By Angela Hart, Debra Kahn
SACRAMENTO — Gov. Gavin Newsom has quietly asked lawmakers to rescind bills headed to his desk because of eleventh-hour concerns after the legislative session ended last month, an unusual request that has frustrated some legislators and lobbyists who feel the new administration should have flagged such problems earlier in the year.
Newsom administration officials on Friday said that the governor and his staff raised concerns about bills late in the legislative process — in some cases, after bills had already passed the full Legislature, even after months of contentious negotiations and deals on amendments.
One top administration official involved in legislative negotiations acknowledged to POLITICO that Newsom staff, and perhaps the governor himself, in some cases asked lawmakers to withdraw bills from being presented to Newsom after clearing the Legislature in exchange for a commitment to work on policies next year through the budget or legislation.
The official couldn’t cite the total number of bills that had been withdrawn from consideration under those circumstances, but said it was an offering from the governor’s office and ultimately it was legislators’ choice to withdraw them instead of risking a veto.
Asked by POLITICO today about whether he has asked lawmakers to take back bills, Newsom said, “I think it’s probably pretty modest. We’ve had a proactive engagement with the Legislature. There’s different styles — everybody does things a little differently.”
The governor said he took issue with bills that require spending beyond the already approved budget or that codify measures he can carry out administratively. He suggested that some lawmakers might have ignored his concerns earlier in the process: “Some sort of test that theory and those are often reflected in vetoes or delays based upon commitments we make to address these issues in the budget.”
Facing a Sunday signing deadline, Newsom gave his first inkling of behind-the-scenes maneuvering when he told reporters at the start of the final week he only had 247 bills left to consider, a figure that had many around the Capitol doing a double take. A reliable count by veteran lobbyist Chris Micheli pegged the outstanding number at a far higher 488 based on the number of bills approved by the Legislature and publicly announced gubernatorial actions.
It’s not clear how much of that gap is due to Newsom’s requests, however. A spot check of bills approved by the Legislature shows that many are still in Newsom’s hands rather than pulled off his desk, according to the public legislative database. Newsom said Friday he has 267 bills left to sign or veto.
In one case, a bill by Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) requiring health plans to cover hearing aids for minors under age 18 cleared the Legislature with unanimous floor votes and was headed to the governor on Sept. 11. But it was withdrawn from “engrossing and enrolling” two days later.
Bloom spokesperson Guy Strahl said the assemblyman agreed to withdraw it in exchange for a commitment from Newsom to continue working on the policy next year after administration officials raised issues about cost and legal liability. Newsom’s Department of Finance opposed CA AB598 (19R) in August, estimating annual general fund costs of $2 million to $3 million.
“Oh, the cost of that, yeah,” Newsom said when asked about Bloom’s AB 598. “So that’s a classic — I love that bill and we’re going to solve it in next year’s budget.”