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Legislation: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

October 15, 2011

The end of another legislative cycle has come and gone, including the new Governor’s first opportunity to pull out his veto pen.  As an advocate for homeless youth my interest, not surprisingly is on those bills related to youth, homelessness and housing.  All in all, it was a somewhat good (but not great) year for at-risk youth, in particular foster youth, and a bad year for housing.  The needs of the homeless were largely ignored by the California legislature, which makes it a bad year for them too.  For foster youth we saw the passage of AB 212 along with a host of education related measures.  AB 212 is clean up legislation for AB 12, and is therefore not particularly glamorous in its own right – but it was crucial to ensuring that AB 12 can move forward on track and on schedule.  For those who spent the year mired in the weeds of regulation development – thank you for the tremendous effort that it takes to dig down deep into the muck of obscure statutory language.  On the education front, foster youth will now have priority status for community college and Cal State University enrollment (AB 194), an easier time enrolling in school (AB 709) and an easier time transferring between schools without having to repeat coursework (SB 578).  Youth in general, and particularly LGBT youth, will hopefully have an easier time of things with new legislation meant to address bullying in schools (AB 9) and colleges (AB 620).  Minors 12 and older can now get the HPV vaccine without their parents permission due to the passage of AB 499.  And homeless youth got a little breathing room from having their wages and bank accounts garnished for certain citations (AB 1111).

When it came to affordable housing more broadly the landscape is quite a bit bleaker.  There was one bill  (AB 483) that escaped the Governor’s veto pen that will make developers who use funds designated for building supportive housing for the disabled target those most at need. AB 1220, however, the key bill sponsored by housing advocates was not so lucky.  AB 1220 was another one of those un-sexy but important anyway bills – in this case related to the enforcement of housing elements.  On the housing side though, the story is not really in the recent round of gubernatorial signatures and vetoes but rather in the ongoing battle over the redevelopment agencies – one of the largest sources of funding for creating new affordable housing.  If the Governor’s plan regarding the redevelopment agencies incorporated into this year’s budget survives current court challenges, the results could be catastrophic for affordable housing.  Projects built for homeless youth typically require multiple funding sources to make them viable and the loss of this significant pot of money should be of concern to those who serve homeless youth.  According to Housing California “Although the Legislature pared back Brown’s redevelopment proposal to protect as much housing money as possible, the resulting legislation at best created a year of chaos, delayed construction, and lost opportunities for nonprofit developers. At worst, his efforts could shut down redevelopment — and the much-needed affordable homes it creates — altogether.”

And that leaves us with the ugly – realignment.  The most notable thing about the legislative session that just drew to a close, as it relates to the realignment of foster care and child welfare funding from the state to the counties, is that nothing happened.  With realignment poised for implementation during the next fiscal year, it is frustrating that this year will end with no guidance for how this is going to play out and even more importantly, nothing to give us confidence that the money for realignment will be enough to fund needed services.  Perhaps calling realignment ugly is overly harsh, but “The Good, The Bad and the We’re Just Not Sure What to Call it Yet” isn’t a very catchy title.  And despite my frusturation I’m still holding out hope that with strong advocacy there will be some way to turn this frog into a prince – or at least make it a frog we can live with.

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