August 21, 2017
On Monday, Aug. 21, the California Legislature reconvened after summer recess for a session lasting until Sept. 15. Two of the bills that McGeorge Legislative & Public Policy Clinic students worked on during the 2016-2017 academic year are still in consideration for becoming law.
AB-413, which has not received a single "no" vote in the California Assembly or Senate, is awaiting final passage in Assembly before heading to Governor Brown's desk. AB-90 passed the Assembly and advanced to the Senate where it was re-referred to the Appropriations Committee on July 13.Read a summary of all of the 2016-2017 Clinic bills and ideas here.
9/14/17 Update: AB-90 passed the Senate and arrived on California Gov. Jerry Brown's desk to sign - Read more in a Los Angeles Times article.]. AB-413 was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown on Sept. 1, 2017.
The Legislative and Public Policy Clinic's reputation at McGeorge School of Law convinced Jordan Catalano to apply.
Catalano, who graduated in May 2017, says the four-year-old clinic's record draws students. During the clinic's first three years, Gov. Jerry Brown signed eight of the nine bills students developed that made it to his desk.
"It's legendary among the students in my concentration," says Catalano, who completed the Capital Lawyering concentration and worked on SB-791, (Steven Glazer, D-Orinda), which would mandate the state's institutes of higher learning to release more information about the repayment status of student federal loans. "A lot of people go that route specifically to do the clinic."
Professor Rex Frazier, '00, president of the Personal Insurance Federation of California, and a McGeorge adjunct professor, started the yearlong practice skills clinic in 2013 to give students hands-on experience in developing and shepherding bills and regulatory changes through the legislative process. The fifth clinic will start in the 2017-2018 school year.
"I don't know if the students have changed the trajectory of California law, but for me it has reaffirmed some of the idealism that brought me to Sacramento in the first place," Frazier says. "I can see how individuals who don't have political power can pick a smart fight and win."
Students have to apply for one of 12 spots. They work in groups of two or three developing bills or regulatory changes. During the first semester, students develop ideas, conduct extensive policy research and then transform the best one into proposed legislation.
Students repeatedly said how much work they put into the clinic. The process may seem straightforward, but shepherding a bill through the legislative process is inherently complex and designed to stop legislation from advancing.
During the second semester, students search for a legislative author, seek allies in interest groups, negotiate with opposition, testify in committee, and lobby legislators and staffers to convince their bosses to vote for their bills.
During the 2016-2017 school year, all five groups developed proposals worthy of introduction to the Legislature, Frazier says. One group, however, was unable to secure an author. The students instead focused their efforts on creating a public relations campaign to build a better political climate for the bill's possible introduction during the next legislative session.
Students repeatedly said how hard it was to come up with a narrow, fixable problem and an easy-to-implement solution. Some groups go through at least a half-dozen ideas during the first semester. Liz Castillon Vice, who graduated in May with a Master of Science in Law degree, worked with Melerie Michael, '17, on SB-350 (Cathleen Galgiani, D-Stockton), which would have mandated that prisoners' electronic medical records follow them as they are transferred between government-run facilities or programs if compatible systems are available. The bill applied to prisoners with any medical diagnosis, but the students' intent was to protect prisoners with mental health diagnoses. By ensuring that medical records follow prisoners as they are transferred or released, the bill would ensure that inmates or parolees continue with the medical treatment they'd been receiving in prison.
Vice, who has a nearly 20-year background in health care policy, described how challenging it was to identify one problem in a morass of many. It was easy to say there's a problem with mental health in prisons, Vice says. But it took an entire semester to meet Frazier's challenge to find one problem that stirred social indignation in others, a litmus test Frazier encourages his students to meet.
"You realize it's very hard to identify a problem that's solvable," says Vice, who is looking for a job developing mental health care policy to continue honing the skills she developed in the clinic.
Another challenge is boiling down a complex idea and its solution into a two-minute elevator pitch students will make to legislators, their aides, committee consultants and anyone else whose support they need. Students learn how to frame an issue and how to overcome the biggest hurdle, according to Frazier, which is the skepticism of others.
"Figuring out how to take a complicated piece of law and narrow it down into a two-minute elevator pitch that's honest and truthful, but short and succinct is way more challenging than I ever imagined," says Jess Gosney '17, who started a job this fall as a staff attorney with the Office of Legislative Counsel.
Gosney, along with graduates Lilliana Udang and Charles Wiseman, worked on AB-413 (Susan Eggman, D-Stockton), which unanimously passed an Assembly floor vote and is going through the Senate. The bill would make it legal for all domestic violence victims to clandestinely record their abuse and submit it to court as evidence.
Gosney and Udang say their group wanted to work on a bill that empowered women or children. They wanted to craft a bill that would affect lives positively and wasn't just a technical change to the law.
"We wanted to do something that would help people and that could actually make a difference," Udang says. "It's an opportunity that you shouldn't waste. Being a Latina from Stockton, you see gang violence and crime rates go up while you're growing up. ... I knew I needed to do something when my peers back home are unable to."
Students learn that having a good idea does not guarantee support. Lawmakers might agree a bill is good on principle but has significant political problems that throw its viability into question.
"Making a law is more than just, 'Is your law a good law and will it help people?'" says Ryan J. Mahoney, who graduated in May and worked on SB-791. "It's, 'Is your law a good law? Will it help people? How effectively will it help people? ... And then who's against it, who's for it and why? Making a law is much more complicated than just the quality of the law."
Brandon Chaidez and Caitriona McOsker, who both expect to graduate in 2018, learned about the politics involved in getting legislation passed. They approached Assemblyman Jim Cooper, D-Elk Grove, about authoring a bill that would enforce stricter training requirements for private security guards who work in alcohol-fueled venues. Cooper authored a similar but unsuccessful bill the previous year and they said he seemed supportive of their efforts, but ultimately didn't sign on. The students were unable to secure another legislator because lawmakers didn't want to get involved in another colleague's area of expertise, Frazier says.
Ultimately, the students were unable to secure an author and worked on a public relations campaign for a future bill. It was a lesson about the importance of reaching out to potential supporters earlier in the process when their backing could change a legislator's mind, Frazier says.
Nicholas Scheuer, who worked with Louie Ponce on AB-90 (Shirley Weber, D-San Diego), which would reform the oversight and use of the state's CalGang database, a repository of information about alleged and identified gang members, says he learned that negotiating relationships is key to shepherding a bill through the legislative process. "We learned how to navigate the political labyrinth of relationships within the Capitol," Scheuer says, who graduated with Ponce in May.
"We learned that everything about a staffer's and a legislator's job is about relationships and convincing people that their ideas are both worth listening to and worth voting for."
Ponce and Scheuer say they were pleasantly surprised how cordial and accessible legislators and their staff were. Ponce says he and his classmates spent so much time being drilled by Frazier, who was constantly pinpointing weaknesses in their arguments.
The constant inquisition prepared clinic students well for professional meetings. Students lack money, power and prestige, tools that lobbyists have at their disposal, Frazier says. When he thought about how he wanted to brand the clinic, he focused on how he wanted students to be perceived.
"One thing we can control is to make sure that people know that when these McGeorge students come in they are very prepared and they always have strong ideas," he says.
One of Frazier's goals is to help students get jobs in and around the Capitol. Elizabeth Enea '17, who worked on SB-791, secured a competitive Assembly fellowship that starts this fall. About 400 people applied for 18 spots, Frazier says. Enea says she appreciated the chance to practice being a lobbyist. Law school entails reading about laws after they are formed, she says. The clinic's hands-on approach allows students to see a law's wider impacts as it's being developed.
"The clinic and the Capital Lawyering Concentration give you a unique look at how you can be not only an advocate in the legislative world but also how you can be an advocate in the judicial system as well," Enea says.
Michael, who graduated in May and worked on SB-350, says the clinic was one of the best experiences she had in law school.
"When Liz and I were sitting in committee and the bill was being voted on, it's a remarkable feeling knowing that I'm a part of the system," Michael says. "What we were trying to accomplish while we were in the clinic finally came to a point where I (became) part of the legislative process ... and that was really rewarding."
Private security-guard training proposal
AB-413, Confidential communications: domestic violence Author: Susan Eggman, D-Stockton
SB-350, Incarcerated persons: health records Author: Cathleen Galgiani, D-Stockton
SB-791, Student loan disclosure: cohort default and other rates Author: Steven Glazer, D-Orinda
AB-90, Criminal gangs Author: Shirley Weber, D-San Diego