Robert Andres Bonta Selected as California Attorney General
The business community can expect Bonta to promote employee and union rights, enforce consumer protection statutes, and police climate regulations. He is also expected to devote attention to criminal justice reform.
California Governor Gavin Newsom selected Robert Andres Bonta as his next Attorney General on March 24, 2021. Bonta is to replace Xavier Becerra, who was confirmed by the Senate earlier in March as President Biden's pick for Secretary of Health and Human Services. If confirmed, Bonta would serve out the remainder of Becerra's term, which expires in January 2023.
Bonta was reelected for his fifth term last November as a representative of California's 18th Assembly district, which serves Oakland, Alameda, and San Leandro. He is currently the Assistant Majority Leader and sits on the Appropriations, Communications and Conveyance, Governmental Organization, and Health Committees in the California Assembly.
The son of organizers of Filipino and Mexican-American farm workers, Bonta reportedly grew up "in a trailer a stone's throw away from César Chávez's home." After graduating from Yale Law School in 1998, Bonta clerked for Judge Alvin W. Thompson of the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut and worked as a litigation associate at Keker & Van Nest, LLP, in San Francisco. He then served as a Deputy City Attorney assigned to the trial team of the San Francisco City Attorney's Office from 2003 until his election to the State Assembly in 2012. In that capacity, Bonta tried cases on behalf of the City and County of San Francisco, and municipal employees, in both state and federal court.
Expected Impacts on the Business Community
As a legislator and while campaigning for office, Bonta advocated for increased employment and consumer protections, and for tightening climate regulations. He is expected to pursue similar priorities as Attorney General.
Bonta's record in the Assembly includes efforts to expand protections for workers. He was a lead author of an unsuccessful bill that would have removed overtime, meal break, and wage exemptions for farmworkers. Assem. Bill 2757 (2015-2016 Reg. Sess.). More recently, Bonta helped pass legislation that expanded eligibility for protected leave under the California Family Rights Act to flight crew employees. Assem. Bill 1748 (2019-2020 Reg. Sess.). He also introduced a failed bill that would have extended employment protections for victims of sexual assault and their family members. Assem. Bill 628 (2019-2020 Reg. Sess.). The California Chamber of Commerce opposed AB 628 as a "job killer."
A number of labor groups, including the California Federation of Teachers, have endorsed Bonta's bid for Attorney General. In a previous campaign for office, Bonta stated that he would be an "active and vocal force" for workers' and unions' rights and that he "regularly walk[s] picket lines" and "sign[s] petitions and engage[s] in other organizing activities because they are the right things to do."
Bonta has advanced consumer protection legislation, notably on public health topics. He was lead author on bills that seek to limit health care costs for California patients, such as the successful Assem. Bill 1305 (2015-2016 Reg. Sess.), which requires that the deductible and out-of-pocket cost-sharing limits of family health insurance policies be no greater than the amounts for individual policies. He also authored the failed Assem. Bill 533 (2015-2016 Reg. Sess.), which would have protected patients from surprise bills arising from the receipt of services from out-of-network providers within an in-network facility. In 2019, Bonta introduced a failed bill, opposed by the California Chamber of Commerce, that would have regulated beverage companies' promotion and marketing activities for sugar-sweetened beverages and authorized local governments and the Attorney General to impose civil penalties for violation of the new regulations. Assem. Bill 764 (2019-2020 Reg. Sess.).
He has also supported tighter climate regulations. For example, contractors bidding on state construction projects are required to disclose the greenhouse gas emissions for certain building materials they propose to use, and the state is required to assess bids in part on this emission data in making a bid selection due to the passage of Assem. Bill 262 (2017-2018 Reg. Sess.), which Bonta coauthored. He was also the lead author of the failed Assem. Bill 3001 (2017-2018 Reg. Sess.), which would have required state regulatory agencies to assess greenhouse gas emissions in making certain regulations for construction and public utilities to promote the use of electricity instead of natural gas in residential and commercial buildings.
Bonta has expressed support for "exploring" changes in the California Revenue and Taxation Code, such as an oil excise tax, implementing a split-roll property tax, a personal income tax on the very wealthy, increased sales tax, a tax on sugary beverages, and corporate tax reform.
Expected Focus on Criminal Justice Reform
Supporters of Bonta's bid for Attorney General have lauded his commitment to reforming the state's criminal justice system. Most recently, Bonta contributed to the authorship of successful bills that ban the use of certain police chokeholds and require an independent investigation of any law enforcement officer involved in the shooting of an unarmed Californian resulting in death. Assem. Bill Nos. 1196, 1506 (2019-2020 Reg. Sess.).
In 2019, Bonta introduced legislation that will phase out the use of all private, for-profit prisons in California. Assem. Bill 32 (2019-2020 Reg. Sess.). He was a lead author of Sen. Bill 10 (Reg. Sess. 2017-2018), which authorized the replacement of California's cash bail practices with a risk-based release and detention system, but this law was repealed by the defeat of Prop 15 in the November, 2020 election.
Bonta also introduced a failed bill, titled the Sanctuary State Contracting Act, that would have prohibited California public entities from contracting with any business that is providing data broker, extreme vetting, or detention facilities support to any federal immigration agency, unless no reasonable alternatives exist. Assem. Bill 1332 (2019-2020 Reg. Sess.).
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