By Jocelyn Leon
As an intern for Senator Scott Wiener, I’ve worked with our office on many issues, from the COVID-19 pandemic, to criminal justice reform, to housing affordability. I sat down with Senator Wiener to interview him about his legislative work and agenda. The following is a summary of our conversation.
In 2021, Senator Wiener focused extensively on COVID-19, as it placed a spotlight on the biggest issues facing our state: housing so unaffordable that multiple generations live together in small one bedrooms, mass incarceration and how unhealthy and immoral it is to pack people into jails, food insecurity, and health inequities — particularly for LGBTQ people, low income people, and people of color. During the pandemic, Senator Wiener has worked hard to address our the many issues facing our state.
Senator Wiener passed housing laws like Senate Bill (SB) 10 and SB 478. SB 10 provides a way for local governments to upzone certain transit-adjacent neighborhoods without having to go through the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). SB 478 ensures that, in areas already zoned for small multi-family housing, it’s actually possible to build that kind of housing. Senator Wiener wanted to address the housing crisis from different angles and wanted to continue in his work to reform zoning. San Francisco in particular, which has especially restrictive zoning, makes it difficult to build anything except a single-family home. Which is why SB 10, which makes it easier for cities to zone for more density, as well as 478 which removes particular barriers to multi-unit housing, are so important for improving housing affordability.
Senator Wiener also worked on bills on mental health and addiction. SB 519, which would decriminalize possession and personal use of psychedelics, garnered quite a bit of attention. Senator believes that it is important to decriminalize all drugs, as it is a health issue, rather than a criminal one. Moreover, psychedelics like psilocybin have shown great promise in treating some mental health issues, making their decriminalization very important. The bill is a now two-year bill, meaning it will be heard next year. There is also SB 221, which was signed into law by Governor Newsom recently and will go into effect in July of next year. SB 221 ensures that patients are able to receive mental health and substance use care in a timely manner. This bill removes the loophole which allows HMOs to delay follow up mental health appointments. The bill complements Senator Weiner’s SB 855, which the Governor signed into law last year. All of these bills are highly important, due the escalating mental health and addiction crises.
Senator Wiener has also worked on legislation to support small businesses, who have struggled immensely due to COVID-19. The Bar and Restaurant Recovery Act, otherwise known as SB 314, went into effect immediately after being signed this year. This bill, according to the Senator, ensures that people can continue to enjoy outdoor dining and businesses can continue to benefit from it beyond the pandemic. “Outdoor dining is a popular and successful pandemic-era change that small businesses across the state — and their patrons — are passionate about keeping,” he said.
With the year coming to an end, Senator Wiener says that he feels good about what has been accomplished this past year with many new laws going into effect on January 1, 2022. And with the 2022 legislative session approaching quickly, he says he will continue working hard on the many issues facing our state.