IE 11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Several California Bills Die, Including New AI Regulations

This week, dozens of bills were quietly killed for the year. Among those that won’t become law this term was a proposal to reduce the potential for AI-based discrimination in areas like health care, housing and employment.

The California State Capital building.
Shutterstock/Bryan Brazil
(TNS) — Assemblywoman Rebecca Bauer-Kahan, D- Orinda, set out this year with a goal of protecting Californians from bias as artificial intelligence is increasingly used to make decisions around health care, housing and employment.

AB 331, authored by Bauer-Kahan, called for prohibiting the use of any “automated decision tool” — a system or service that uses artificial intelligence to make decisions — that results in discrimination and mandates that developers and users of such tools conduct an impact assessment

But on Thursday, the measure became one of dozens that were quietly killed for the year. The Assembly and Senate Appropriations Committees went through nearly 1,200 bills, including AB 331, to weed out any measures deemed too expensive, overly cumbersome, unnecessary or politically inconvenient.

“I think it’s a huge missed opportunity for California to lead the nation,” Bauer-Kahan said in an interview Thursday afternoon. “We need to make sure that as these (AI data tools) proliferate, and we see more and more decisions being made by them, that we as a state are protecting people from the bias and discrimination that can be built into these.”


The suspense file is part of a three-decade-old tool used by the legislature to ensure the state has enough money in the budget to cover the cost of proposed measures.

Bills added to the suspense file include those with budget asks of $50,000 or more from the general fund or $150,000 or more from a special fund. Committees can also refer certain other bills to appropriations even if they fall short of that fiscal requirement.

The appropriations committees in the Senate and Assembly — tasked with reviewing any financial impacts of proposed legislation — then decide whether to pass a bill to the floor, discreetly amend it before it goes before the full chamber or keep it in suspense, effectively killing it for the year. This happens twice a year.

California lawmakers this year filed nearly 3,000 bills, many of them accompanied by costs the state would have to pay to implement.

Faced with a projected $31.5 billion deficit and economic uncertainty, Gov. Gavin Newsom last signaled last week that he would likely veto any proposals that were not covered in the next year’s budget, which must be passed by July 1.

“We’ve got to get this done in the budget,” he said during his May budget revision presentation. “We have these amazing bills... But I also have a responsibility, we have a collective responsibility.”


Thursday marked the highest number of bills seen on the committee’s suspense files in the past decade, according to Chris Micheli, a longtime California lobbyist who has written a book about the legislative process.

Micheli, who studies the state’s suspense file decisions closely, said historically about three-quarters of bills on the list successfully make it out of the committees. But the sheer number of bills tabled in the span of a few hours never fails to cause frustration among lawmakers, lobbyists and special interest groups.

“In one fell swoop, hundreds of bills are done — and it’s a place that sometimes some highly controversial bills end up on the cutting room floor so to speak,” Micheli said.

Proponents of the suspense file say it’s an efficient mechanism for screening hundreds of bills that pose fiscal challenges for the state. Detractors say it allows lawmakers to evade casting unpopular votes with little public scrutiny or insight into the decision-making process.

“It is now just accepted by the Capitol community that twice a year bills die without explanation and a vote, and it feels as though a massive transparency black hole has been baked into the legislative experience,” said Jonathan Stein, executive director of the nonpartisan political organization California Common Cause.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Anthony Portantino, D- Burbank, opened Thursday’s meeting defending the process, saying that prior hearings provided a chance for discussions but this was reserved solely for voting.

“It’s important to note — and some folks don’t appreciate this — every measure that we have ahead on the suspense file has an opportunity for public testimony,” Portantino said at the start of the meeting.

Every year, the suspense file leaves some lawmakers fuming over legislation they championed through the committees only to watch it quietly die.

One lawmaker, Assemblyman Bill Essayli, R- Riverside, has vowed to keep fighting in the case of AB 595. That bill, dubbed Bowie’s Law, would have required shelters to provide notice before euthanizing animals.

“I’m not giving up. I intend to force a floor vote on Bowie’s Law next week. Every legislator will be on record where they stand,” Essayli wrote in a Thursday tweet.


  • SB 12: Requires California to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% below 1990 levels by 2030, accelerating the state’s current goal of a 40% reduction
  • SB 556: Empowers people who live near oil wells and who have been diagnosed with cancer, respiratory illnesses or birth defects to hold oil drillers liable
  • AB 276: Bars people younger than 21 from talking on hands-free devices while driving
  • AB 315: Outlaws anyone who performs pregnancy-related services from using false or misleading advertising about whether they provide abortions. It allows public prosecutors to sue businesses that violate the provision
  • AB 331: Prohibits the use of any “automated decision tool” — a system or service that uses artificial intelligence to make decisions — that results in discrimination and mandates that developers and users of such tools conduct an impact assessment
  • AB 595: Requires animal shelters to provide 72 hours’ notice before euthanizing a dog, cat or rabbit
  • AB 710: Directs the California Department of Public Health to launch an awareness campaign about clinics that perform services related to pregnancy care and abortion

©2023 The Sacramento Bee, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.