“Overdose deaths far outpace COVID-19 deaths in San Francisco” was a recent headline from the Associated Press highlighting the troubling fact that while COVID-19 is the most immediate threat facing Californians, it is not the only one worthy of our attention.
COVID-19 has claimed the lives of about 1.8 million people worldwide, approximately 27,000 of which are right here in California. The virus has captured our attention through much of the past year, with good reason.
But the heavy focus on COVID-19 has left too many other issues either overlooked or ignored. Many of these issues existed long before the pandemic – and will likely be around long after – and many have only grown worse.
We are no better prepared for the next drought than we were several years ago when that was the biggest crisis. Wildfires pose an ever-increasing threat, while rolling blackouts are now a fact of life as a fire prevention tactic due to an insufficient power grid. Violent crime is on the rise. Our already-failing education system is in shambles after almost a year of COVID-19. The housing crisis is still a crisis. Pervasive homelessness in California is still a national disgrace. The exodus of Californians into more livable states is chipping away at our tax base and could cause the state to lose some of its congressional representation.
Of course, the opioid epidemic is still devastating families and communities, with mental health and substance abuse issues made worse by the pandemic. The economy is crumbling and getting people back to work will be a good start – but just that, a start. The business owners who have not been forced to close up permanently are teetering on the brink. Unemployed Californians are struggling to receive the benefits they are owed due to massive failures at the Employment Development Department. And so on.
Last year, the Legislature was limited in its ability to respond as our legislative session was cut short by COVID-19 closures. This year, lawmakers must get to work and stay at work despite the pandemic. Suffering Californians deserve no less.
The governor has proven to be well-intentioned but incapable of fixing problems on his own. The persistent issues at the Employment Development Department prove that. Too often settling for big announcements that never pan out, he’s created task forces and strike teams, nearly 20 by my count, that have not yet led to any sort of meaningful change. And now he is staffing his administration with political operatives instead of policy experts – a clear sign he is putting political spin before practical solutions.
Now is the time for the Legislature to lead by solving problems and creating opportunities for all on the substantive issues that matter to our constituents. These major issues need bi-partisan solutions, not political ones. We are legislators elected to change laws to improve the state. Let us do so.
As the Assembly Republican Leader I stand ready to work on these big issues in a bi-partisan manner. I have heard from Californians from all walks of life that they are hurting and want action. Many tell me they are about to give up on our state and leave. I say to them California Republicans stand ready, able and armed with new ideas to tackle these issues.
My Republican colleagues and I called for a special session just before adjournment last term so that we could stay and work, yet our requests were ignored. And things only got worse for Californians. Every delay means more Californians facing hardship.
COVID-19 is a health crisis that quickly turned into an economic crisis as well. With the recent uptick in coronavirus cases, it is even more urgent we get back to work. Our duty is to make the changes and reforms needed to get California moving again, to give every person the opportunity to thrive – in a safe environment – so everyone can achieve their potential and their dreams. Let’s get started.
Assemblywoman Marie Waldron, a Republican from Escondido, represents Assembly District 75, firstname.lastname@example.org. She is the Republican leader of the Assembly.