California has been ‘capital of democratic resistance’ in Trump era, state legislators say

Nancy Skinner's Office/Courtesy

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Only weeks after Donald Trump secured the electoral votes to place his conservative administration in the White House, California won a Democratic supermajority in both houses of its legislature.

In the year since the election, the nation has watched Trump as his administration has unrolled his campaign promises. During this same time period, California legislature has produced legislation often in direct resistance to the Trump administration’s policies and actions.

For State Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, California legislature’s efforts to resist Trump are a reflection of California voters’ rejection of Trump in the election, in which approximately 62 percent of voters favored Hillary Clinton, as opposed to approximately 32 percent who supported Trump.

“Even prior to his assuming office, Californians made it clear … Trump’s values were not California’s values,” Skinner said. “The California legislature, we feel responsibility to communicate our voters’ opinions, our voters’ values and our voters’ desires.”

In the most recent legislative session in September, California legislature passed a series of bills in opposition to actions undertaken by the Trump administration, most notably in response to policies and threats regarding immigration.

Following the Trump administration’s Sept. 5 announcement of its intention to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, California legislators pledged $30 million in aid to undocumented students across the state.

In October, Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law Assembly Bill 21 authored by Assemblymember Ash Kalra, D-San Jose, requiring California State University and community colleges — and calling upon the UC system as well — to expand protections for undocumented students, staff and faculty.

“The bill was … intended to be in preparation for what we had anticipated would be coming down from the White House and, unfortunately, we were correct,” Kalra said. “California is setting an example to many other states on how to respond to what the Trump administration is doing. So AB 21 is one way of doing that, not just symbolically but actually taking actual steps to protect students in higher education.”

Efforts to protect undocumented citizens in California have also come in the form of assembly bills 291 and 450, introduced by Assemblymember David Chiu, D-San Francisco, and signed into law by Brown in October. AB 291, or the Immigrant Tenant Protection Act, prevents landlords from using an individual’s immigration status against tenants, while AB 450, or the Immigrant Worker Protection Act, protects employees from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids in the workplace.

According to Chiu, the Immigrant Worker Protection Act was authored in direct anticipation of the Trump administration increasing deportations. The Immigrant Tenant Protection Act, on the other hand, emerged as a response to reports of landlords threatening immigrant tenants with rent increases, Chiu said.

“Donald Trump has declared war on California values and on those aspects of our state that have made us successful, and that certainly includes our immigrants,” Chiu said. “Our legislature has done everything we can to defend our family members, workers and those who have made California successful.”

California is also now set to become a sanctuary state, after Brown signed into law Senate Bill 54, authored by Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, in early October.

Despite this legislation, efforts to combat the Trump administration’s policies and initiatives have not always made it through the legislature. In the midst of Trump’s plans to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord, legislation regarding environmental protection saw a particular lack of success in the last legislative session.

Senate Bill 49, for example, failed to make it through the legislature. The bill, introduced by de León and Senator Henry Stern, D-Canoga Park, would have made federal laws such as the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act enforceable under state law. Senate Bill 100, an attempt to push California to commit to generating 100 percent renewable energy sources, also fell through.

Although it saw success among the state senate and assembly, Senate Bill 51, or the Whistleblower and Public Data Protection Act — an effort to prevent climate change censorship — was vetoed when it landed on the governor’s desk.

The failure of these bills, however, does not diminish California’s progressive role in combating Trump, state legislators said.

“On any given day, a bill may not pass,” Skinner said. “Yet, all in all, California leadership … we surpass every state and we’re actually leaders internationally.”

Chiu pointed to California’s approval of a 10-year extension to the state’s cap-and-trade program, which requires companies to buy permits to release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, in July, adding that it was a “historic achievement” by the legislature.

For Chiu, California’s policies have established it as an example for states across the country and places around the world.

“California is the capital of democratic resistance against Donald Trump in 2017,” Chiu said. “From health care and the environment to labor and immigration and civil rights, we have acted because we need to protect our residents.”

Sydney Fix is the lead schools and communities reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @sydney_fix.