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In a Final Round of Signatures and Vetoes, California's Governor Takes Some Legislative Risks

At the end of his last term, Jerry Brown is showing willingness to clash with opposition both within the state and at the national level.
California Governor Jerry Brown speaks during a press conference at the California State Capitol on March 7th, 2018, in Sacramento, California.

California Governor Jerry Brown speaks during a press conference at the California State Capitol on March 7th, 2018, in Sacramento, California.

On Sunday night, California Governor Jerry Brown finished weighing in on a raft of legislation, offering his last signatures and vetoes as the state's longest-serving governor. Term limits will force the 80-year-old out of office in January, and these final signatures mark Brown's attempt to cement his legacy at the tail end of his 16 years as governor. (Brown first served as governor from 1975 to 1983 before taking office again in 2011.)

When Pacific Standard interviewed Brown in late 2012, he was facing opposition among both opponents and allies. Boxed in without strong support from his party, Brown told the magazine that he identified with Meursault, the tragic hero from Albert Camus' The Stranger: "You can say that for all that I have tried to accomplish, all I ask is to be greeted with howls of execration on the day of my execution."

Brown's approval has been consistently above 50 percent since the election of President Donald Trump. Now, unburdened by worries of re-election as he approaches the "execution" that is a term limit, Brown used the October 1st deadline to approve new legislation that could draw "howls" from some groups: With his signatures and vetoes, Brown clashed with the Trump administration, police unions, and the more progressive wing of the Democratic Party. Here are some key takeaways from his decisions.

Countering Trump and Republicans at the National Level

Continuing a trend of "California exceptionalism" that includes a "sanctuary state" law passed in 2017 and some of the world's most ambitious climate change policies, Brown used his last batch of signatures to clash with Trump and the GOP one final time.

He signed off on a net neutrality law that will create the country's most stringent set of restrictions on Internet providers slowing or blocking access to certain websites. The law, a direct rebuke to Trump's agenda and the Federal Communication Commission's repeal of net neutrality in 2017, met immediate federal opposition: Just hours after Brown signed the bill, the Department of Justice sued the state.

Brown also signed strict gun control measures into law, raising the minimum age at which one can buy a shotgun or rifle from 18 to 21. The law also imposes lifetime gun ownership bans on people deemed "mentally dangerous" and/or convicted of domestic violence. The bill goes against a trend of Republican-controlled states drastically reducing the restrictions of gun ownership.

Holding Police Accountable

Police labor unions are powerful in California state politics, so it's no coincidence that Brown used his last few months in office to sign bills unpopular with the many cops and their lobbyists in Sacramento.

One new law will require police department to release all audio and video recordings of police shootings or serious use of force within 45 days (with the exception of where it would interfere with an active investigation).

Another bill will open public access to police departments' own internal investigations of police shootings, use of force resulting in death or injury, sustained sexual assault, and lying on the job.

Denying Democrats' More Progressive Proposals

Though Brown approved a batch of progressive legislation, some of his key vetoes showed his opposition to a handful of policies popular among the Democrats' leftward wing.

Brown vetoed a bill that would've provided abortion mediation to students in public universities. The bill would've required student health centers to provide abortion pills by 2022.

The governor returned a bill that would've created "safe injection sites" in San Francisco. As Pacific Standard reported last year, safe injection sites, or "supervised injection sites," are places where drug users can inject substances like heroin and cocaine under the eye of health-care staff—without the fear of arrest of prosecution.

Brown vetoed a bill that would've mandated employers to provide a private space for employees who want to express breast milk. In his veto message denying the lactation accommodation, Brown wrote that other legislation he approved already supports the "state's ongoing efforts to support working mothers and their families."

Brown also vetoed a bill that would've created a grant program for high schools that include ethnic studies as graduation requirements. He wrote that he recognized the value of ethnic studies, but was wary of overburdening students with more graduation requirements.