CA Assembly GOP Scores Win Against Dems Attempting to Kill Bills That Would Punish Fentanyl Dealers

It’s well-known that Republicans in the California legislature face an uphill battle due to their super-minority status, but what many don’t realize is just how uphill that battle is. Since the party in control can change the rules to their liking, Democrats have changed the Assembly rules in 2019 such that the chairman of a committee has unilateral control over what even comes up for a hearing within a committee – and they ruthlessly wield that power to suppress legislation they don’t like, and even to punish legislators who got out of line.

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Under a rule the California Assembly put in place at the start of the current session, committee chairs can decide whether to bring a bill assigned to their committee up for consideration. As key deadlines came and went this month for bills to move out of committee, chairs used the new power to quash bills by just not scheduling them for a public hearing.

No hearing, no debate, no vote.

Democrats—who hold all the chairmanships because of their party’s mega-majority in the Legislature—flexed their muscle not only to bury GOP legislation, but also to silently sideline bills by fellow Democrats that might be embarrassing to publicly vote down.

If there’s one issue we’d expect top Democrats in Sacramento to jump on, it’s the fentanyl epidemic. After all, Gov. Gavin Newsom has made a big deal about the issue during his travels and even visited San Francisco’s Tenderloin district just days ago with senior members of his staff as part of his efforts to address the problem.

But, they’re not jumping on it. They’re doing the opposite. Three weeks ago a Los Angeles Times headline proclaimed, “As fentanyl deaths surge in California, lawmakers kill bills that would punish dealers,” and in the article Assembly Public Safety Committee chair Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles) admits he “shelved” bills that were in his committee which would increase penalties for fentanyl dealers because he thinks they’ll lead to over-incarceration.

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This week, Assembly Republicans forced Jones-Sawyer to act and to schedule special hearings on six of those bills on April 27 by threatening to take the bills out of his committee and to take them up for a vote on the floor, which would put lots of Jones-Sawyers’ allies in a tough spot. If Jones-Sawyer simply allowed the bills to languish and die in committee, his allies in the Assembly would never be forced to vote against something that their constituents might want, or that might actually help their constituents.

Here’s how it went down.

After Jones-Sawyer’s first tactic, of ignoring the bills, failed, and both Assembly Republicans and families of those who died of fentanyl overdoses got loud in the media, Jones-Sawyer ran a media blitz announcing that he’d hold “informal” hearings in the fall so all of the stakeholders could take part. That would mean that no laws would actually pass this year.

Then, facing more pressure, Jones-Sawyer moved that timeline up to June. That timeline was not amenable to Assembly Republicans, because it ensured that the bills would miss the crossover deadline of June 2 so effectively was no different than the fall.

So Wednesday, April 19, the Assembly Republican Caucus sent a press release announcing that the next day they’d “move to withdraw six bills from the Assembly Public Safety Committee and take them up for a vote on the floor, forcing lawmakers to pick a side between protecting Californians from fentanyl poisoning or protecting drug dealers who profit off of the overdose epidemic,” then listed the bill number, author, and synopsis. Only one of the bills listed is sponsored by a Republican (Jim Patterson).

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Here’s how one Sacramento reporter posted the screenshot to Twitter, though. She cropped out what Assembly Republicans said and inserted her interpretation – that “Assembly Republicans will attempt to force a vote on fentanyl bills tomorrow.” Interestingly, that’s similar to Jones-Sawyer’s framing in a statement he issued shortly after this tweet.

That same afternoon Jones-Sawyer denied he was holding up the bills in an interview with Sacramento news channel KCRA. He was simply trying to help his bumbling colleagues and making sure they didn’t get killed, he claimed.

“The bills aren’t being held up, they weren’t making it through and I wanted to make sure they didn’t get killed or die,” Jones-Sawyer [said]. Jones-Sawyer has the power to make recommendations on legislation, and most of the fentanyl-related measures had received a NO recommendation from him prior to the effort to hold a special hearing on the issue.

Shortly after the Assembly Republicans’ press release Jones-Sawyer released his response, which expertly invoked the Democrat playbook (and which didn’t invoke expert grammatical skills).

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Statement from CA Asm. Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles) on April 19, 2023. CREDIT: Screenshot

He said, in part (original spelling preserved):

As Chair of the Assembly Committee on Public Safety, I believe the attempt to subvert the process by 18 members of a single party representing less than one-quarter of Californians is nothing more than a high jacking of our democratic process. This is of course nothing new with regard to the Republican playbook.

Assembly Republicans have announced a “my-way-or-the-highway” approach. I instead favor a bipartisan, collaborative conversation….

So is “high jacking of our democratic process” by one person okay, then, Asm. Jones-Sawyer? Because that’s what we currently have. And the thought that Jones-Sawyer favors “a bipartisan, collaborative conversation” is just hysterical. No, in whatever committee he chairs, it’s been operated with a  “my-way-or-the-highway” philosophy.

The Assembly Republican Caucus, led by James Gallagher, hit right back on Jones-Sawyer’s statement – and hit hard.

The tweet thread reads:

What’s faster than democracy in California?

The rate at which people are being poisoned by fentanyl while the Public Safety Committee drags its feet.

And how is it undemocratic to allow elected representatives to vote on legislation?

Hijacking the democratic process is when one lawmaker unilaterally blocks Democrat & Republican legislation from debate. And it’s especially atrocious when we’re trying to stop a killing spree.

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Gallagher has been a fighter against the Democrat supermajority for years and especially against Newsom’s draconian COVID restrictions, filing suit against the Governor along with now-Rep. Kevin Kiley. Although Kiley has now taken his skills and spunk to Washington, D.C. (and not a minute too soon!) some new Republican Assemblymen have taken up his mantle, namely James Patterson and Josh Hoover, both of whom worked closely with Kiley in Sacramento.

Between this pressure and the knowledge that his KCRA interview was a complete failure (more on that later – it’s almost a Kamala-esque exercise in making word salad), Jones-Sawyer’s hand was forced. By 9:18 AM on Thursday morning, an “agreement” was announced.

In a move that can only be explained as gaslighting or some kind of dementia on Jones-Sawyer’s part, the lawmaker then claimed that he and other Democrats had “been calling for a comprehensive hearing on fentanyl for nearly two years,” and their “request was denied last year.” Then he said that he “worked with Assembly Leadership to secure a hearing for bills introduced this year before the constitutional deadlines.”

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Of course, he shied away from the KCRA reporter he’d talked to the day before when she approached him at the Capitol.

Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Hatami, who’s already announced that he will challenge George Gascon in 2024, said that Jones-Sawyer’s contention that the fentanyl situation is similar to the “war on drugs” and the crack cocaine epidemic is false. Not surprisingly, Gascon, who was endorsed by Jones-Sawyer, also doesn’t support the bills. In a statement to RedState, Hatami said, “Thousands of Californians including many children die each year from Fentanyl poisoning. This isn’t like the crack cocaine epidemic that led to the ‘war on drugs.’ Fentanyl is a deadly poison, and this is a war on the people of Los Angeles.”

Californians overwhelmingly want their legislature to take action on this issue, and thanks to the super-minority sticking to their guns, six pieces of legislation that could help will now move forward.

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