Vida En El Valle: Latino Caucus Outlines Its Agenda
By: Cynthia Moreno
SACRAMENTO — When the California Latino Legislative Caucus helped pass a number of pro-immigrant legislation last year, they were heralded by many within the Latino community as trailblazers for recognizing both the changing demographics of the state and their needs.
This year, the Caucus has prepared a different agenda to continue helping and addressing the critical needs faced by the Latino community.
"This is the first of many discussions we hope to have about the Latino Legislative Caucus and its activities and priorities this year," said Sen. Ricardo Lara, chair of the Latino Legislative Caucus.
Last week, Lara was joined by several members of the caucus who have authored varies pieces of legislation the group intends to support this year based on a majority vote with the hope they will end up on Gov. Brown's desk later this year.
"We are 24 members strong and we are committed to playing a significant role in shaping public policy at the state level," Lara said.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the creation of what was once the 'Chicano Legislative Caucus', which eventually turned into the Latino Legislative Caucus — with the goal of protecting, promoting, and pursuing the rights of the Latino community throughout California.
California's Latino population is just shy of 40 percent, yet the caucus membership does not reflect the number of all Latinos throughout the state.
"Out of 120 members, there are 24 of us. We make up about 20 percent of the California Legislature. Yet, if we were to represent all of the Latino community fairly, we would need 38 members," Lara explained.
To increase their representation, they plan to continue to support Latino candidates and make an impact with their legislative proposals.
The responsibility of the caucus is heavy, Lara noted — as they try to ensure that legislative priorities are addressed this year. Last year, the caucus made some heavy changes in order to ensure equal responsibility among all members.
"We updated our bylaws, we re-designed our website and our committees' structure, but mostly importantly, we focused on how to better engage our community through public policy," he said.
This year, the caucus is set to focus on eight key pieces of legislation in the areas of health, education, public safety, worker's rights and water including:
SB 972 (Torres) Improving Covered California. This bill increases the number of board members on the California Health Benefit Exchange Board from 5-7 and adds additional desired qualifications and expertise for future Board Members.
SB 1174 (Lara) Multilingual Education at Schools. This bill places an initiative before voters on the November 2016 ballot to repeal Proposition 227 and allow public schools to teach foreign language immersion classes.
SB 1213 (Hueso) California Enhanced Driver's License. This bill allows for the creation of an Enhanced Driver's License to reduce border wait times and increase economic gain produced by efficient and secure cross-border travel.
SB 1365 (Padilla) California Voting Rights Act. This bill strengthens the California Voting Rights Act to make it illegal for election districts to be drawn in a manner that inhibits or dilutes the ability of a protected class from influencing an election.
SCA 5 (Hernández) Equal Opportunity Programs in Public Universities. This bill places an initiative before voters on the November 2016 ballot to repeal portions of Proposition 209 which eliminated equal opportunity in public colleges and universities nearly 20 years ago.
AB 1331 (Rendon) Water Bond. This bill, the Clean and Safe Drinking Water Act of 2014 places an $8 billion water bond on the November 2014 ballot to address our state's major water infrastructure needs.
AB 1522 (González) Paid Sick Leave for Employees. This bill allows workers in California to accrue on hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked and provides employers with the option of capping an employee's paid sick leave at 24 hours, or 3 days.
AB 1538 (Eggman) Cal Grant Eligibility. This bill amends Cal Grant eligibility criteria so that those academic institutions, which serve a low-income student population and have higher graduation rates, do not unnecessarily lose their eligibility.
Caucus members are hopeful these key pieces of legislation will help address some of the issues addressed by their respective consitutencies.
"Last year was a benchmark year for the Caucus. Passing both the Minimum Wage Law and the Driver's License Bill were two big items — both authored by Assemblymember Luis Alejo," said Lara.
Out of the 12 bills the Caucus supported last year, six or half were signed into law and three were negotiated into last year's State Budget. Two bills were held in the Appropriations Committee. One bill, however, is included in the governor's 2014-2015 State Budget proposal. Only one bill was vetoed by the governor but it has been included in the 2014-2015 State Budget proposal.
Support for the bills the members will carry out this year was based on a report released earlier this year titled, 'A Statistical Picture of Latinos in California' which analyzes key demographic, employment and social data concerning the Latino community.
Among the major findings, the report found that the Latino population is growing at a faster rate than the state's general population and will make up nearly half of all Californians by the year 2050. It also found that Latinos are more likely to not have health insurance, earn less than Californians as a whole, have high poverty rates, are less likely to own their own home and are younger than the state's population.
Further, there exists a substantial achievement gap for Latino students in k-12 public school system.
"While Latinos have taken great strides in California, there is still so much work left to do to help improve the quality of life for the state's fastest growing population. We have a shared responsibility to pursue an agenda that will improve access to jobs, education and quality health care," Lara said.
Contact The Reporter: Cynthia Moreno / email@example.com