The California Legislature Is Finally Out of Session. Here's How Much Damage It Did This Year.

No man's life, liberty or property are safe while the legislature is in session. That goes double in California.


It's that time of year.

The California Legislature has concluded its session and I can again publish one of my favorite quotations, from 19th century New York Judge Gideon Tucker: "No man's life, liberty or property are safe while the legislature is in session." At press time, we're still waiting to see how many liberty-destroying bills that Jerry Brown will actually sign into law, this being his (mercifully) last signings/vetoes after four total terms as governor.

Last year, Brown signed 859 measures into law. We'll see this year's final count in coming days. Not every bill is a bad one. But if you wonder why taxes keep going up, regulations keep piling up, and the tax code becomes more complex, you might think about the sheer volume of legislation that makes its way through both houses of the Legislature.

Rust never sleeps, but at least lawmakers are back in their districts. Unfortunately, the November general-election ballot is loaded with initiatives, which simply are proposed laws decided by voters. One of those would roll back the recent gas-tax hikes, but most float costly taxpayer-backed bonds and regulate our lives and property. Proposition 10, for instance, would remove state limits on local rent control. Hey, if we can't fix the housing crisis, why not make it worse?

This idea reinforces that simple, easy button "fixes" that exacerbate serious problems are as much the fault of voters and direct democracy as lawmakers. But the Legislature has the market cornered on posturing. Interest groups aren't going to spend millions of dollars to pass a ballot measure that doesn't do anything. But legislators will spend their time debating highfalutin measures that are solely about virtue-signaling.

Senate Bill 100 was one of those bills that gets national attention because of the audaciousness of its goals. Signed into law last week, it intends to prod California to buy 100 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2045. But it's typical legislative claptrap. Markets—not government mandates—are going to reduce the use of fossil fuels. Its deadline is 27 years away, which renders it meaningless.

In this case, the 100-percent figure is little more than a headline-grabbing goal. Technology doesn't exist yet to reach it, unless we want to cover the state's magnificent landscape with giant bird-killing wind turbines and solar panels. There are no penalties if the state doesn't reach the goal. The law will almost certainly raise electricity prices, especially in the hottest and poorest parts of the state. But it made for some great press conferences. It's about posturing over policy.

Same with the new law restricting money bail. That process was ripe for reform given that people who can't afford to post bail are far more likely to accept an unfavorable plea deal so they can get home to take of their kids, work and pay the rent. Unfortunately, this measure was amended in the final days of session to give judicial panels so much power that it's likely that people will languish in jail longer than they would have under the old system. It's commendable that criminal-justice reform has gotten the attention of the Legislature, but it's important that such reforms actually accomplish their stated goals. But the press conference was a good one.

When they're not posturing, lawmakers are busy raising taxes. Assembly Bill 1184 deals with transportation network companies, such as Uber and Lyft. Their emergence has been a bright spot in the state's economy, not to mention a great advance for consumers. San Francisco is the heart of that industry, yet this bill would let that city impose taxes on TNC rides originating there—and would impose taxes on the emerging autonomous vehicle and zero-emission vehicle industries.

As my colleague, Ian Adams, and I wrote in our letter to the governor urging a veto: "Autonomous vehicles offer great potential for improving the lives and mobility of Americans. Likewise, zero-emission vehicles offer great potential for reducing pollution. All such technologies should be encouraged, not hampered with additional taxes and regulations." California progressives don't understand that higher taxes work against their broader aims. In the end, such measures increase our cost of living, which is why the state tops the nation in poverty.

I'm only scraping the surface of hundreds of bills that passed out of the Legislature this year. A handful are good—such as a now-vetoed bill that would remove a conflict of interest during some county cause-of-death examinations (Senate Bill 1303). But more typically we see efforts such as Assembly Bill 1884 (signed by the governor), which forbids restaurants from handing out single-use plastic straws unless the customer first asks for one.

Given all of California's serious problems, it's hard to see the value of that nonsense. Then again, Judge Tucker would understand. We should all be happy the Legislature is out of session for a few months.

This column was first published by the Orange County Register.

Steven Greenhut is Western region director for the R Street Institute. He was a Register editorial writer from 1998 to 2009. Write to him at

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  1. Next time, and every time, that I go to a restaurant, I will ask for a single-use plastic straw, throw it away as soon as they hand it to me, and say “Give my regards to Jerry”.

    1. No, drop it on the floor and ask for another one.

      1. Why punish the restaurant? They did not ask for this dumb bill.

  2. This Big Government Moment brought to you by Open Borders

    CA used to be the state of Nixon and Reagan

    1. Riight, those damned Mexicans are hiding my straws!

      1. There are a lot of illegals in CA state prison, on welfare, and in public schools.

        Enjoy the shithole you are creating Californians. It used to be a great state.

      2. First you get the straws …

    2. Nixon, who drove the final stake through the heart of the gold standard, and imposed wage and price controls.
      Reagan, on whose watch the national debt tripled.
      CA hasn’t changed much, we’re just viewing the past through team-colored lenses.

      1. This was before that. When they were decent CA state governors.

        1. loveconstitution1789|9.14.18 @ 8:32AM|#
          No citation, so lies as usual

          Double standard much?

        2. You made the claim first. Citations fell off your OP.

      2. CA has changed a lot and for the worse.

        Shitty roads, high taxes, bad water storage planning, high crime, wasteful state and local bureaucracies….

        1. I didn’t realize you were old enough to remember the 50s.

          1. Its this new fangled thing called historical record.

            You dont have to actually have been there and everything.

            Let me know if you would like me to explain it to YOU in more depth. You clearly don’t know about facts from the past.

            1. Progs blame Prop 13 for ruining California since 1978

              1. Yes they do. Hatred of Prop 13 appears in every Lefty article relating to CA.

                1. at this time about the only thing left of prop 13 is that the state can;t increase property tax more than 2%. Since 1978 almost all homes have been remodeled or resold which triggers bringing the taxes up to current rates. If the socialist/progressive democrat nazis get the supermajority in the state legislature the last of prop 13, the 1 to just 2% tax increase will be gone and property taxes will begin skyrocketing again which was the main purpose of the original prop 13. Imagine that gerri browns’ bullet train legacy needed a another 100 billion dollars all he’d have to do is increase property taxes to cover by using the ” for the good of the many” slogan.

        2. Crime is way lower than 30 years ago.

  3. Do not fear.

    Many comrades are studying with fellow comrades at Kennedy School of Huge Government to bring us more regulations for our own good. Did you know that flatulence factors into climate change and that regulating flatulence could save the earth?

    1. People who are lactose intolerant are… intolerant! And we all know that intolerance is bad!

    2. This actually is a real thing. Livestock produces more methane than natural gas extraction, and changing their diets could reduce a lot of this.

  4. “No man’s life, liberty or property are safe while the legislature is in session.”

    That gives me an idea for when I become omnipotent. That saying gets birthmarked onto every lawmaker’s forehead until they get together and pare down regulation to a reasonable level. (Next they get hit in the bank account until I guess eventually I’ll just do it myself and remove all electronic and written record of all laws and make them start from scratch.)

  5. Moar TAXEZ needed! TAXEZ are the true path to prosperity!

  6. So many fun too stupid and obviously corrupt laws:

    Optometrists can no longer have more than 11 offices. Also, optometrists now need a statement of licensure to practice at each of their branch offices (SB 1386).

  7. Another good one:
    Student barbers can now do externships (AB 2134).

    Shockingly, this is an improvement. The level of regulation over barbers is mind boggling.

  8. Certain truckers carrying “nutrients and byproducts from a licensed commercial feed manufacturer” to customers in rural areas can work for 6 hours at a time before taking a meal break, rather than 5 (AB 2610).

    Technically this is a loosening of an existing restriction but it’s still a regulation in place. Good grief.

  9. State and local governments, and Congress too, should be more like jury duty, where a pool of adults are randomly selected for service and paid a very small amount. Once you have served, you don’t get called again for a long time. No need for political parties or term limits, and there would be no reward for special interest groups trying to influence policy.

    1. If they are in office, vote them out. Get fresh faces every time.

  10. Just make all laws sunset automatically in 10 years, then abolish the legislature.

  11. I actually support the taxes on ZEVs. I pay my share of road taxes at the pump. If Tesla drivers pay nothing, then they’re freeloading. How many different ways do we have to bribe them for their virtue-signalling choices?

  12. “Senate Bill 100 was one of those bills that gets national attention because of the audaciousness of its goals. Signed into law last week, it intends to prod California to buy 100 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2045. But it’s typical legislative claptrap. Markets?not government mandates?are going to reduce the use of fossil fuels. Its deadline is 27 years away, which renders it meaningless.”

    Not so sure it’s ‘meaningless’. The government can simply mandate the change, regardless of reality, and moonbeam did here, and then force the issue by mandate also; CA is a one-party town, the Ds do as they please.

  13. “the 100-percent figure is little more than a headline-grabbing goal. Technology doesn’t exist yet to reach it, unless we want to cover the state’s magnificent landscape with giant bird-killing wind turbines and solar panels.”

    Wrong. No matter how much territory you cover with wind turbines and solar panels, you don’t reach 100% without a huge amount of storage capacity, which is as expensive as primary generation from coal. Or perhaps the legislature wants to regress to having only part-time grid power available… That’s not good enough for manufacturing or for a resort, but it’s good enough for third-world welfare clients.

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