Government oversight is the responsibility of every California senator and Senate staff member, not “the job of a small group of individuals in a room,” Senate leader Kevin de León said during a speech Thursday to the Sacramento Press Club, where he laid out broad policy priorities for the year.
In his most extensive public comments since eliminating the Senate’s oversight office late last year, de León said he has asked every policy committee to get to work scrutinizing state programs.
“One thing we don’t always do so well is look back, after our bills have been signed into law, to make certain that they are in fact working as intended. The responsibility of a legislator does not end when the ink of the governor’s signature dries on their bill,” said de León, D-Los Angeles.
“I’ve asked our committees to look back at the major programs within their jurisdiction and spend the year evaluating their effectiveness and propose improvements, if needed. To ensure government is working efficiently, as well as effectively, we need to incorporate consistent and sustained oversight of all state government.”
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De León, who took over as Senate president pro tem in October, also talked about his relationship with Gov. Jerry Brown and his plans to push for more publicly funded child care, while sharing snippets of his childhood that have become frequent touchstones in his speeches.
As a young boy, de León said, he often had to stay home alone while his mother – an immigrant from Mexico who had little education – went to work cleaning houses in wealthy communities around San Diego. A shortage of affordable child care is hampering California’s economy, de León said, because it leaves many women unable to get a job.
“I will pursue child care legislation that will create more child care slots for working families,” he said. “Access to high-quality child care strengthens the economy, helping mothers who are struggling to balance work as well as family obligations.”
De León said he wants the state to spend more than Brown’s budget has proposed for higher education and child care, while acknowledging that most of the state’s increasing revenue must go to K-12 schools and community colleges under the Constitution.
“Austerity alone is simply not going to help those who are the most marginalized get (on) their feet and become part of the economic mainstream in California, so I do believe that certain targeted, specific, strategic human capital investments are needed,” he said.
De León said he thinks “the world of” Brown but that the governor may need “some more education” to better understand how poverty affects the lives of many Californians. He said Brown has joined him for lunch in Boyle Heights – a low-income, predominantly Latino neighborhood in de León’s Los Angeles district – and described a recent trip to Mexico City as the first time the men spent downtime getting to know each other, while stuck in traffic or waiting at airports.
“We talked about philosophy. We talked about Hobbes and Thoreau. And the Peloponnesian War and Socrates. I know he likes that,” de León said. “I can’t say to you that we’re close. I don’t know who is close to the governor, other than his wife.”
Call Laurel Rosenhall, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 321-1083. Follow her on Twitter @LaurelRosenhall.