Newsom cites cost in vetoing LGBTQ youth homeless bill; signs LGBTQ vets legislation

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Monday September 19, 2022
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Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill to assist homeless LGBTQ youth but signed another one to help LGBTQ veterans. Photo: Courtesy AP
Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill to assist homeless LGBTQ youth but signed another one to help LGBTQ veterans. Photo: Courtesy AP

In vetoing a bill aimed at assisting LGBTQ homeless youth in California, Governor Gavin Newsom cited the cost of the legislation in his veto message released Monday. It was his first veto of an LGBTQ-related bill this session.

Over the weekend Newsom did sign into law legislation that aims to assist LGBTQ veterans discharged under the military's homophobic "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. Authored by Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin (D-Thousand Oaks), Assembly Bill 325 establishes the Veteran's Military Discharge Upgrade Grant program to help fund service providers that will educate veterans about the discharge upgrade process and assist eligible veterans to apply.

He sent back to the Legislature, however, AB 2663 by Assemblymember James C. Ramos (D-Highland), which would have instructed the state Department of Social Services to launch a five-year pilot project called the Youth Acceptance Project in counties that volunteered to sign up for it. The state agency would have entered into a contract with the nonprofit Family Builders by Adoption to provide therapeutic-style support and intervention services to LGBTQ+ youth who receive, or are at risk of receiving, child welfare services.

"By expanding this model statewide, we can change the heartbreaking outcomes youth experience from rejection to acceptance," Jill Jacobs, a lesbian who is executive director of the Oakland-based agency, had written in an August 25 guest opinion for the Bay Area Reporter.

In his September 19 veto message Newsom noted that he supported Ramos' legislative effort "to prevent youth homelessness by increasing acceptance of LGBTQ+ children among parents/caregivers, foster parents, adoptive parents, extended family members, social workers and others involved in a child's care."

Nonetheless, Newsom pointed to the bill requiring "millions of dollars to successfully implement the proposed pilot program and these ongoing resources are not accounted for in the budget. With our state facing lower-than-expected revenues over the first few months of this fiscal year, it is important to remain disciplined when it comes to spending, particularly spending that is ongoing."

Newsom added, "We must prioritize existing obligations and priorities, including education, health care, public safety and safety-net programs."

With bills passed this session totaling $20 billion in one-time spending commitments and more than $10 billion in ongoing commitments not accounted for in the state budget, Newsom argued that "bills with significant fiscal impact, such as this measure, should be considered and accounted for as part of the annual budget process."

Responding to the governor's veto in a statement, Ramos expressed his disappointment and pledged to work with backers of the bill to see about reviving it during the next legislative session.

"I am disappointed in the governor's veto, but will consult with our sponsors and the administration to consider introducing a recrafted proposal aimed at overcoming the governor's concerns," stated Ramos. "AB 2663 received overwhelming support in the Legislature because of the population the bill targets. I am heartened that the governor's message stated his support of our 'efforts to prevent youth homelessness by increasing acceptance of LGBTQ+ children among parents/caregivers, foster parents, adoptive parents, extended family members, social workers and others involved in a child's care.'"

Christine Stoner-Mertz, CEO of the California Alliance of Child and Family Services, which had sponsored the bill, calling the rates of homelessness among LGBTQ+ youth "alarming and unacceptable," stated that the Youth Acceptance Project pilot program is modeled on a successful program that prevents LGBTQ+ youth homelessness and their involvement in the child welfare system.

"These youth are well worth California's investment," stated Stoner-Mertz. "We are grateful to Assemblymember Ramos for his dedication to youth acceptance, and we are determined to keep working toward a California where all youth have the chance to thrive."

LGBTQ+ youth who are experiencing homelessness or are at risk of homelessness, and their families who are struggling with accepting the youth's sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression, would have been able to receive services through the Youth Acceptance Project if the bill had become law. A clinician or social worker would have been in charge of the services, which the bill specifically required to be designed to increase acceptance among a LGBTQ+ youth's parents, caregivers, foster parents, adoptive parents, extended family members, social workers, and additional staff involved in a youth's care.

The state agency would have had to submit a report to the Legislature with an evaluation of the pilot project. It was to have ended on January 1, 2030.

LGBTQ vets bill

Irwin's AB 325 will provide assistance to servicemembers drummed out under DADT who want to update their military records and access education, health, burial, and other benefits available to honorably discharged service members. With Congress repealing DADT in 2011, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs created a process for members of the armed forces who could prove their discharge was due to their sexual orientation, including under DADT policy, to apply for a discharge upgrade or correction. (Information on how to do so can be found online here.)

But the process for veterans discharged less than honorably because of DADT to apply for an upgrade can be burdensome, noted Newsom's office in announcing he had signed the bill September 17, requiring legal counsel and other assistance to obtain an upgrade to their discharge classification.

"While the repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' ended a shameful injustice against LGBTQ Americans serving in our armed forces, its legacy continues to burden the women and men unfairly ousted under the discriminatory policy," stated Newsom. "With this legislation, the state will help these heroes navigate the process to correct the record and access important benefits they deserve and have earned many times over. I thank Assemblymember Irwin for advancing this measure to do right by our veterans and further California's commitment to equality."

Newsom also released a video about the bill via his office's Twitter page.

Irwin thanked Newsom for signing the bill in her own tweet Monday. The new grant program it creates will also help veterans discharged because of mental health conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder, or a traumatic brain injury (TBI).

"CA Veterans less than honorably discharged due to their sexual orientation, a TBI, or PTSD, have waited long enough for their service to be honored. Proud to work with @MyCalVet to ensure @DeptofDefense provides these Vets w/ the benefits they earned in service to us all. #AB325," wrote Irwin, using the twitter handle for the California Department of Veterans Affairs.

According to an analysis of the bill done for the state Senate Appropriations Committee, it is likely to cost "in the hundreds of thousands of dollars." The grant program's total cost will depend on how many counties sign up for it and how many veterans in each county qualify for it.

The state veterans agency told lawmakers that it "anticipates costs to administer the grant program to be minor and absorbable."

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