Hurtado welcomes legislative input from public

Senator’s online suggestion portal is open for legislative proposal ideas and budget requests

(Rigo Moran)
(Rigo Moran)
Darren Fraser
Published January 9, 2024  • 
11:00 am

FRESNO AND TULARE COUNTIES – As she has done every January since entering the California State Senate in 2019, Senator Melissa Hurtado (D-District 16) issued a press release to her constituents asking them to submit legislative proposal ideas and budget requests for the current legislative session via her public website.

Each year the senator receives between 40 to 50 ideas through the site – or the portal, as she calls it. She concedes, “The requests have slowed down over the last year and a half.”

The invitation is not pro forma. Past suggestions submitted via the portal have resulted in substantial funding for cities in the district.

“Pretty much every ‘budget-win’ for the district came from a suggestion,” she said. “The funding for McFarland police; the funding for Wasco police; the funding Avenal police. I secured over $60 million for public safety infrastructure over the last two years; that’s come in through the portal.”

She added, “There was a piece of legislation that focused on migrant daycare vouchers. The bill idea came from a constituent in Kern County. We moved it along. We got it through and it was signed by the governor in a school in Fresno. The ideas that benefit the district come from the district; they don’t come from lobbyists in Sacramento. They come from people in the district.”

DEALING WITH LOBBYISTS

Hurtado said she knows of no other legislator who operates a suggestion portal. She credits Senator Steven Glazer (D-District 7) with providing her the inspiration to create it.

“He said, ‘I don’t have policy that is led by lobbyists. I always do my own legislation.’ And, he’s right,” said Hurtado. “There could be a lot of potential conflicts of interest in running legislation that lobbyists bring to you. They’re not necessarily in the interests of the people you represent or of a direct benefit to your constituents.”

She acknowledged dealing with lobbyists in Sacramento can be tricky. What keeps her in good stead is always remembering why she ran for office.

“It’s about not being afraid to call it for what it is, even if there are big interests that are supporting a piece of legislation,” she said. “But that’s what we’re elected to do. You have to stand up to big interests when they’re wrong.”

She added, “For me, it boils down to if it is good for the district or bad for the district. I don’t think about the lobbyists or who their clients are. Or any of that. I think that is a very dangerous thing to do if anybody does it.”

PROTECTING AG LAND

On July 7, 2023, the Wall Street Journal published an article on Flannery Associates. The Delaware-based group – which included a number of high-profile Silicon Valley investors – since 2018 spent over $1 billion quietly acquiring over 52,000 acres of land in Solano County, making Flannery the largest landowner in the county. The group’s landholdings effectively surround Travis Air Force Base.

Hurtado sounded the alarm about groups, such as Flannery, and foreign governments buying up California agricultural land. She introduced two pieces of legislation to address the problem; neither was passed.

“The first time I tried, it got vetoed by the governor,” she said. “The second time there was a lot more opposition and it died in the senate appropriations committee. But this is still an issue and I am going to keep at it until something is done.”

The impetus for the legislation came from Hurtado, but it was fueled by concerns from farmers who felt threatened by these anonymous entities gobbling up valuable farmland.

“For me, it was a red flag I kept hearing across the district from farmers saying, ‘We feel we’re being pushed out by these investors and we don’t know who these investors are,’” she said. “That’s how that idea came about.”

When asked if the suggestions that come through the portal have a similar theme, Hurtado replied, “Yes. We need money to invest in our aging infrastructure. Whether it’s healthcare, whether it’s water or school facilities or infrastructure.”

RUNNING FOR CONGRESS

Hurtado is on the March Primary ballot. She is running for the District 22 House seat currently occupied by Republican David Valadao. She said her birthday falls on the day after the Primary.

“I am hoping it’s a happy birthday, not a sad birthday,” she said. “From the very beginning, when I first ran for state senate, nobody thought I was going to win. I knew it was a longshot. But here I am.” 

Hurtado went on to say if the people choose to advance her to the general election and beyond there, then her strategy has been working and has been delivering for the people of this region. She said she will go to Congress with a wealth of information for what the needs are in the district; but until then, she she is committed to delivering for her district.

“I still have a job to do at the moment and I am focused on that. I want to deliver for this district. I don’t know what will happen tomorrow; I don’t know what will happen in six months,” said Hurtado.

The deadline for submitting ideas to the portal is Feb. 16, 2024.

Darren Fraser
Reporter