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Commentary by Assemblyman Scott Wilk
| Thursday, Aug 15, 2013
Assemblyman Scott Wilk

Assemblyman Scott Wilk

I hope it’s not an omen that the 2013 legislative session ends on Friday the 13th of September.

But as we enter the last final weeks of this year’s legislative session, I’m hopeful that common-sense solutions will prevail, and that both parties will reject special interests that often drive the agenda under the Capitol dome.

Thus far, we have come up short in the effort to achieve policies that will better educate our young people, grow the economy and protect the public from predators.

One of my focuses has been re-committing the state to higher education. A recent study by the Public Policy Institute of California showed the state will be short one million people with the needed degree to fulfill the demand of employers.  As the economy improves, we need to make the investment now, so our residents will be ready when these jobs come on-line.

Earlier this year, I co-authored legislation to put in place a tuition freeze while the Proposition 30 taxes are in effect. To me, this was honoring the pledge Gov. Jerry Brown made to the people of California.  Unfortunately, the majority party blocked our plan.

One accomplishment I was proud to support was the Middle Class Scholarship program that will help our students and working families mitigate the debt they stand to incur over four years of college.  Starting in 2014, families who are not eligible for Cal Grants, and whose annual incomes are less than $150,000, will be eligible for discounts to help make college more affordable. This program will help make a college education an attainable goal rather than a distant dream for many California families.

In addition to keeping college affordable, improving the quality of college education in our state continues to be an important priority of mine in the final weeks of the legislative session.

One of my proposals, Assembly Bill 806, would make it easier for community colleges to hire academic counselors. Academic counselors are an invaluable resource for many young students. Without their guidance, students are at risk of devoting their time and money on unnecessary classes and coursework.

At my local community college, College of the Canyons, where I served as a trustee, there are 11 full-time counselors and two part-time counselors.  During any given semester, COC has approximately 20,000 students, which means there is one counselor to every 1,562 students. If you do the math, this means a student gets to see a counselor every other year.  These, of course, are the enrolled students – not the hopeful ones looking to get it in.

Protecting students has also been a priority for me this session.  Nearly two years ago, at Miramonte Elementary School in the Los Angeles Unified School District, a teacher committed unthinkable crimes against children.  But bureaucracy made it virtually impossible to remove this predator from the classroom. Often times, the internal investigation process take years to complete, and costs LAUSD nearly $300,000 per case.

This year, I introduced legislation – AB 1221 – to reform our outdated and complicated teacher dismissal laws and help local school districts immediately remove dangerous individuals from the classroom.

Without a doubt, classrooms should be safe places for our children to learn.  However, the majority party stopped this common-sense legislative proposal.  Parents are still wondering: Will the majority party finally act to protect our kids from classroom predators?

Another challenge facing the Legislature is California’s debt. Currently, our state owes nearly $10 billion to the federal government to cover unemployment insurance costs, and little has been done in the way of addressing how our state will pay back these debts. And other debts, like our unfunded pension liabilities, continue to be pushed by the wayside.

Most importantly, we should address the root cause of the problem by making economic recovery and job creation an important legislative priority – by rejecting “job killer” proposals and enacting reforms that will help us get people back to work.

One issue still looming over California is what has come to be known as “realignment.” This law moves thousands of “low level” criminal offenders to local jails, who would have gone to state prison. Often, because of overcrowded jails, local authorities have little or no choice but to release thousands of inmates early.

It’s time we address this harmful law that puts so many of our communities at risk. I support reforms to limit the definition of “non-violent” and “non-serious” crimes to prevent the early release of inmates. I will continue to fight for public safety reforms that keep our families safe.

I will continue to promote policies that support public education, protect working families’ children and pocketbooks, and strive for bipartisan solutions to our state’s challenges. Let’s hope the Legislature answers the call and acts in the best interests of Californians.

 

Assemblyman Scott Wilk represents the 38th Assembly District, which encompasses Simi Valley, the northwestern section of the San Fernando Valley and most of the Santa Clarita Valley.

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