Legislative Platform 2019


  • Support the appointment of qualified candidates to fill existing judicial vacancies in the Central District of California, especially in the Eastern Division of that Court, serving the Inland Area.  Judicial vacancies in the Eastern Division of the Central District of California was the Top Priority in the 2018 platform.  Today there is even one less judge in the court than in 2018.  Inequity and added expense to Inland litigants continues to occur on a daily basis for those seeking court services; last year 66% of Inland cases filed were reassigned to Los Angeles or Santa Ana.
  • Education for Inland residents (K-12, college, and adult job training) is of critical importance.  Continued federal support, including Pell Grants, to provide equitable access to education and to produce a skilled workforce is vital to the Inland Region, which suffers from one of the lowest baccalaureate degree attainment rates and one of the highest poverty rates.  Additionally, protecting and enhancing Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act funding will train at risk adult populations and support the private sector need for a trained workforce.
  • Support H.R. 376 (Cook) and 2019 California Desert Protection Act (Feinstein) to provide for conservation, enhanced recreation opportunities, and development of renewable energy in the California Desert Conservation Area.  These bills represent years of negotiation between varied interests in California desert land use and will establish agreed upon standards for off highway recreation, preservation, and energy usage of the delicate desert environment.
  • Encourage the development of a strategy and coalition with other regions in the country to avoid the loss of transportation funding from EPA proposals to adopt more stringent standards for ground-level ozone and encourage an enhanced federal role in reducing emissions from interstate and international goods movement vessels.  The deadlines for reaching attainment are growing ever closer, and the Federal government must develop a national strategy for reducing emission from interstate and international activities under their purview.

Economic Development
  • Urge increased federal support for workforce training initiatives and programs that will successfully serve Inland Empire employers and workers.
  • Support Improved College Access and Completion through Pell Aid to Students.
  • Reduce Recidivism by Supporting Second Chance Pell Grants.
  • Close the Gap between Advantaged and Disadvantaged Students by Funding Title I.
  • • Ensure students with disabilities have access to high-quality public education by supporting the IDEA Full Funding Act.
  • Support S. 47, the Natural Resources Management Act of 2019, which represents a bipartisan balance of opportunities for natural resources and community development.
  • Support funding for continued management of the Salton Sea.
  • Support California Waterfix and California EcoRestore to ensure more reliable long-term water delivery for California.
  • Support Water Conservation Tax Parity to provide tax exempt status for water conservation and storm management devices.
Health Care
  • Support behavioral health funding.
  • Support protection of the 340B “Drug Discount” Program.
  • Support and protect the positive gains of the Affordable Care Act.
  • Support the appointment of qualified candidates to fill existing judicial vacancies in the Central District of California, especially in the Eastern Division of that Court, serving the Inland Area.
  • Encourage the development of a strategy and coalition with other regions in the country to avoid the loss of transportation funding from EPA proposals to adopt more stringent standards for ground-level ozone and encourage an enhanced federal role in reducing emissions from interstate and international goods movement vessels.
  • Support a major Federal infrastructure plan with adequate funding.
  • Support REBUILD Act H.R. 363 (Calvert) to accelerate highway projects through NEPA delegation.

Economic Development Issue

Urge increased federal support for workforce training initiatives and programs that will successfully serve Inland Empire employers and workers.  San Bernardino and Riverside counties have created nearly 210,000 new jobs since the economic recovery began in 2011, largely concentrated in the region’s core industries of logistics, health care and construction. Everyone can agree this is positive momentum and a highlight for our region, but the region is still far behind when it comes to having good paying jobs.

Many Inland Empire families do not make enough money to make ends meet forcing an estimated 350,000 Inland Empire residents to seek employment outside the two-county region. Expenses such as gas and child care, home prices, along with other costs, are taking a big chunk out of workers’ paychecks.  Additionally, the expansion of automation is becoming a bigger threat to Inland Empire workers.  We must create and support solutions to stay ahead of the curve.

Inland Action supports increased federal support for workforce training initiatives and programs that will successfully serve Inland Empire employers and workers. Employers need federal sponsored initiatives to ignite a more diverse job base, and many eligible workers need training to access vacant middle-skill paying jobs. The goal is to improve earnings, benefits, and job stability for workers and employers in the Inland Empire. This will also increase consumer spending and local revenues, creating a positive ripple effect for the regional economy.

We urge review and action by Congress to make the following investments to prepare our workers for future jobs, which would also assist those businesses trying desperately to fill vacant positions:

Protecting and Funding the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA)

  • Fund WIOA Title I employment and training programs to at least currently authorized levels.
  • Fund adult education and literacy programs under Title II of WIOA to at least authorized levels.
  • Restore funding for Wagner-Peyser Employment Services activities under Title III of WIOA to 2017 levels.
  • Fund the vocational rehabilitation program and other employment services authorized under WIOA Title IV for adults and students with disabilities at current year levels.
  • Maintain or increase the investment in apprenticeship programs in current year funding to expand access to programs for a diverse pipeline of workers and businesses, including small- and medium-sized businesses and those in emerging industries.
  • Fund job training and employment services for older workers (Senior Community Service Employment Program) at the authorized level and maintain the proposed funding increase for employment services for at-risk veterans (Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program).

We simply cannot meet the goals of our business owners or workers and compete successfully if we continue cutting and eliminating effective workforce and education programs.

Education Issues

Inland Action urges support for programs that increase equitable access to education and help produce more skilled college graduates to meet workforce needs.  The Inland Empire, which suffers from one of the lowest baccalaureate degree attainment rates in the country for metropolitan areas of one million or more, as well as one of the highest poverty rates, desperately needs more skilled and educated workers.  Maintaining and strengthening federal support for students is critical to increasing the number of college graduates and growing our educated workforce.

Support Improved College Access and Completion through Pell Aid to StudentsThe Federal Pell Grant program continues to be one of the best investments in our future, helping millions of low- to moderate-income students in their pursuit of college degrees and upward mobility, including nearly 12,000 students (64%) attending the local California State University, San Bernardino campus, more than 11,000 (54%) University of California, Riverside students, and more than 1,000 (33%) University of Redlands students in the Inland Empire region alone.

Pell is key to raising the economic development of our region and State by increasing the number of educated and taxpaying citizens.  More than half (about 58,000) of California State University bachelor’s degrees awarded each year are earned by Pell Grant recipients.

Today’s maximum Pell Grant award – $6,095 – covers the lowest share of college expenses than at any other time in the program’s history.  The FY18 Omnibus spending bill included important provisions to support students with financial need.  However, under this current baseline, the maximum Pell award would remain at the 2017-18 academic year level indefinitely, and inflationary adjustments would end.  Inland Action urges Congress to:

  • Increase the maximum Pell Grant to keep pace with inflation;
  • Continue support for Summer Pell, which helps accelerate degree completion, reduce student debt, and open seats for more deserving students;
  • Ensure eligibility for part-time students;
  • Continue certainty in the Pell Grant program’s financial health by avoiding drawing down dollars from the current Pell surplus to fund other federal programs;
  • Permanently index the Pell Grant to inflation to maintain the purchasing power of these awards; and
  • Prioritize resources for institutions serving the greatest number of students with need.

Reduce Recidivism by Supporting Second Chance Pell GrantsAn analysis conducted by the RAND Corporation and funded by the U.S. Department of Justice found that inmates who received an education while incarcerated were 43% less likely to be arrested for another crime than those who did not participate in any education programs.  Inland Action urges Congress to support reversing the 1994 ban on Pell Grant eligibility for incarcerated individuals and expanding the U.S. Department of Education pilot which allows Pell Grant eligibility for post-secondary education in prison. The goal would be to reduce recidivism and to provide an entry to further education or employment for incarcerated individuals after prison.

Close the Gap between Advantaged and Disadvantaged Students by Funding Title ITitle I provides federal funding to schools that serve communities with high poverty.  Funds are meant to help students who are at the highest risk of falling behind academically. Funding provides supplemental instruction for economically disadvantaged students to improve academic achievement. Eligible schools must have at least 40% of student enrollment qualifying for free or reduced lunch.  San Bernardino City Unified School District has nearly 90% of its students in this category.  The District receive approximately $33 million in Title I funding each year.  Inland Action urges Congress to fully fund Title I – at least $15.86 billion – so that all students have an opportunity for academic success.

Ensure students with disabilities have access to high-quality public education by supporting the IDEA Full Funding Act (HR 2902).  Inland Action urges Congress to support at least $12.4 billion for Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) special education grants to states, which would be equal to FY 2019 funding and $87 million over the FY 2018 enacted level. When IDEA was enacted in 1975, Congress promised to provide 40% of the average per-pupil expenditure to pay for this expanded federal mandate.  Congress has never fulfilled that promise.  Funding provided by the federal government equates to approximately 11% of the total amount spent in California.  Over the past ten years, the local contributions by California school agencies for special education has increased from $2.97 billion to more than $5 billion, and the cost to provide these services continues to rise due to an increase in the population of students with high-cost disabilities.

Nearly 54,000 students receive special education services in the San Bernardino County schools alone. It is vital that Congress invest more funding into IDEA, and that legislation is passed to fully fund IDEA (i.e. H.R. 2902, IDEA Full Funding Act).  The bipartisan IDEA Full Funding Act would require regular increases in IDEA spending to finally meet the federal commitment to America’s children and schools, relieve the burden on states and local school districts, and ensure educational opportunities for all students with disabilities.

Environmental Issue

Support H.R. 376 (Cook) to provide for conservation, enhanced recreation opportunities, and development of renewable energy in the California Desert Conservation Area.  Co-Sponsors: Reps. Juan Vargas (Imperial Valley) and Pete Aguilar (Redlands).  The California Desert Protection and Recreation Act (2019) is an updated version of Congressman Cook’s H.R. 857: California Off-Road Recreation and Conservation Act of 2017, which passed the House in the last Congress, but never received a final vote in the Senate.  The bill has support from California Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris who introduced an identical companion bill in the Senate.  In addition, the bill has support from local governments, recreational groups and conservation groups.

The California Desert Protection and Recreation Act:

Designates or expands six Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) Recreation Areas in the California desert. These are Johnson Valley, Spangler Hills, El Mirage, Rasor, Dumont Dunes, and Stoddard Valley.
Creates additional protections for OHV users and ensures that these areas cannot be closed administratively.
Creates the nation’s first system of Off-Highway Vehicle Recreation areas to ensure that OHV activity is conducted in appropriate locations, protecting other parts of the desert.

The established or expanded OHV areas would total approximately 200,580 acres.  Combined with the nearly 100,000 acres that make up the existing Johnson Valley OHV Recreation Area, this bill will ensure that over 300,000 acres are permanently open for OHV use in the California Desert.

This bill would also:

Designate approximately 18,000 acres of existing federal land as the Alabama Hills National Scenic Area, restricting large-scale projects such as renewable energy generation, while preserving all existing recreational and commercial uses of the Alabama Hills.
Designate approximately 375,500 acres of wilderness in the California Desert, while releasing approximately 124,000 acres of existing wilderness study areas in the Cady Mountains and Soda Mountains.
Add approximately 39,000 acres of land to the National Park System, including significant acreage at both Joshua Tree National Park and Death Valley National Park.

H.R. 376 also establishes the Vinagre Wash Special Management Area to protect 81,000 acres of public land in Imperial County, while preserving motorized recreation along designated routes. This bill would designate or expand approximately 77 miles of wild, scenic, and recreational rivers in the San Bernardino Mountains and near-Death Valley.

It also prohibits the development of renewable energy generation facilities on approximately 28,000 acres of Bureau of Land Management land near “Juniper Flats” and conveys 934 acres of BLM land to the State of California to be included in the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.  It also leads the Secretary of the Interior to negotiate with the California State Lands Commission on land swaps involving state school lands within the California Desert Conservation Area and establishes a Desert Tortoise Conservation Center along the California-Nevada border.

Support the 2019 California Desert Protection Act (Feinstein).  Co-Sponsor: California Senator Kamala Harris.  Senator Feinstein’s bill builds upon the legacy of the California Desert Protection Act which she introduced and was signed into law by President Clinton in 1994. The bill affected Death Valley National Park, Joshua Tree National Park, the Mojave National Preserve and protected more than 7.6 million acres of California desert wilderness.  In 2016, Senator Feinstein requested President Obama to expand protections for the desert by creating the Mojave Trails, Sand to Snow and Castle Mountains national monuments.  Those new public lands will also benefit from this legislation.

This bill would complete efforts started in 1994 to restore and protect the desert and its surrounding communities.  It also:

Protects more than 375,000 acres of wilderness by creating eight new Bureau of Land (BLM) Management wilderness areas totaling 280,360 acres, expands Death Valley National Park Wilderness by 88,000 acres, and adds 7,141 acres to the San Gorgonio Wilderness within San Bernardino National Forest.
Expands Joshua Tree National Park by 4,518 acres and Death Valley National Park by 35,292 acres, which includes 1,600 acres donated by the Mojave Desert Land Trust.
Permanently designates six existing off-highway vehicle recreational areas covering more than 200,000 acres, ensuring off-highway enthusiasts will have continued access to those areas to enjoy trail riding.
Designates 18,610 acres of BLM land in Inyo County as the Alabama Hills National Scenic Area, preserving it for continued recreation and conservation.
Designates 81,800 acres in Imperial County for the Vinagre Wash Special Management Area, that provides for wilderness preservation, vehicular use on designated routes, and limitations on extractive uses of the land within the management area.
Designates 77 miles of waterways as Wild and Scenic Rivers.

The proposed bill is the result of years of engagement with a range of stakeholders including local and state government officials, environmental groups, off-highway recreation enthusiasts, cattle ranchers, mining interests, the Department of Defense and California’s public utility companies.  Inland Action supports the passage of both the Feinstein bill and H.R. 376 (Cook) and applauds the bi-partisan approach of these seasoned lawmakers in working to bring the diverse stakeholders together to form a balanced coalition supporting the sensitive ecological, economic and recreational assets of the Inland Empire’s desert regions. Years of partisan wrangling have prevented development of a comprehensive plan for this region, and these two bills represent a working document for balanced development and preservation.

Inland Action believes the process of developing the desert areas in this manner, in this political climate, sends the right message: that the good of the region is best served by legislators committed to a cohesive vision and compromise to come together with a suitable and sustainable plan for the region.  The support of environmental groups, off-road enthusiasts, renewable energy, mining and all forms of eco-tourism reflects years of outreach. It would be a travesty to miss this opportunity to pass this legislation.  Failure to pass this legislation will embolden the current legal quagmire and lose the myriad of economic and environmental solutions. We recognize there are individual and non-structural issues being addressed through this bi-partisan legislative process, and we strongly believe none of these could ever eclipse the overall positive effects to the various stakeholders passing these two bills would provide.

Support funding for continued management of the Salton Sea.  Located in Riverside County, few projects in our region come near the Salton Sea in terms of the potential for calamity or, conversely, enormous gain.  The Salton Sea is impacted by rising salinity of the Sea, as well as changes in runoff from irrigated agriculture (supplied by Colorado River water).  Reduced water flows to the Sea could result in the exposure of nearly 100 square miles of dry lake bed, resulting in diminished habitat, significant air quality problems, and a damaged economy.

A key issue at the Salton Sea is exposure of previously submerged lakebed, known as playa, as the lake surface shrinks.  This playa exposure is subject to wind erosion and can be a source of fine airborne dust smaller than 10 micrometers, known as particulate matter 10, or PM10; as well as a source of PM 2.5.  The dust is a significant health hazard and can contribute to respiratory illness in humans.  It can also damage agricultural crops and wildlife and harm the region’s tourism industry.  Areas downwind from the Sea re already suffering from severe non-attainment for PM10 under the Clean Air Act.  These areas suffer the highest rates of childhood asthma in California, with emergency room admissions for children under four years of age roughly twice the State average.  In the near future, tens of millions of citizens downwind from the Sea could be impacted by dust blown from the playa into densely urbanized areas throughout Southern California.

In recent years, local, State, tribal, and federal governments have achieved significant progress in addressing the long-term management of the Salton Sea.  These efforts have resulted in the development of the Salton Sea Funding and Feasibility Action Plan, a living document and framework for the future management of the Salton Sea, and Phase I of the Salton Sea Management Program 10-Year Plan, which guides investments at the Salton Sea in line with a memorandum of understanding between the United States Department of the Interior and the California Natural Resources Agency.  Current efforts are designed to address playa exposure by developing habitat or dust suppression projects on exposed playa.

With a plan in place, funding generally available to the projects through the recently adopted 2018 Farm Bill at the federal level, and through the passage of Proposition 68 at the State level, it is critical that funding be delivered to these projects in a timely and efficient manner.  At the federal level, the following steps are suggested:

Department of Agriculture: (a) Support efforts to secure a greater portion of the USDA’s $6 billion annual mandatory conservation funding; (b) Support expanding the Salton Sea Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) by permitting enrollment of public lands that endanger public health and the environment of prime agricultural region in USDA’s Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, which would thereby provide substantial federal financial resources to cost-share with State investments in air quality, habitat and other ag-related investments at the Sea; (c) Support the Feinstein USDA EQIP Air Quality Initiative to set aside $25 million in Environmental Quality Incentives Program funding to address air quality concerns relating to agricultural operations; and (d) Support federal inter-agency cooperation with the Department of the Interior to ensure deployment of federal funds to the State and the Salton Sea Authority.
Army Corps of Engineers: (a) Support appropriation of $30 million in federal funds authorized for Salton Sea revitalization in 2007 and again in December 2016 through the Water Resource Development Act; (b) Support the use of Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act’s (WIFIA) low-cost supplemental loans for projects at the Sea that address significant EPA national priorities; and (c) Support the Tribal Partnership Program to ensure tribes holding property around the Sea receive funds for feasibility planning.
Bureau of Reclamation: (a) Support strong cooperation between the Department of Interior, and particularly Bureau of Reclamation, and the State and local partners; and (b) Support the Department’s commitment to providing $30 million federal share toward air quality management and habitat restoration projects.
Environmental Protection Agency: Support receipt by Salton Sea Authority and other partners of WIFIA funding to accelerate investment in the area by providing long-term, low-cost supplemental loans for projects at the Sea that address significant EPA national priorities.

Support California Waterfix and California EcoRestore to ensure more reliable long-term water delivery for California.  Inland Action supports the California WaterFix and California EcoRestore plans that represent a strategic action plan to achieve California’s co-equal goals of a more reliable water supply from the State Water Project and an improved Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta ecosystem.  This support includes administrative, legislative, and funding actions that ensure more reliable long-term water delivery for the State Water Project.

About 30% of Southern California’s water supply comes from Northern California, passing through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta on its way to the State Water Project pumping plants in the south Delta. The current water system is extremely vulnerable to natural disasters, such as earthquakes, floods, and sea level rise.  Existing operations have contributed to a decline in native fish populations and environmental damage.

For more than a decade, State and federal water and wildlife agencies have been working on plans to modernize the State Water Project and restore the Delta’s ecosystem.  In 2018, California WaterFix made significant progress as water agencies from around the State committed to significant financial investment. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California made a historic decision to invest $10.8 billion, nearly 65% of the project cost, to allow for the construction of the full California WaterFix.  As a supporter of WaterFix, Inland Action will continue to advocate for State-wide adoption and implementation of this project.

Support Water Conservation Tax Parity to provide tax exempt status for water conservation and storm management devices.  Water conservation rebates provided by public utilities or governments are not currently tax exempt. Water conservation tax parity would extend the tax exemption that currently exists for energy conservation devices to include water conservation and storm water management devices as well.

For many years Inland Action has advocated for water conservation, including the various rebate plans different local and regional water agencies provide consumers.  Certainly, the best and most efficient dollars spent on water policy are those for water not used.  As droughts have become a regular part of water management in the Western States, it is imperative that every possible savings be implemented.  Although our drought conditions have changed with recent storms, conservation is a way of life for all Californians.  Water use efficiency is a critical ongoing practice in Southern California.

Southern Californians face draconian reduction goals for water use.  To assist consumers, various conservation rebate plans are offered by water providers to assist and encourage consumers to meet these goals. The Metropolitan Water District alone has provided rebates to more than 195,000 households.  Since 1990, Metropolitan has invested more than $1.3 billion cumulative on conservation, recycling, and groundwater recovery.

Current U.S. Tax code is unclear whether water conservation rebates constitute taxable income, and Inland Action is concerned that the current gains in household conservation will be lost without a clear policy excluding conservation subsidies for water conservation programs.  Currently under Section 136 of the IRS Code, energy conservation subsidies are excluded from gross income. This policy was adopted to encourage consumers to conserve in the face of a looming energy crisis.  The very real drought conditions that cycle through the Western States are crises of comparable magnitude, and these incentive programs should be considered equally with current energy tax policy considerations.  In addition, water conservation measures provide significant energy savings as well.

There is currently no legislation assisting with this issue, yet the parity of this issue with energy is unmistakable.  Inland Action supports a federal tax exemption for water conservation rebates to encourage additional water savings.

Health Care Issues

Support Behavioral Health Funding.  Inland Action supports the 2017 appointment of Elinore F. McCance-Katz, the first assistant secretary of mental health and substance use at the Department of Health and Human Services and head of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and her efforts to address mental health disparities.  Almost one in five Americans experienced a diagnosable mental illness in 2016 and nearly one-quarter of them had a serious mental illness that interferes with performing daily activities.  The prevalence of substance use disorders (SUDs) has increased in the previous two decades, with estimates suggesting that over 20 million adults suffered from an alcohol or substance use disorder in 2016. SUDs and mental illness often intersect: Almost one-half of those adults, more than 8 million Americans, had both a SUD and a diagnosable mental illness.

Inland Action supports efforts to fund treatment of behavioral health and substance use disorders in a holistic manner that eliminates the disparity between medical and behavioral health funding, essentially putting them on the same playing field.  Inland Action also supports efforts that allow for data sharing between mental health providers and physicians to ensure necessary information is available for proper patient care coordination.

Support protection of the 340B “Drug Discount” Program.  With bipartisan support, Congress created the 340B drug discount program in 1992 to enable safety-net hospitals, community-based clinics, and other providers that serve low-income, vulnerable patients to purchase outpatient medications at a discount from drug manufacturers.  Hospitals use the savings from this program to fund vital patient care services including mobile health clinics, chemotherapy infusion centers, Hepatitis C treatment, and inner-city primary care centers. Patients benefit when health care providers are able to offer a more comprehensive list of services that can detect and even prevent life-threatening conditions.  For some smaller and rural hospitals, savings from the 340B program can literally mean the difference between staying open and having to close.  No state or federal dollars are involved with this program. Drug manufacturers provide these discounts directly to hospitals and other providers.

Aside from reimbursement cuts, lawmakers introduced and considered a number of bills over the past year that called for increased oversight of program participants and more reporting requirements, as well as several that sought to impose stricter eligibility requirements for both providers and patients.  Although it has operated successfully for more than 25 years, in 2018, there were a record number of bills and hearings that called for an increased oversight of program participants and stricter eligibility requirements for both providers and patients.  Hospitals and other health care experts disagreed, noting that the program has worked well for nearly a quarter century and that additional safeguards can be put in place to maintain program integrity. In California, there have been no findings of fraud or abuse in this program.

Inland Empire hospitals, insurers and the Hospital Association of Southern California believe the 340B drug discount program is a lifeline for vulnerable patients and local communities.  As of January 1, 2019, Health and Human Services imposed ceiling prices on the 340B drug discount program, after years of delays. The change will cap the prices drug makers can charge hospitals that participate in 340B drug discount program.  This is good news and a step in the right direction.  However, there should be assurance that Congress does not continue exploring new ways to limit the program.  That continued exploration conflicts with sound efforts to expand health care services to vulnerable populations.

Support and protect the positive gains of the Affordable Care Act.  Inland Action supports the Affordable Care Act and protection of positive gains made by the Act, including increased access, protection for those with pre-existing conditions, preventive care, economic impact, and ban on lifetime limits.   Inland Action also supports these important practices impacting public health:

  • Social Determinants of Health – Support funding models and program flexibility to address access to healthcare services; health disparities; food; safe and affordable housing; social support; public safety; transportation; education; and job opportunities.
  • Data Sharing – Allow for the coordination of treatment and care through meaningful data sharing between behavioral health and primary care providers and allow data sharing through current technology between health care providers, health plans, and patients.
  • Health Care Providers – Support funding and measures to attract and retain primary and specialty care physicians to the Inland Empire.
Judicial Issue

Appoint Qualified Candidates to Fill Existing Judicial Vacancies in the Central District of California, Especially in the Eastern Division of that Court, Serving the Inland Area.

The Central District of California is the most-populous district in the county, serving approximately 19.6 million people.  The crisis of judicial vacancies in the District has only worsened in the past year.  Seven of the Court’s 28 authorized Article III judgeships – 25% – are currently vacant.  The longest of these vacancies dates to August 2014, and five of these vacancies have been deemed by the Judicial Conference to be Judicial Emergencies.  On January 30, 2019 the White House announced the President’s intent to nominate individuals to three of these positions, however  there are no nominations pending for the other four.

The lack of judicial resources has caused extreme strain not only on the judges serving under greatly increased caseloads, but also on the litigants and attorneys whose cases are delayed because there are not enough judges to hear them.  The average civil caseload per District Judge in the Central District now stands at 400, a 27% increase since 2014 (coinciding with the 25% vacancy rate that has built up over that period).  The weighted caseload per judge (which factors in the relative time to dispose of different types of cases to provide a more accurate picture of a judge’s caseload) in the Central District for 2018 was 627 cases, up from 570 in 2017.  This is 22% higher than the national average of 513.  Filling these vacancies with qualified judges as quickly as possible is of the utmost importance.

The issue is especially acute in the Eastern Division of the Court.  The Eastern Division serves the Inland area (Riverside and San Bernardino Counties), home to nearly 4.6 million people and covering 27,408 square miles.  The Eastern Division is comparable in population to the State of Kentucky, and in land area to the State of West Virginia.  Kentucky and West Virginia each have two federal districts, with nine and eight authorized judgeships, respectively.  By comparison, there is presently only one District Judge sitting in the Eastern Division because one of the seven current Central District vacancies is in the Eastern Division.

The number of cases arising in the Eastern Division far exceeds the capacity of a single judge to preside over.  The Court reassigns cases among its three divisions (Eastern in Riverside, Southern in Santa Ana, and Western in Los Angeles) to help get the Eastern Division cases heard and to keep the number of cases per judge roughly equal.  That means that last year 66% of the cases filed in the Eastern Division were reassigned to a judge in either Los Angeles or Santa Ana.  In 2018, 1,174 cases that should have been heard in the Eastern Division were reassigned to another division due to the pending vacancy there.

This represents a substantial burden on the parties and their attorneys, who must travel to those courthouses for hearings and trials and incur significant additional time and expense in resolving their cases.  Moreover, because juries are drawn from the local communities, these parties also face trial by a jury drawn not from their own community, but the communities of the presiding court to which their case is reassigned.

Recent studies from the Judicial Conference of the United States show the need for additional judgeships in the Central District of California, beyond the current 28 positions.[1]  In 2017 the Judicial Conference recommended Congress authorize seven additional judgeships for the District, in addition to making the one temporary judgeship in the District permanent.  That need for additional judgeships must also be addressed, but the first priority must be filling the existing vacancies.   We urge the Senate to give full, fair, and prompt consideration to the three nominees recently announced by the White House, and the President and our Senators to work together to vet, nominate, and confirm qualified candidates for the rest of the existing vacancies.

This is especially urgent for the current vacancy in the Eastern Division, where we are underserved even when fully staffed.  The three recently-named nominees for the Central District are all based in Los Angeles and would not likely sit in Riverside, so our vacancy remains unaddressed.  The good news, however, is that there is already a well-qualified candidate who has applied for the Eastern Division position.  The Honorable Sheri Pym has been a United States Magistrate Judge in the Eastern Division since 2011.  Prior to being appointed as a Magistrate Judge, she served as the Chief of the United States Attorney’s branch office for the Eastern Division.  She has strong community support and would be a terrific Article III judge.  Inland Action has officially supported her appointment.

Transportation Issues

Encourage the development of a strategy and coalition with other regions in the country to avoid the loss of transportation funding from EPA proposals to adopt more stringent standards for ground-level ozone and encourage an enhanced federal role in reducing emissions from interstate and international goods movement vessels.  Encourage the development of a strategy and coalition with other regions in the country to avoid the loss of transportation funding from EPA proposals to adopt more stringent standards for ground-level ozone and encourage an enhanced federal role in reducing emissions from interstate and international goods movement vessels.  Local efforts to clean up the air have been very successful, with the result that most pollution is now generated by the goods movement sector, which lies under the purview of the federal government.  Thus, we should not be punished due to national economic policies which have led to heavy goods movement through our region, adversely impacting our local air quality.

This issue is critical to Southern California, as a provision of the Clean Air Act stipulates loss of funding if certain reductions of pollutants are not attained by 2023.

Support a major Federal infrastructure plan with adequate funding.  The new congress elected in 2018 has placed a high priority on funding infrastructure projects, but no details have yet emerged.  Inland Action supports a major infrastructure funding bill that will address infrastructure deficiencies throughout the country, including crumbling roads, bridges and airports.  Additionally, the minimum duration of any federal infrastructure plan should be ten years as projects take a decade or more to deliver.  Congress currently authorizes surface transportation bills with three to six-year durations.  While this assists in keeping up with technological advances, it does not afford the long-term certainty of federal funding for projects that take ten to fifteen years to deliver.  Passing long-term legislation that can be adjusted periodically as necessary to incorporate innovations while maintaining long-term funding commitments is important, especially when local dollars are leveraged with state and federal funds to deliver a decades long program.

Support REBUILD Act H.R. 363 (Calvert) to accelerate highway projects through NEPA delegation.  Congressman Ken Calvert (CA-42) reintroduced the Reducing Environmental Barriers to Unified Infrastructure and Land Development (REBUILD) Act to reduce the cost and speed up the construction of infrastructure projects, while maintaining strong environmental protections. The REBUILD Act allows any state to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding with a designated federal agency that has environmental review responsibilities under NEPA and assume the review responsibilities of that agency. Under the REBUILD Act, states would still be required to uphold the same NEPA standards or greater. By assuming these responsibilities states could integrate NEPA compliance into their own state approval processes, thereby streamlining construction timelines and eliminating the need for redundant reviews at the federal level, all while upholding high standards of environmental stewardship.

The streamlined process is modeled after a pilot program created in SAFETEA-LU (Section 327 – Title 23 USC) that allowed a limited number of states to take on the task of ensuring National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) compliance for highway projects under the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).  In those states that chose to assume this responsibility, the length of time to complete a project review was reduced by an average of 17 months while also ensuring that goals of the NEPA process were not compromised.

[1]              One of the 28 currently authorized judgeships in the District is a temporary position.