Fuller talks about state laws, politics

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Fuller talks about state laws, politicsFor California conservatives, reports from the state capitol leave little to be excited about. But state Sen. Jean Fuller shared with her audience during an update for the Ridgecrest Republican Women Federated that she continues to work hard to represent those who elected her to office.

“It is always a pleasure for me to come to Ridgecrest because I have such dear friends here now,” she said. “This is one of the first places I visited when I came stuttering out of the wilderness and into the political realm.”

Fuller was the first of her family to graduate from college, and after spending two decades in the classroom she furthered her education to earn master’s and doctoral degrees and eventually became a superintendent of schools.

Since being elected to the Cali-fornia State Assembly in 2006 and the Senate in 2010, she has been a champion of local educational authority, small-business relief from overregulation and lower taxes. She also represents our state’s largest district, encompassing four counties in an area the size of New York State.

“We do spend a lot of time in our cars,” she said.

Fuller shared with her listeners the state legislative schedule, which begins in January with four days a week at the capitol until a budget is passed in June and wraps up in mid July with a three-week break for legislators to return to their districts.

She returned to Sacramento last week for what she calls “Whack-a-Mole Month,” which lasts until mid September. During this time, bills that can’t get support during the main session are often gutted and rewritten, and gain approval through back-room trades, when they pop back up before the Senate with titles and numbers that sometimes have nothing to do with the language contained within.

“So that’s where we are in the cycle. People are frantic to get their bills out and they will do anything to see them passed. We try to whack the moles and raise objections that the process isn’t fair and they are not abiding by the rules. I tell people that no good bills ever come out this month.”

She said all the legislation coming out is controversial. For example an Environmental Quality Act reform bill was completely rewritten so that the only portion of the legislation that remains deals with a project to build a stadium in Sacramento.

A bill signed last week by Gov. Brown that has also been at the center of statewide controversy is the language that eliminates school board discretion on dealing with transgender issues.

Fuller said that educators addressed those issues the same as any other special-needs issue — “you work with the student and family to make accommodations for them.” Now legislators have forbidden schools from dividing facilities such as restrooms and locker rooms by gender.

The first issue that cropped up revolved around parental concern about how having high-school-aged boys empowered to shower with the girls would impact safety and school oversight. Fuller said that with no compulsion for students to go through any sort of counseling or vetting, the implications are much more far-reaching.

For example, a boy who didn’t make the cut for swim team might decide he identifies female in order to make the girls’ team. But he can still self-ID male so that he can stay on the football team. And he can change in either locker room regardless of the school’s ability to provide oversight.

“Everybody wants to be fair, and everybody wants our schools to be the best. But when you don’t balance the rights of the majority with the rights of the individual, that’s where you get into trouble,” said Fuller.

She added that as an educator, her fundamental objection was in failing to empower local school districts to find solutions that serve all students.

“I predict lawsuits. There will be school boards blindsided by large crowds — we’ve already seen that. And there will probably be a lot more families who move to charter schools. And I always feel badly when our public schools suffer because of decisions made at the capitol.”

A member of the audience asked whether this policy increases student vulnerability to sexual predators. Fuller said that was possible, and that the state was not providing schools with additional funds to put the appropriate controls in place.

Another asked what happened to majority rights. “Unfortunately, we are not electing enough majority rights defenders,” said Fuller.

“This is a game changer. It’s going to affect every school and every community. I don’t know how to work this one out. School boards will have to enforce this, because their job is to enforce the law. But I think we are going to see problems arise out of this.”

She said that another misguided action by the state to save money by closing prisons — thereby overcrowding county jails and resulting in the mass release of 30,000 inmates across the state — has been followed by sharp spikes in criminal activity.

“I have been criticized for saying that the rise in crime was linked to realignment because I couldn’t prove it,” she said. “Well I’m not trying to prove it. I’m just saying if you don’t have locks on your home, a surveillance system and a big dog, you might want to think about getting them.”

She said this was another case where individual rights trumped public safety. Inmates have to be housed in such a way that gang members don’t mix so their safety is not compromised. The result is that criminals are squeezed back out onto the street where they continue to break laws and police can’t lock them up because the prisons are already crowded.

A silver lining is the possibility that the governor will make an agreement with the guard union to reopen empty prisons — thereby immediately creating not only local jobs but also space for incarcerated criminals.

“Your law enforcement are really struggling. We have high standards here of making sure our communities stay safe. This made their job a lot harder.”

Fuller said she continues to push for legislation that brings more funding to the under-manned front line of defense in public safety. “They keep saying we need do to a better job of providing services and rehabilitation and giving criminals jobs. But in the meantime we have to keep people safe.”

While the California legislature has been wracked with deeply divided partisanship, Fuller has made some progress reaching across the aisle. She said her seat on the Senate Committee for Natural Resources and Water in particular has allowed her to work with colleagues on issues that focus on region, rather than party affiliations, thus strengthening bipartisan ties.

Earlier this year she was also the first Republican in more than a decade to run a session.

“I think the differences between the State Senate and Assembly are a lot like those in Congress,” said Fuller.

“In the California Senate, things are harder to change because there are fewer legislators and their terms are longer. But I think the tone is also more collegial. We’ve known each other longer, we’ve already gone through that adolescent phase where you shake your finger in someone’s face and realize it doesn’t do any good.”

While Assembly sessions are marked by side conversations and dealmaking during presentations and voting, Senate members are required to be seated.

“Those things make a difference,” she said.

Last election both upper and lower houses secured supermajorities for Democrats — which both Fuller and her Assembly counterpart Shannon Grove said posed a challenge for conservatives.

But Fuller noted that recent changes in the senate may pave the way for greater representation for conservatives. After Democratic state Sen. Michael Rubio resigned, Republican Andy Vidak was elected to take his place. State Sen. Ron Calderon, whose office was raided by the FBI in June and has since been the target of a federal criminal investigation, is not always present for voting.

“We are one, maybe two, conservatives away from being back where we want to be.”

Story First Published: 2013-08-21