Legislature kicks off with Gaza protest

Protesters call for an end to the Israeli-Gaza conflict and interrupt the first day of session in the Assembly’s chamber on Jan. 3, 2024. Photo by Fred Greaves for CalMatters

The first day of the legislative session is usually brief. Wednesday’s kick-off in the Assembly was even shorter, interrupted then adjourned altogether after a protest by Jewish groups calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. 

It occurred shortly after the Assembly gaveled in, explain CalMatters reporters Jeanne Kuang and Sameea Kamal. Before emptying the chamber, lawmakers called the action “out of order” and are expected to reconvene today. Outside in the Capitol rotunda, more than 100 protesters chanted and called for California taxpayer money to be put toward state priorities instead of U.S. military aid to Israel. 

In response, Assembly Republican leader James Gallagher of Chico issued a statement calling the protestors “pro-Hamas radicals” who bully “people into silence.”

  • Gallagher: “We must stand up to this extremism. People have a right to protest, but they don’t have the right to prevent elected representatives from doing the people’s business.”

The Israel-Hamas war is just one of the many pressing issues lawmakers will have to tackle this session — in addition to the $68 billion state budget deficit that will likely impact everything the Legislature does this year, said Assembly budget chairperson Jesse Gabriel.

This includes legislative solutions to curb retail theft, such as the proposal Assembymember Carlos Villapudua introduced Wednesday. The Stockton Democrat’s referendum aims to fix the “unintended outcomes” of the controversial Proposition 47, and change the $950 threshold for petty theft and shoplifting to be charged as a felony. Legislators on a special committee created by Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas to look into retail theft met for the first time in December and are expected to reconvene this year in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Another item expected to be on the Legislature’s to-do list: How to address reparations. Last year, a state task force put together hundreds of recommendations for the Legislature to compensate Black Californians descended from enslaved people. Besides offering financial amends, the task force recommended dozens of policy changes aimed at redressing discrimination against African Americans — policies that lawmakers are now expected to introduce. 

Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers have been busy shuffling their leadership, as Gallagher announced Wednesday the new Assembly GOP lineup: Caucus chairperson Tom Lackey of Palmdale, floor leader Heath Flora of Ripon, deputy floor leader Kate Sanchez of Rancho Santa Margarita and caucus policy chair Joe Patterson of Granite Bay.

As legislators get to work, here are some upcoming dates to note:

  • Wednesday: Gov. Gavin Newsom is expected to submit his January budget proposal to the Legislature. 
  • Jan. 19: The last day any committee can hear bills introduced in that chamber last year. 
  • Jan. 31: The last day to pass bills introduced in that chamber last year. 
  • Feb. 16: The last day for new bills to be introduced.

Longtime lobbyist Chris Micheli estimated the number of bills from last year that are realistically still alive: 65 in the Assembly and 60 in the Senate. 

For more on what went down on the Legislature’s first day back, read Jeanne and Sameea’s story.

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