact the nearby community. 

• Wildfire insurance: After a handful of major insurance companies decided to stop selling new homeowner policies in California, lawmakers failed to draft a bill to fix the market before adjourning the 2023 session. Meanwhile, some homeowners have to resort to the state’s FAIR Plan that offers customers limited, and often more expensive, fire coverage. The state’s Department of Insurance is working on new regulations, but such rules may not be enacted until 2026. Meanwhile, State Farm, the state’s largest home insurer, is increasing rates by 20% for policies it is renewing. 

Plus, there are the perennial issues of crime (including a special committee on retail theft), education, the environment, homelessness and more. 

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