RAC-CA Legislative Advocacy Campaign Results 2020
RAC-CA actions help lead to the release of prisoners and new revenue in the state budget; More state action needed
July 18, 2020
RAC-CA concluded our Legislative Advocacy Campaign for 2020 with a huge success in building our relationships with state legislators and the Governor’s office and partial success on changing policy. RAC-CA’s legislative campaign, like everything else in our lives, was turned upside down by the pandemic.
Setting Our Legislative Agenda
RAC-CA concluded a process of selecting our legislative agenda in early March. Dozens of lay leaders from congregations across California participated in six issue research teams to identify bills to support, and 178 people from 50 Reform congregations and communities participated in webinars to prioritize the agenda. Less than two weeks after RAC-CA approved its legislative agenda, the pandemic made that agenda obsolete.
RAC-CA soon settled on a new Pandemic Agenda and focused its efforts first on reducing the number of people in prison and then later on adding new revenue to the state budget in order to prevent draconian budget cuts and to give the state the funds it needs to respond to the pandemic and the accompanying economic crisis.
Our Meetings with State Legislators and Governor’s Staff
Forty-two California Reform congregations and communities met with 39 state legislators plus staff members of the Governor to advocate for reducing the prison population and increasing state revenue. RAC-CA submitted our own letters and signed onto group letters to the Governor and the legislature on these issues. RAC-CA leaders also testified at public hearings.
During this campaign, RAC-CA met with more legislators, more intentionally, than we ever have before. We presented RAC-CA powerfully in these meetings through letters and testimony, and legislators and the Governor’s staff now have a clearer idea of what a strong force RAC-CA is. Many of our congregational leaders have already followed up with the legislators we met with, further strengthening those relationships.
Partial Policy Victories
RAC-CA was a key part of the effort that got the Governor and the legislature to move on our issues, even if they didn’t move as far as we wanted them too.
The spread of COVID-19 from the prison in Chino to San Quentin was an avoidable tragedy, both for the prisoners and guards that were infected and for the spread beyond the prisons by prison staff who bring the virus home to their families and communities. RAC-CA’s recommendations for the release of more prisoners in a safe way would have avoided this tragedy. California has been reluctant to release prisoners from the state’s overcrowded prisons despite the health threat because of the cost of safe release – which should include testing, quarantine, and housing for released prisoners – and because of the political cost that could hurt politicians if a released prisoner commits a crime. Public pressure from RAC-CA and others led the Governor to announce on July 10 the release of up to 8000 prisoners. This is a good first step, but more is needed.
RAC-CA also made partial progress on increasing revenue in the state budget. The Governor and key legislators privately recognize the need for new revenue but are reluctant to increase taxes because of a fear of political backlash. The advocacy by RAC-CA and our allies gives them the political support they need to raise revenue. The “final” state budget passed at the end of June had a modest revenue increase achieved by canceling business deductions for net operating loss and limiting business incentive tax credits. While this budget was passed in June in order to meet the constitutional requirements, it is widely expected that the Governor and State Legislature will negotiate an amended budget in August that may include new revenues. Like we did on the prison population reduction issue, RAC-CA helped win a small step forward on new revenue for the state budget but further state action is needed.
What Is Next for RAC-CA
With the passage of the budget in June, RAC-CA and Reform congregations and communities throughout the state turned their attention to a civic engagement campaign that will ensure our congregations/communities are 100 percent voting; reach out to voters of color in states with strict voting laws to help them overcome voter suppression efforts; and educate our congregations on the critical revenue shortage in our schools and local communities and whether or not proposition 15 is the best way to address that shortage.
RAC-CA will continue to submit letters and testify on our two highest priority legislative policies, but the bulk of our efforts for the rest of the year will be on nonpartisan voter engagement, not legislative policy.