Interview with Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson January 2020

Interviewers: Yvonne DeGraw, Kenia Guinto, Leslie Brtek, Legislation & Advocacy Committee

The interview started with SBWPC interviewers expressing gratitude for Sen. Jackson’s many years of advocacy for women.

Mentoring and staff diversity: Sen. Jackson has always had a female chief of staff and her legislative director is a woman. Her staff has always had racial, ethnic, and LGBTQ diversity. She looks for the best person, but also for people who have “that different experience,” because California is a state with a lot of diversity and “…it’s important to have all those voices heard.”

Sen. Jackson has little opportunity to make appointments to boards or commissions. She serves on the state Commission on the Status of Women and has mentored several women. Currently, she is proud and delighted that Monique Limón has decided to run for her seat. She shares her advice and wisdom in Sacramento with the Women’s Caucus, which she has chaired, and also with members who get together for a dinner that she organizes.

Sen. Jackson is always open to talking to anyone in the district who is thinking of running for office and has encouraged several women to run. She noted that it is still not easy convincing women to run for office, but she stands ready to encourage any woman who she thinks might be a good candidate. She has spoken at events with Emerge and other groups that encourage women, particularly underrepresented women of color, to enter the political arena. She has participated in SBWPC’s Run Like a Woman (RLAW) workshops and would do so again as her schedule allows.

Women on Corporate Boards SB 826 (2018, supported by SBWPC): Sen. Jackson provided some background, saying, “back in 2013 I did a resolution urging companies to look at the data and to bring more women onto their boards, because it was good for business. … Years later we had made no progress, so I crafted the bill, and I think the reason [it] got signed into law was because it was the governor’s last day to sign or veto bills, on the Sunday right after the Kavanaugh hearings. He watched those and he was disgusted, and he said … it’s just about time. He sent the copy of his signing letter to the US Senate Committee on the Judiciary.”

Senator Jackson said that SB 826 “… really poked the bear, and it’s had the impact that I had hoped. It has opened the conversation, and we’re now seeing more and more companies[comply]. Just a week or two ago, the CEO of Goldman Sachs said they’re not going to fund any new startups unless they have women on their boards. Every S&P 500 company now has added women to their boards. I’d say most of California’s companies now have women on their boards. And of course, the bill also calls to add more women, so that we end up with that critical mass [to create a significant impact].

Citing her work on Equal Pay, Sen. Jackson expressed her pride in the achievement for California and noted that her bill created a template that 41 or more other states are now using to create their own equal pay bills.

Paid Family Leave: Sen. Jackson observed, “Our society has not adapted to the needs of the 21st century” and that we need to replace the notion from the previous century reflected in TV shows such as “Father Knows Best” and “Leave it to Beaver”. “America has [not] been an intact family with two adults, the male who works and the female [who] stays home and is cheery and perfectly dressed at all hours of the day. It just isn’t the world we live in and probably never was. … Women are invariably in the workforce … [frequently] as the sole or the primary breadwinner, and often their incomes are necessary for families to make ends meet. So we need to do something to accommodate the fact that women who are of childbearing years and who are in relationships want to have children. We should be encouraging that, but we make it difficult for people to take the time they need to bond with a newborn,” as well as the challenges associated with aging parents or grandparents.

Sen. Jackson’s SB-135 on Paid Family Leave died in early Feb. 2020, but I she is bringing it back, focusing on collaborating with the governor’s office on how to get it passed. Nearly all Californians pay into the Paid Family Leave program. In each paycheck, “…there’s a little sliver taken out for unemployment insurance. A little sliver of that goes into the Paid Family Leave program, so you’re paying for your own family leave. But if companies don’t assure you that … you’ll have your job back, people [are afraid to take] it.” The earlier legislation was relevant to companies of 20 or more employees and helped 2.7 million Californians, but there are Californians who work for companies with fewer employees than that, and who do not have those benefits, so she is working on that. Because newborns need to be with both parents, this family leave program applies to both women and men, allowing leave for up to 12 weeks without losing their jobs. Reminding us that good bills often take a lot of time, the senator observed, “Paid Family Leave–I spent 35 years working on that to make it the ‘overnight success’ that it was.”

Sen. Jackson is still working on her Title IX bill, SB 493, seeking to put into law President Obama’s “Dear Colleague Letter” which dealt with how to go about having hearings for sexual assault on college campuses. The bill follows the guidelines that the Obama Administration spent eighteen months creating. The Dept. of Education under Betsy DeVos has terminated or ignored the agreement and has created rules that are “…absolutely appalling. No victim of sexual assault is going to report as a result. And, that’s her plan.” In trying pass the bill, obstacles with some of the private independent universities have been encountered; for example, USC, Stanford and some of the CSUs have been very reluctant to deal with this. “And I think we have to. So that’s a bill that is moving forward.” Sen. Jackson observed that Title IX “…has been critical legislation for women, in particular young women in school. It applies to sports, but it also applies to more than that. It requires that the educational experience be free of harassment and gives everyone equal opportunity to get a good education.”

About her “Pink Tax Repeal” bill this year [SB 873, which for which SBWPC has signed on to support], Jackson says, “That’s going to be a little tricky because it’s another one where you are poking the bear–the so-called free market. But there’s no excuse for charging $2 extra for 100 Motrin [advertising that is] good for menstrual cramps and charging $2 less for the very same product that does not have [advertising]. New York City just completed a study called ‘From Cradle to Cane’ showing how women pay more for products from onesies to canes for assistance. It comes to between $1,200 and $1,400 more a year that women pay. So we get paid less [for work], and we pay more [for products]. This follows up [my] legislation in the Assembly to address … the unfair disparity in charges for services. Their argument [in dry cleaning] was that the presses were made for men’s shirts, which button on one side, so they couldn’t use the presses for women shirts. So they had to iron them by hand, and that was the reason for the additional cost. It’s just nonsense, but it still exists today.”

Regarding Medicare for All or other health care funding, Senator Jackson explained the challenges: “California has been more proactive than any other state to enroll people in the Affordable Care Act. But part of that Affordable Care Act started to gradually reduce the participation of the federal government in paying the cost associated with it. California said that’s okay, because we think if we can put more people in the program, we’ll be able to reduce the cost to people, and at the end of the day, we won’t be spending more. [However, the Trump] administration determined to kill the Affordable Care Act and has made it so difficult that the cost of healthcare as it exists now is becoming a real challenge. So before we transition to something else, people are entitled to healthcare. When people are on a program and then are removed from the program, to me, this is not the way to get from point A to point B. … I just think politically and financially that we have to shore this up and then move on.… There’s a lot of fear and misinformation …. I think as people gradually see that the world isn’t going to end, and that by giving choice and allowing [participation in] a Medicare for All program or not, I think people will not be driven by the same fear.… They’ve been fed this nonsense that if you have health care for all you won’t have your own doctor. [We have to bring the discussion forward, but] before we do that, we’ve got to shore up what we’ve got now. In my last year, I think that my best most practical approach would be to make sure California can keep its promise to provide health care and to follow the Covered California plan.”

Senior issues: Jackson said, “senior issues do primarily impact women, because we outlive our men in most instances. California has a growing, almost booming, population of older adults, and we are not prepared for this, so I’ve done legislation to create funding to provide particularly lower-income people with the ability to access small grants, enough to do things like put grab bars in their showers. A third of all senior falls occur in the bathroom. … I want to see our aging population be able to age in place … at home. We certainly don’t have enough accommodations in nursing homes [or] senior facilities. … And once you break a hip or something like that, you [typically] can’t go back to your home. I’ve done legislation which has just passed that requires when we build new homes that they be built so that at some point in time it’s easier to adapt them. [For example,] if it’s a two-story home and a person becomes chair-bound, they can create a bathroom or alter the first floor so [they] can continue living [there]. It’s not hard to do.” In addition, in the Assembly Jackson did at work on elder abuse, particularly financial elder abuse, which is a pervasive problem.

Gun legislation: Sen. Jackson has had an interest in this since she was first elected, and cited her first bill in the Assembly, AB-17, which would have required registration of firearms. She has worked closely on this with colleagues for many years. Governor Brown vetoed a number of her bills. However, she did get one passed that removed multi-burst triggers. In addition, she observes, “One that I did that really hits home is the prohibited persons bill, which calls upon law enforcement, as part of their training, to see if a person is in possession of any firearms when they go on a wellness check. It’s for their own safety and for the safety of the community. … There is a possibility that they are going through an experience that may lead them to violence. I want to emphasize that mental illness is not in any way a guarantee or even a suggestion that people are going to use guns or firearms, but when someone is creating that concern … [law enforcement can] use the APPS system to find out if they have firearms. That bill came as a result of the Isla Vista tragedy. I think the diary of the shooter indicated that when they came to do a wellness check, if anyone had asked him if he had firearms, that would have blown his whole cover. It would have saved lives.”

SB-55 [supported by SBWPC and a “two year” bill] is underway. In 2015, there was authorization and funding for research through UC Davis’s Dr. Garen Wintemute, who had been doing research on who commits these crimes. His report showed that people who had just one DUI were 2.7 times more likely to commit a crime in the future and to use a firearm in the commission. This spurred Sen. Jackson to pursue legislation. Which “… is a hard one because a lot of people have DUIs. A lot of my colleagues who are very sensitive to the fact that people of color get stopped more than anybody else felt that this was going to perpetuate some of this bias, so I extended it to three drunk driving convictions … not just that you got pulled over. … The bill has stalled in the Assembly in the Public Safety Committee run by an African-American legislator from LA who is still worried about … bias, and is also worried [about] people who are convicted [having] their right to possess firearms removed. This is called the APPS program and it is not up to date [and] not functioning as it’s intended. There are a lot of reasons for this. People don’t give up their guns when they’re supposed to. The Attorney General’s office has had to hire people to go out and try to get the guns; that puts them at risk. So I’m trying to work on a way that we can … at least at the time a person is convicted of a crime for which they are banned from possessing firearms … they relinquish that firearm before they’re sentenced, so [they] can’t just walk away or do [some time] and have that firearm in [their] possession. That’s maybe a little more information than you need, but this is complicated stuff.”

[Note: SBWPC is a supporter of SB 897 (Jackson) Gun Violence Restraining Orders]

Funding: “Of course, everybody says I need more money. And although we are doing pretty well as a state–you know contrary to what everybody says [about people leaving California] we are still the 5th largest economy in the world. We create the bells and whistles and programs and technology and ideas, I think in great measure due to the extraordinary public universities that we have. … People go where the infrastructure allows them to move their goods and services, and companies go where the well-trained workforce is. But we have challenges as well. … Our biggest problem right now is housing and homelessness. When I first got elected to the Senate in 2012, the biggest problem was jobs. [But] we have done a great job, riding on the excitement, enthusiasm, innovation, entrepreneurship of many industries–the tech industry being one, the medical device industry, and others–to really become a world leader. … We are a ‘nation state.’ One out of every eight Americans lives in California. We are fifth [behind] only the United States, China, Germany, and Japan. We’re bigger than France. We’re bigger than Italy. We’re bigger than all those countries.”

Other legislation:

Sen. Jackson is preparing her bill package, which includes Title IX and the Pink Tax Repeal, which she believes will be “a tough one.” She is also working with Jackie Speier who introduced that very same idea in Congress this year.

Sen. Jackson was the chair and vice-chair of the Joint Committee on Emergency Management. She has several bills this year on wildfires and emergency services [SB 794, supported by SBWPC] and did some legislation in the past couple on these. She said, “It used to be that people were notified when the church bells rang for the CONELRAD alert system. We don’t have that anymore. So we need to figure out how to get our wireless companies to participate more. We need to make sure that law enforcement has access to people’s contact information, but I made sure to protect against it being used for any other purpose than trust and alert.”

Sen. Jackson’s SB 182 says we are not going to build new development in extreme fire danger areas and that certain requirements must be met: at least two ways to get in and get out; build homes with the most fireproof materials; have low burning or non-burning foliage. SB-50 did not effectively address that issue. “One size does not fit all in California, and I think that’s part of the challenge.”

Emergency communications bring up the issue of privacy. The senator chairs the Senate Committee on the Judiciary and pointed out that “in the Constitution of the State of California, the right of privacy is a specifically enumerated right: life, liberty, property, privacy. In the Federal Constitution right to privacy is only implied. That’s where Roe v Wade came in, because the Federal Constitution doesn’t have a specific right of privacy. We do in California, and I am determined to protect that right of privacy from … data collection agencies, … big tech companies that take our information and monetize [sell] it. That’s how they make [money]. I’m not sure if it’s Google, makes 80% of their profit selling our personal data, and we know that it invades our privacy. We know that it has impacted our elections, and we know that at some point it could be severely misused.” She compared this to the movie “1984” where “Big Brother” is watching each citizen and knows everything they are doing, “And that’s when we lose democracy. … I really feel strongly about trying to protect privacy. California passed the only, and therefore the strongest, privacy act back in 2018 with the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). The tech industry has come in full blast to try to undermine it, because they don’t want any accountability. But now when you go online to any location, they [now] have to tell you what they are planning to do with that information and give you the right to opt out. If you looked at any of these things, they’re 25 pages [so] clearly, I’m committed to seeing to it that we make them [easier] to understand. [Tech’s] goal is that you finally get tired and just walk away.”

The Environment: Sen. Jackson cites the environment as an important issue and did legislation last year to begin looking at oil and gas infrastructure. She notes that in the transition that must be made, it is critically important that we identify the cost of removing old infrastructure and try to ensure that not the taxpayers, but rather the oil companies who created the “litter, waste, and mess” have responsibility for cleaning it up. In the recent past she was responsible for legislation that prohibits California from expanding infrastructure to accommodate new offshore oil drilling in federal waters. She is also looking at bringing the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which was established 50 years ago, into the 21st century. She states, “I think CEQA has been a critically important requirement. It is being used as a scapegoat for our housing shortage. It is not the reason we have a housing shortage. But it is the reason we don’t look like Miami Beach.”

Sen. Jackson believes we can do better than SB-50 [failed bill addressing housing development] “But I do know that this community has tried hard in the downtown area to do low income housing. I also [recognize] the cost of living in this community, not just because of the high rent, [but also] the cost of land. The question is, how can we build affordable housing when it costs a developer $5,000,000 to buy an acre of land? We don’t want buildings 10 stories high. It’s a real challenge …. We really need to create the incentives for [both] developers and the community to come together and figure out how we can do more low-income and workforce housing.”

Public transit: Sen. Jackson has been fighting hard to get a commuter train to Santa Barbara, which is the hub of commuting both north and south; plus, traffic relief is needed. We have the rail, but it is owned by Union Pacific, which has no duty of any kind to the state of California; it is federally preempted, which results in little to no respect or consideration. This requires finding a way to get their attention and to make it worth their while to give us that option. We have a train now that she started work on while serving in the Assembly. The 19th Senate District goes about 120 miles, and she represents close to a million people. Faster and more efficient bus transportation is also a key consideration.

Education: “We’re funding education better, but not enough.” She is bringing back a bill that was vetoed last year, regarding evaluating tax credits that were passed before 2014 [when a new law instituted evaluations of tax credits]. For those tax credits before 2014, “ … we never followed up on them [and] … some go back to 1940. We give out $63 billion a year in tax credits in the state of California. Some of them are probably worth it, but we’ve never checked. I was working with the California Teachers Association last year [on funding. If evaluation proves that some tax credits should be rescinded, money could be freed up to go to education.] “Education is the key. … I think that everybody should be able to pursue the level of education that they aspire to and pursue the employment that is going to give them the satisfaction and the independence to live their own lives.”

Sen. Jackson is doing more on Continuing Technical Education (CTE) as well, and notes that “long distance learning” is also growing. Technology can be an effective factor. She mentioned the Khan Academy and that “Sal Khan came and spoke to our caucus a few years ago and told us how he does this. It’s just mind-blowing. Teachers get the homework and they can see where a student is missing the boat. Twenty students don’t learn at the same level. So you can address the boat for each student. … It’s an amazing way [to] identify what each child needs to succeed.”

Early care and education: “Of course, we’ve got to do more. That’s another big issue for me: getting money in the budget for early care and education. When kids come to the school and they’re already behind, they lose hope and they never catch up. They [are more likely to] end up in the justice system. And that is another thing we’re working on; … we’ve got to make our justice system one that works towards re-entry and rehabilitation and less about punishment and deterrence, because it doesn’t deter anybody.”

Poverty: Again, education is key. “But I attribute a lot of that to the federal government. Our tax policy has created such a greater expanse between the haves and the have-nots. We passed the Earned Income Tax Credit, which has been extraordinarily helpful to people. That $500 or $1,000 is the difference between them being in their homes or being on the street, being able to feed their families, being able to buy aspirin or some medication. When people have to choose between whether they’re going to eat or take their medicine, there’s something wrong in the richest country in the world.”

Plans for the future: “You know, I am really not sure what I’m going to do. … I think the first thing I’m going to do is take a little time off to sleep. Maybe take … walks on the beach with my husband…. I still feel that based upon the years of experience I’ve had in all different areas—I’ve practiced law, I’ve taught, I was the first public policy maker in residence at UCSB, I started 2 nonprofits, I had a progressive talk radio show here in town, which I loved, and I spent now 14 years … in the largest state legislature in the country–I probably have some knowledge that I could share. … But … I do not want to work 60 to 80 hours a week. I have been working for about 55 years. Most of my college buddies and friends are all retiring now or have retired. And I’m thinking maybe I should slow down. But maybe not.”

The interview concluded with these words: “What’s that great old expression? ‘I don’t know what feminism is, I only know people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat’.”