Newsom urged to call lawmakers back to Sacramento to close broadband gap

7 October 2020 by Steve Blum
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More than 60 people representing nearly as many organisations signed a letter, which was delivered on Tuesday, asking California governor Gavin Newsom to declare a special legislative session to specifically address the growing divide between digital haves and have nots in California…

As leaders in industry, local government, non-profit, education, and media, we represent millions of Californian families, teachers, and older adults, all of whom should have access to the benefits of technology. We urge you to use your authority as Governor to reconvene the state legislature under a special session to pass universal broadband access legislation this year that makes the necessary investments in 21st century access to end the digital divide.

Although Newsom can call a special session and direct lawmakers to return to Sacramento, California governors rarely do. More often, they’ll call a special session during a regular session, to take advantage of quirks in parliamentary procedures. As a practical matter, a governor wouldn’t invoke a special session without the concurrence of legislative leadership. There’s little point to telling assembly members and senators to go back to work unless they want to do so. Once back, legislators set their own agenda and if they’re not of a mind to do something about an issue, they won’t.

So far, only senate leaders – democratic ones; republicans don’t count for much in that regard – have shown any interest in closing the digital divide. Last session’s flagship broadband bill – senate bill 1130 – was killed in the closing days by the top men in the assembly – speaker Anthony Rendon (D- Los Angeles) and majority floor leader Ian Calderon (D- Los Angeles) – after pocketing hundreds of thousands of dollars intense lobbying by monopoly model incumbents.

With the November election less than a month away and politicians of all stripes focused it, don’t bet on an order from Newsom. Post election, a lame duck special session is possible, but unlikely. The new session with newly elected members technically starts on 1 December 2020, but that’s usually just for organisational purposes.

The real action begins next year.

I’ve advocated for SB 1130 and for other useful changes to CASF, and I signed the letter to Newsom. I am involved and proud of it. I am not a disinterested commentator. Take it for what it’s worth.