By Toni G. Atkin
Sometimes it feels like the past two years went by in a blur. Other times, they felt like a lifetime.
On March 7, I handed the keys to the Speaker’s office over to Anthony Rendon, and I became Speaker Emeritus, a title I’ll carry until my days in the Assembly are over this December.
As Mr. Rendon and I have worked together on a smooth transition for the past couple of months, I’ve begun to reflect on my wild ride as speaker, and I can’t help but smile while thinking about the things my colleagues and I accomplished.
When I became Speaker in 2014, I made a point of making the Assembly more democratic by empowering individual members and giving committee chairs more autonomy. I think that helps create a truly representative government that better matches California’s rich diversity.
The budgets we passed were on time and well balanced, strengthening our rainy-day reserves and paying down debt while at the same time repairing the social safety net that was damaged during the recession.
We pumped billions of dollars back into public schools and hundreds of millions back into higher education, while continuing to fund the Middle Class Scholarship and ensuring that our universities return their focus to California students.
We created the first-ever state Earned Income Tax Credit to help struggling families make ends meet and the Housing Support Program to help them avoid homelessness. And we allocated $100 million to fund affordable housing.
We helped disadvantaged communities overcome environmental troubles and create more sustainable neighborhoods through our cap-and-trade program and other legislation, and we strengthened the state’s already world-leading climate change laws.
We passed a comprehensive water bond and a groundwater-management plan to combat the prolonged drought. We boosted our economy in part by passing bills that help our film and aerospace industries compete with those in other states.
We made our residential- and foster-care systems better and safer to improve the lives of the youth, elderly and disabled Californians who rely on our help. We protected public school children from infectious disease, and we gave terminally ill patients the option to end their lives with dignity on their own terms.
We overhauled our system of regulating and licensing medical marijuana, ending 20 years of chaos. We helped the Coastal Commission enforce the law that allows the public unfettered access to our beaches. And we dramatically increased the number of slots for families who need preschool and child care.
And I am very proud that some of the successes we had were bills that I wrote, including bills that: give transgender people control over the identity reflected on their death certificates; provide more help to victims of domestic abuse; strengthen the ban on the sale of elephant ivory; assist local fishermen in marketing their catch to the public; and helping reduce prison recidivism by better prioritizing housing assistance, drug and alcohol treatment, and mental-healthcare for former inmates.
There’s still work left to do, of course, such as finding a permanent source of funding for affordable housing to help solve our statewide housing crisis, fixing our ailing transportation system, repealing the punitive maximum family grant in our CalWORKS program, and budgeting for an inevitable rise in the minimum wage.
All that is in addition to my and my colleagues’ focus this year on fighting the evil of human trafficking.
It’s been a pleasure and an honor to be the first Speaker from San Diego and I’m looking forward to continuing to serve San Diegans, and all Californians, in the years to come.
Extras: Congratulations to my mentor, former state Senator Christine Kehoe — she will be inducted into the San Diego County Women’s Hall of Fame this month. She has done great work both for our city and our state. I’m so proud of her both for what she’s done and the work she continues to do … Free installation of smoke alarms is available for seniors via the Burn Institute, which offers the Senior Smoke Alarm Program. To see if you qualify, call the Burn Institute at 858-541-2277, ext. 18, or email firstname.lastname@example.org … The state’s traffic ticket amnesty program can cut fines by up to 80 percent for some motorists facing financial hardship. They qualify if their ticket payments were due on or before Jan. 1, 2013 and they have not made a payment since Sept. 30, 2015. The website courts.ca.gov has more information.
—Toni G. Atkins is the Speaker-emeritus of the California State Assembly. For more information, visit her website, asmdc.org/speaker or follow her on Twitter, @toniatkins.