Caution: Legislation Ahead!

As you read these words you are most likely looking ahead to the upcoming winter break, holidays, and New Year.  The next few weeks are certain to rush by in a blur.  Blink your eyes and it will be January, 2018.  Not only will you have returned from your much deserved time off – so will the California Legislature.  And this being the second year of our state’s two-year legislative session, the month of January will see a flurry of activity.  So-called “two-year bills” – measures that were introduced in 2017, but failed to win passage out of their houses of origin – must advance prior to the end of the month, or die. Some of these bills will undergo amendment in ways that completely transform their content.  And a spate of new measures will see the light of day.

Last year, 2,980 bills were drawn up in the chambers of our state capitol.  Of these, 1,189 were signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown, while 118 succumbed to his veto.  By the time we reach the February 16, 2018 deadline for the introduction of new bills, Sacramento will be running at full tilt.  That being so, this might be as good a time as any to review how CAPSO tracks and acts upon legislation of interest to California’s broadly inclusive private school community, and let you know how you can follow along and weigh in.

To identify bills of interest, we use special software to sift through every piece of proposed legislation that is introduced or amended, flagging bills that contain key words and phrases. It’s a no-brainer to search for bills containing the words “private school,” but search terms such as ‘school bus’, ‘tuberculosis’, ‘minimum wage’, ‘deduction’, ‘Commission on Teacher Credentialing’, and many others may not be as obvious.

Our software also identifies bills that propose changes to specified portions of existing state law.  If, for example, any bill calls for a change to California Labor Code Section 515.8 – the section that spells out which requirements must be satisfied in order for private school teachers to be deemed exempt employees – we’ll know about it. Ditto for those sections of law addressing the filing of the private school affidavit, mandated reporters, criminal background checks, vaccinations, etc.

Once bills have been flagged, the toughest part of the process follows: reading the text of the proposed legislation.  Fortunately, the Office of Legislative Counsel prepares a summary that serves as an introduction to every bill, and a perusal of this narrative overview often determines whether a measure has no relevance to a private school audience, of whether it contains provisions that require a close reading of the text.  If there’s any doubt, further study of the text, and a phone call to the author’s office are in order. Legislators’ staff are almost always happy to receive questions and dispel confusion. Questions for which there are no readily apparent answers can signal vagueness or ambiguity in the text of a bill, and inquiries often lead to amendments that improve legislation by adding clarity.

During the week leading up to the deadline date for the introduction of new bills, the number of new measures appearing each day increases exponentially, producing a torrent of new reading material.  By the end of the ensuing weekend, I will have produced a list containing about 100 bills that, in my estimation, could exert a direct or indirect impact upon California’s K-12 private schools.

My next step is to check my list of bills against that compiled by the Chairperson of CAPSO’s Public Policy Committee, Raymond Burnell.  Ray also happens to be the Director of Education at the California Catholic Conference of Bishops – the political arm of the Catholic Church in California.  In his professional capacity at the Conference, Ray is responsible for identifying and tracking an even broader swath of education-related bills. Being a scrupulous and keen-eyed consumer of proposed legislation, I can always count on Ray to flag bills that I have missed, as well as to help me think through the applications and implications of all flagged bills.

That said, both Ray and I are only human.  Every now and then we miss one.  And herein lies the first opportunity for you, esteemed reader, to be of service!  If you should learn of a bill that is likely to impact California’s private schools – whether for better or for worse – please furnish a “heads-up.”  Shoot me an email at ronreynolds@capso.org  Assume that the bill you are bringing to my attention is one that’s “off my radar.”  If I’m already aware of the bill, I’ll let you know along with a polite thank you.  If I’m not aware of the bill, you’ll get a really big thank you!

Next, I assign levels of concern – high, moderate, low – and potential actions – watch, support, oppose, oppose/support unless/if amended – to each bill and use those classifications to sort the bills into one of three lists: Primary, Secondary, and Miscellaneous.  At this point, the bills are vetted by CAPSO’s Public Policy Committee.  Some bills are moved from one list to another, some are dropped entirely, while others are added.  Oftentimes, committee members will raise questions that require clarification by the author of a bill, or even from the Office of Legislative Counsel.

Most importantly, the committee makes recommendations for action on bills of particularly high interest. The proposed action may consist of CAPSO’s Executive Director (yours truly) phoning or visiting an author’s office to express a specific concern about a particular provision of a bill. This quiet form of lobbying is oftentimes sufficient to produce amendments that remove objectionable mandates, dispel ambiguity, or strengthen language.  The Committee may also recommend that CAPSO adopt a formal position on a bill.  In such instances, the Association’s bylaws require unanimity among the members. A written briefing on the bill is provided to designated member-organization contacts together with the recommendation of the Public Policy Committee.

If the unanimity condition is satisfied, CAPSO’s position is reported to a bill’s author, as well as to members of the legislative committees before which the measure is to be deliberated and voted on.  Committee staff may include written comments tendered by CAPSO in their analysis of the bill, which becomes a part of the official legislative record.  When warranted, I, or a member of CAPSO’s Public Policy Committee may offer oral testimony in support of, or opposition to a bill at committee hearings.

You can follow bills assigned to CAPSO’s “Primary Watch” list on this web page. Additional information about key bills can be found on our “Legislation Notes” page.  And you can sign up to receive action alerts via CAPSO’s online Legislative Action Center.  We know you’re busy, but with just a few mouse clicks and a minute or two of your time, you can stay up-to-date on proposed laws that can impact your school, and make your voice heard in Sacramento.

Please accept my wishes for a joyous holiday season, and a healthy, happy, successful and fulfilling 2018!

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