I want to start by thanking you for re-electing me as your Speaker.
I'm honored to be chosen again for this office, and I will continue to work to rise to the honor.
I will continue to be a members' Speaker. That is, one who consults with the members and makes decisions for the benefit of the membership.
In addition to being re-elected Speaker, I am of course honored that the people of the 63rd District have chosen me to represent them again.
Really, though, it is the work of this body that is earning us the right to continue to represent the people of California.
Today, representing California means treating COVID seriously.
For that reason, we are meeting for our organizational session in this unique location.
For that same reason, we are unable to celebrate the new session in the presence of our family members and staff.
We must continue to exercise maximum caution in order to bring this state through this pandemic.
Five years ago, when I first became Speaker, I spoke of establishing my priorities as oversight, fighting poverty and public participation.
Since then we have done remarkable things to help our fellow Californians who are most in need:
- We have expanded the availability of early childhood care to low-income working families.
- We have boosted the minimum wage.
- We have expanded tuition free offerings in higher education.
- We have made health care available to more Californians.
In the last four years, California has also consistently pushed forward on the public participation front.
The truest democracy is that where the most people are engaged.
While some states have worked to disenfranchise their citizens, California has moved to put the ballot into the hands of more eligible voters since I became Speaker.
The Voters Choice Act made it possible for registered voters to cast their ballots more easily in more places.
Our motor voter law makes sure that more eligible voters are registered.
And by putting ballots into the hands of each voter and by letting people mail those ballots without postage, we have taken public participation in elections to new heights.
These accomplishments are just on the subjects I mentioned when I first became Speaker.
We have, of course, gone far beyond that.
We took a dramatic step forward in the field of public safety when we enacted a bill to limit police use of force in 2019.
It was a struggle to get there, but I think we are all aware that we have to keep moving forward.
We have established goals on greenhouse gas reduction that people once thought were impossible, and we have created mechanisms that allow us to work toward environmental justice.
Our house was instrumental in establishing funding for our transportation infrastructure.
We stood together to pass more employment protections for exploited gig workers and overtime for farm workers.
Those farm workers are still cultivating the nation's food in the face of higher than average COVID infection rates.
It's important to also recognize the work we have done to get our own house in order.
A couple of years ago, California and the nation embraced the #metoo movement for pointing out sexual harassment and exploitation by those in power.
This was a call for us to recognize that our past operations were not enough to end the practice of workplace harassment in the Capitol.
We explored all our practices, and in the end, we changed nearly everything. We reformed training. We took investigation out of partisan control. We adopted policies that are intended not just to punish, but also to allow staff and members to learn from experience.
I am proud of our work in this area just as I am also proud that the Assembly has reached the landmark of gender pay parity for our staff.
We've worked hard on that. Just as we've worked hard to get women elected and to have women appointed as committee chairs. In fact, since I took over the Speakership in 2016, I have increased the number of women chairs by more than double.
We've also named women and women of color to offices that have never had women as leaders before including Asian American women as both Chief Sergeant and Legislative Counsel and an African American woman as Chief Clerk. And today, we celebrate another new first, as Eloise Gomez Reyes becomes this body's first Latina Majority Leader.
Still, we need to do more. To that end, just this past month I hired a diversity, equity and inclusion consultant to examine the Assembly's policies and procedures so we can achieve greater equity and inclusion.
I would also love to stand before you and say that our policy efforts and accomplishments have brought complete equity to our state and allowed us to solve the poverty puzzle in California. But we know that's not the case.
We know that in the past several decades, the economic gaps have only grown wider in this country and in California.
Now, despite a booming stock market, those in our lower tiers are still facing an economic struggle as COVID drives more Californians toward poverty.
A quarter million Americans have died from COVID. In California, the toll stands above 20,000.
It is true that the last time we met in Sacramento as the California Assembly, back in August, we were already facing the new and terrible demands presented by a global pandemic.
The past few months away from Sacramento have given us the opportunity to process the experience of working under pandemic restrictions.
I will ask you today to use that experience to focus this body's vision for the future.
Those of you who are new to the Assembly – Congratulations! You will now help us to face that challenge.
We know that we cannot legislate COVID away.
But we can use COVID as a lens for changing the way we look at how we legislate.
As a result of COVID, we have seen all these things:
- a need to protect people in dire circumstances from being evicted.
- a need to provide greater unemployment benefits in crisis situations.
- an upsurge in racial tensions and bigotry as segments of our population are unfairly singled out and ignorantly blamed for starting or spreading the virus.
- a need to protect every individual's health in order to protect the health of the community. We have seen the virus amplify longstanding health disparities and disproportionately impact Native Americans, Blacks, Latinos, and Native Hawaiian & Pacific Islanders.
COVID should teach us that an individual's lack of economic means is not the same as a lack of character.
Now more than ever, let us remember the social contract.
It should inform how we behave at all times.
California should be united against poverty all the time. Not just when we are in a war with COVID.
Soon, there will be a key change that we can count on in our favor.
That is the upcoming change of federal administrations.
Although there will surely be disagreement from a few of our colleagues, I believe that this will be a good change for every district in California.
It will be a remarkable thing to have a Californian advocating for us in D.C. A Californian who has experience in state government and has already worked on our behalf in Congress.
She is a Californian who represents the richness of our diverse nation: She is the first woman, the first African American and the first South Asian Vice President in US history.
Four years ago, when the outgoing president took the White House, I urged us to stay focused on the needs of California.
It was by focusing on the issues through our prism, that we could succeed.
Focusing on California remains the right strategy.
This time, we will not face opposition at every step, when we talk about the things that the majority of Californians care about: climate change, access to education at all levels, individual rights, women's rights, health care, fair treatment for immigrants.
But we still need to identify California's priorities, and we will still need to communicate that to the White House.
President Biden, of course, will have many more people seeking his ear besides us.
I, meanwhile, intend to continue listening to you as we chart our course.
I intend to continue ensuring that Assemblymembers have power to pursue their policy goals.
Success in the coming session will depend on that collaboration, but it will also take a focus on some key issues.
One of those is police decertification.
This is a continuation of our drive to make public safety in California truly about the safety of the public, not that of any special interest.
You and I do not have immunity for our misbehavior.
In fact we are under intense scrutiny.
Scrutiny is equally important for the public safety officers who Californians trust with our lives.
It is important that they do not have immunity for their transgressions.
I'm not talking about mistakes. I'm talking about life and death misdeeds.
Police decertification is about protecting good people from bad behavior.
We need to see that policy enacted in the current session.
California also must build on the work that we are doing on climate change.
There is no question that we are already a national leader with ambitious plans to control greenhouse gas emissions and change the models for our energy economy.
It isn't enough.
I want us to push harder to keep that progress moving forward.
This is something made even more urgent by another record-breaking year of wildfire.
Those fires put immense quantities of carbon into the atmosphere. That is true.
But some of you have already heard me point out that it is not an excuse to relax on greenhouse gases caused by humans.
Neglecting the impacts of vehicles and factories and energy generation created the nightmarish fire conditions we experienced.
Our emissions have raised temperatures and wreaked havoc with rainfall – too little here, too much in hurricane regions.
More disaster is inevitable if we don't control emissions.
It may be true that we cannot solve climate change acting alone in California.
But don't forget: Californians are leaders.
Since the 1960s, California governors and legislators of both parties have created solutions for clean air and water.
Other states and national administrations have followed. So has industry.
There is something else California needs to model.
That is environmental justice.
Environmental justice means ensuring two things:
- First, that our environmental actions benefit all communities. That we are devoting equal attention to pollution in disadvantaged communities, and providing equal environmental benefits – like parks, trails and bike paths – in those communities.
- Second, environmental justice means that the economic benefits of green industry accrue to those who most need it.
As we legislate to move to a cleaner economy, we need to ensure that economic inequality does not grow.
California cannot put the brakes on carbon-generating industries without having a strategy to support the Californians working in those industries.
Likewise, we need to guarantee that the people of lower-income districts like mine are beneficiaries of California's investments in sustainable solutions.
We need to erase those inequities – both in jobs, and in environmental benefits.
I have a third goal; one I know is shared with others in this room: the expansion of broadband services.
Our world today is dependent on the Internet, probably more than it ever depended on telephone service.
As we retreated to our homes to slow the spread of COVID, people became dependent on home access for every facet of their lives.
We saw uneven distribution of Internet access when California schoolchildren were unable to get online instruction.
We saw that access was not universal when people in wildfire regions were unable to get emergency updates that were literally matters of life and death.
This is not just a question of rich and poor.
Many of our rural Californians are unable to connect to this utility that provides information, education, entertainment, medical access and wildfire information.
California is an incredible hub for new technology, and yet many of our residents find themselves left out of basic Internet access.
We need to tackle expansion of broadband access, now, this session.
These are California's priorities. They are the things that the people of this state need.
I am also mindful of the challenges we face.
We could call COVID a barrier to getting work done.
We could call the current fiscal situation a barrier to getting work done.
We cannot afford to do that.
They are substantial challenges, for certain.
But they are not greater than the challenges Californians have faced throughout history.
Our challenges include those of Native Americans, who suffered from disease and massacres.
The challenges of Southeast Asians fleeing violence, like my wife Annie's family, or working class Mexicans seeking opportunity, like my own family.
We have built today's California collectively by facing those challenges.
I am confident we can face today's challenges and do even more.
I will not take COVID and our uncertain revenue picture as an excuse to say we have to make do with fewer resources, fewer opportunities.
Because when the state has less, that's a time when people hurt most.
That's the time when we have to do more for Californians.
This is possible if we make them our priority, instead of giving them what's left over.
I think we are moving in that direction.
We saw it when we passed one of the most difficult budgets in a decade earlier this year.
It is one of my proudest accomplishments that we made sure that budget took care of senior programs and early childhood education programs and nutrition programs and small businesses.
Let us focus on California's lifeblood – its common people – instead of on those who profit from their sweat.
By supporting our workers, our students and our children we will rebuild California's prosperity.
With help from our President-elect and Vice President-elect; with (I hope) a supportive Congress; with the collaboration of our colleagues in the State Senate and Governor's office; and with the hopes of 40 million Californians as motivation, we will make 2021 a year of seizing opportunities for healing, for justice and for building a stronger future.