On the eve of the signing of SB 8 and AB 1718, the bills that would ban smoking in state beaches and parks, the California Globe has uncovered new information about the developments, changes, and consequences of the bills. In an exclusive three-part series, we will bring to light the ways in which the bills with near-universal support were harmfully doctored and betrayed the trust of many of its one time supporters.
In the third part of our series on the state beach and park smoking ban bills we look into the mysterious last minute amendment to SB 8, that in turn, also effected the companion bill AB 1718. How did such a damaging and radically changed amendment get added in and approved without a peep? And most of all, was the tobacco lobby really behind it?
In early September, both SB 8 and AB 1718 were on their way to being approved by both houses. SB 8 in particular had already passed the Senate, and past similar bills had passed both houses as well. It was all but a forgone conclusion it would be passed.
But between being read again on the floor of the Assembly September 3rd, and being brought out again to be read on the 6th, the bill had been suddenly and unexpectedly amended. As we showed in part two of the series, allowances for smoking in paved areas in state beaches and state parks was allowed, and a religious exemption was thrown in, greatly increasing the amount of smoking that earlier bills had been up in arms about including.
Representatives for Senator Steve Glazer (D-Orinda) and Assemblyman Marc Levine (D-San Rafael), the two politicians authoring the bills, let it slip that the reason the bill changed those parts, and left in other parts like the lowered fine, was because California State Parks had proposed the new amendment.
However, this turned out to be untrue. Mike Lynch, the President of the California State Park Rangers Association heard the same rumor and checked up on it.
“We had heard that the amendment was proposed by California State Parks,” said Lynch. “But it wasn’t proposed at all. They told us they had nothing to do with it.”
So what did spark the change then? ‘Dana’, who works at the State Capitol, filled in the Globe.
“This was nearing the end of session, so things got crazy here. What I do know is that a few tobacco and vaping lobbyists were here. I saw both of them walking down the hallway, then shortly after by [Assemblyman] Choi, then Glazer and Levine. They obviously did something, because an amendment was added on shortly after.”
The inclusion of Assemblyman Steven Choi (R-Irvine) as a co-author on SB 8 has also been a mystery, as he accepted over $13,000 in campaign contributions from the tobacco and vaping lobby in 2017 and 2018.
Dana was frank with us. “You can’t assume anything. Just the timing of them being so close, followed by the amendment being beneficial to smoking, it added up.”
“It wouldn’t surprise me if the tobacco and vaping lobby had a hand in the amendment, but I wasn’t in the room with them, if they were in a room at all,” Dana said. “They were just together in the hallway.”
What is known is that the reason for the amendment was not what both Senator Glazer and Assemblyman Levine claimed it was, that pro-smoking Assemblyman Choi co-authored an anti-smoking bill, and that tobacco and vaping lobbyists were seen nearby all three of them almost exactly at the same time the bill was being amended.
“Something happened to make that change,” Dana continued. “Based on what I’ve seen it looks likely they were influenced to make the change by the tobacco lobby. But right now, only a handful of people in California, if that, truly knows why the amendment was added.”
The Globe reached out for comment from several Senators and Assemblymembers attached to the bill but did not receive comment back. Inquiries to several tobacco and vaping lobbying groups also brought the same results.
For Scott St. Blaze, the original author of the bill who worked doggedly to get it passed early on, he feels let down by what the bill turned into. He also told the Globe what has motivated him all of these years: “My father had been in the hospital for one thing and came out with another”, said St. Blaze. “He had picked up an infection, which took him down pretty fast. In what would be our last conversation together, I promised him that I would get my bill through. He was the one who taught me conservation and civic responsibility. He died the next day. Until my promise is fulfilled, there is no backing down for me, not today, not tomorrow, not ever.”
St. Blaze still wants the legislation passed, but he wants it done right, and not in its current form. Most of the people the Globe talked with expressed the same feeling. They aren’t against the legislation of banning smoking in state parks or state beaches at all, they’re just against the new amendments to SB 8, and AB 1718.
With different bills going back a decade, the State Beach and State Park smoking ban is at its closest point to being accepted. But it also has a history of stolen legislative language. It bans smoking, but it comes at a great environmental cost. It is on track to being approved, but that comes following a last minute change that may have been influenced by a lobby that back products that back harmful products – in fact, the same harmful products the ban is trying to stop.
The final decision comes down to Governor Gavin Newsom, who must weigh the pros and cons of the bill. And for an informed decision, all the pros and cons need to be known.
Scott St. Blaze summed it up well: “The final decision regarding SB 8 and AB 1718, now rests in the governor’s hands. To Mr. Newsom I ask, is this legislation something you will be proud to put your name on?”
Part I – The Stolen Bills