Assemblymember Damon Connolly listened carefully to voters while on the campaign trail last year for a seat in the California State Assembly. Now, 100 days into office, those conversations with constituents have already inspired his decisions on policymaking.
After narrowly winning the November election, squeaking by opponent Sara Aminzadeh with a 3.6% lead, the freshman legislator says he hit the ground running and hasn’t stopped. On Dec. 5, Connolly was sworn in as the representative for Assembly District 12, which covers Marin and southern Sonoma County.
By mid-February, he had introduced 21 bills to the legislative session. It’s a robust number for a new assembly member, according to Connolly.
“A number of my bill ideas have come from local folks and the issues that they identified,” Connolly said during an interview with this publication.
Connolly also launched a new Select Committee on Wildfire Prevention, which he will chair, a rarity for a freshman. Surprisingly, with catastrophic, out of control wildfires causing unprecedented death and destruction in California, no similar committee existed before Connolly suggested it.
During his term, Connolly will preside over hearings on wildfire prevention, and the committee will provide oversight on fund allocation.
The assemblymember is also serving on several high-profile committees, including the Utilities and Energy Committee. Currently, he is participating in hearings on the soaring costs of utility bills.
“’Hold utilities accountable,’” Connolly said. “I hear that all the time from constituents. And particularly now when we’re seeing energy prices rise two to three times higher than usual.”
As a member of the almighty Budget Committee, Connolly has a role in controlling the state’s purse strings. The assemblymember requested an appointment to the Budget Subcommittee 3, which allows him to focus on the climate crisis, resources, energy and transportation.
Other assignments include serving on the Judiciary Committee and the Environmental Safety & Toxic Materials Committee. Connolly seems particularly proud of his appointment as the vice chair of a joint committee.
“I’m one of four freshmen who received a committee chairmanship, so I’m the Assembly leader of the Joint Legislative Committee on Climate Change Policy,” Connolly said.
That committee is currently “digging deep” into the California Air Resources Board scoping plan, which was criticized in a January report by the Legislative Analyst’s Office. It’s imperative that the state meet ambitious greenhouse gas reduction goals by 2030 to 2045 and provide transparency on the path to achieving those lofty targets, according to Connolly.
Agriculture also tops Connolly’s concerns. With the North Bay’s unique contributions to California’s 54-billion-dollar ag industry—from the ranches and dairies in West Marin to Sonoma County’s wineries, livestock and crop production—serving on the Agriculture Committee is a natural fit for the assemblymember.
Although Connolly admits that agriculture is a relatively new area for him, he is particularly excited about how some aspects of farming dovetail with his interest in reducing climate change.
“Part of the solution on mitigating climate change, and I have been leading in that regard, is carbon farming, carbon sequestration, the healthy soils program,” the assemblymember said. “One of my bills relates to that.”
Indeed, AB 406, introduced by Connolly, if passed, will provide millions in grant funding for sustainable farmers by including organic farming in the Healthy Soils and California Farmland Conservancy programs.
The assemblymember also authored AB 404 and AB 405. Both ag bills streamline the process of obtaining organic farming certification by removing some of the red tape that puts small and mid-size farming operations at a disadvantage.
Other bills introduced by Connolly run the gamut, demonstrating the demands of running the most populous and wealthiest state in the country. From a bold bill that protects youth from nicotine and tobacco addiction to legislation that places a cap on fire insurance premium increases for seniors, the assemblymember is covering the bases for his constituents.
Connolly’s AB 935 phases in a ban on tobacco use for people born on or after Jan. 1, 2007, similar to the statewide ban on flavored tobacco that was approved by voters.
The needs of seniors are a priority for Connolly. In addition to the cap on fire insurance premiums, AB 582 provides seniors living in a high-risk fire zone with a tax credit to shore up their property against wildfires.
The idea for restricting pesticide spraying by the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) came from district constituents, according to Connolly. Too often, Caltrans has sprayed pesticides such as glyphosate, a key ingredient in Roundup, around public highways, even in counties like Marin and Sonoma, which have passed resolutions against the use of such toxic chemicals. Connolly’s AB 99 will ban Caltrans from deploying the pesticides along highways in counties with restrictions against using the poisons.
Saving the whales made it into the assemblymember’s bill package with AB 953. A vessel speed reduction program provides a two-fold benefit by lessening the risk of whale strikes off California’s coast and diminishing pollution from oceangoing vessels.
Marin and Sonoma commuters may soon breathe a sigh of relief if AB 1464 is passed. The bill creates a pilot program to find a fix for the traffic congestion on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. Relieving the headache-inducing gridlock will help decrease pollution, too.
Some of Connolly’s other bills include protections for mobile homeowners and the wetlands; extending healthcare coverage for children with metabolic disorders; restricting the sale of sodium nitrite in high concentrations to prevent teen suicide; and phasing out older, polluting combustion biomass facilities.
The tightening economic conditions will certainly play a role in what the state legislature is able to accomplish in the upcoming sessions. Connolly acknowledges the unpredictability of the state finance system is a problem.
“We rely a lot on the highest income earners, and quite often their income derives from capital gains and investments—as opposed to salary—and that fluctuates,” Connolly said. “It’s been an issue over the years, and we’re seeing it again this year. Tremendously volatile swings make it challenging, and that could very well be an issue we need to take up through the budget.”
In the meantime, the assemblymember plans on continuing his dialogue with constituents. Connolly recently had productive “community get togethers” at coffee shops in Petaluma and San Rafael, and he’s been meeting with environmental groups.
“People who live here have subject matter expertise and they’re engaged,” Connolly said. “It’s been helpful for me, in representing this area, that people are willing to speak and provide ideas on bills. We’re blessed to have an active district.”
A good review. I do wish a comparison had been made with Connolly’s lackluster predecessor so that we could all see what a huge improvement Damon is.
I agree. It’s night and day. Years of inconsequential vanity projects like Robin Williams tunnel and more alcohol at farmers markets, and fairs etc. for his father in law, a liquor distributor. We were always stonewalled and brushed off when we would visit on education issues. Thank you Damon for listening!
Yikers as to Levine’s pa-in-law! Really?