Holiday message from Senator Wieckowski

December 14, 2017

Dear Friends,

With the holiday season upon us and 2017 winding down, December is an appropriate time to reflect on the past 12 months and look ahead with hope and optimism as the New Year approaches.

The California Legislature passed several important bills in 2017 to begin repairing our streets and highways; to provide a dedicated fund for financing affordable housing and approving a housing bond measure; to continue California's global leadership position in the fight against climate change; and to put a water and parks bond on the November 2018 ballot.

Several of my bills were signed into law, but first I want to tell you about three of my priority bills for 2018 that passed the Senate and will be voted on in the Assembly.  Each bill puts citizens before corporations and will help California consumers.


More than 40 million Americans have student loan debt.  Now at over $1.3 trillion, education debt outpaces credit card debt as the leading source of household debt.  These mortgage-sized loans cause many graduates to postponed buying a home, getting married, starting a family, and saving for retirement.  While federal loan borrowers are afforded lower interest rates, fixed interest rates, and more repayment flexibility, making it less likely they will default, private student loan borrowers have variable interest rates and consistently report their inability to negotiate with banks.  SB 16 levels the student loan playing field by limiting private student loan collections to 15 percent of a person's income - the same as the federal rate. (This bill is currently on the Assembly floor).

Low-income Californians desperately need a secure place to keep their money.  They get forced into check-cashing services and money orders because the law allows debt collectors to empty out their entire bank account for an old debt they're accused of owing. These seizures happen with little or no warning, leaving people without a way to pay for rent, food, medicine, and transportation, and forcing them to incur more debt just to get by.  Even if they can get free legal help to prove that they don't owe the money or should get their money back, the damage is already done. SB 298 would, for the first time, automatically protect from levy up to $2,250.  Emptying low income people's bank accounts today for past debt only traps them in the debt cycle.  SB 298 breaks the cycle. (This bill is on the Assembly floor).

The California tax code currently allows businesses to take a tax deduction when a court holds them liable for punitive damages - giving corporations an undeserved tax break for flouting the law while leaving the average taxpayer holding the bag. The purpose of punitive damages penalties is to penalize and deter egregious misconduct when it has been proven in court to the highest standard in civil law - clear and convincing evidence.  Tax deductions are for rewarding & incentivizing good behavior.  But a deduction for punitive damages works in exactly the opposite direction - it rewards and subsidizes the worst behavior by the most irresponsible corporate citizens.  SB 66 does away with this ludicrous law.  (This bill is in the Assembly Revenue & Taxation Committee).

This bill better protects cyber retaliation, or "revenge porn," victims from further exposure and threats to their privacy by providing stronger confidentiality protections in two ways.  First, it broadens the definition of "identifying characteristics" to include social media profiles, email addresses, account names, avatars, handles, IP addresses, and other unique digital markers.  Second, the bill gives victims a chance to request and receive a sealing order to protect their case records from public access for up to 60 days. (Signed into law. Chapter 233)

This bill authorizes the City of Fremont to transfer park land purchased with funds from the California Wildlife, Coastal, and Park Land Conservation Act to the Fremont Unified School District for constructing a new school.  It specifically allows 4.6 acres of Centerville Park to be used for an elementary school with the remaining acreage to be developed into a joint-use public park. In addition, 4 acres of an undeveloped area known as "Dusterberry Park" will be developed into a neighborhood public park. (Signed into law. Chapter 458)

SB 217 clarifies that the legally-required financial disclosures in family law cases remain admissible even if prepared in the context of mediation. Under California law, spouses owe each other a fiduciary duty to disclose full and accurate information of all their assets and liabilities during marriage dissolution or separation proceedings.  SB 217 ensures that no one can use mediation confidentiality as a shield to fulfilling that duty. (Signed into law. Chapter 60)

This bill follows last year's SB 1069 which eliminated the most onerous barriers to the construction of accessory dwelling units. As a result, California law now requires ministerial review, relaxes parking requirements, reduces duplicative fees, and grants automatic approval of a permit to create a unit within an existing space on a lot. SB 229 clarifies that the limits on connection fees and capacity charges apply to water and sewer districts, as well as cities and counties. (Signed into law. Chapter 594).

SB 407 ensures that people governed by homeowner's associations have the ability to exercise their rights guaranteed under the law to peacefully assemble and freely communicate with one another for social, political, or educational purposes.  Unfortunately, some homeowner's associations are using their covenants and codes to stifle residents' speech and use of common areas - fining and censuring residents when they disapprove of the content of their political speech.  SB 407 ensures that Californians' housing situations do not dictate their free speech rights. (Signed into law. Chapter 236)

This bill expands the radius within which BART can pursue transit-oriented development (TOD) projects from one-quarter mile to one-half mile. This quarter-mile extension will aid in achieving California's greenhouse gas emission reduction goals and simultaneously add sorely-needed housing stock to the most unaffordable housing market in the country. TOD is a form of urban development that focuses upon the creation of pedestrian-oriented mixed-use communities around high quality transit systems. These developments are designed to connect active and public transit and reduce dependence on the automobile.  (Signed into law. Chapter 100)

Special districts are created to provide a specific service or set of services to an area that would ordinarily be served by local or state government: Services vary from fire protection and highway lighting to pest abatement and water service. While many of these districts are crucial to provide services that local or state government may not be able to, they lack the accountability of local or state government. SB 448 will resolve issues of inefficiency by requiring the creation of a comprehensive list of special districts and creating an expedited dissolution process for special districts that demonstrate through regular audits that they are not performing their promised services. (Chapter 334)

It is an honor and a privilege to represent you in the California State Senate.  I am looking forward to a productive new year.  Until then, I wish you and your family a happy holiday season and peace, health and prosperity in 2018.

Bob Wieckowski
Senator, 10th District