By James C. Ramos, representative of the 40th Assembly District and a lifelong resident of the San Manuel Indian Reservation in San Bernardino County. He is the first and only California Native American elected to the Legislature in the state’s 170-year history.
A new legislative year is now underway as the pandemic continues ravaging society and altering the normal conduct of business. Also weighing on our minds is the shameful insurrection that occurred at the nation’s capital.
First, let me express my genuine gratitude to the voters for re-electing me to a second term representing the 40th Assembly District. The hard work of the past year bore fruit when several of my new laws took effect on January 1. Those measures include establishing a statewide office of suicide prevention and increasing Native American voter participation. Another bill that became law will accelerate the repatriation of California Indigenous remains and artifacts from institutions such as the University of California system. Yet another new statute provides funding to the state Attorney General’s office so it can help local and tribal law enforcement improve collaboration and share data and other resources to fight the tragedy of Missing and Murdered Women and Girls.
These 2020 proposals continued to build on efforts from 2019: fighting bullying in schools, suicide prevention, and crime victims’ rights.
As the fresh two-year legislative session opens this month, I am committed to building on the efforts of my first term. That includes pursuing the small business assistance proposals that were approved by the Assembly but got stalled in the state Senate in 2020. Passage of those measures would offer genuine assistance to the countless small businesses that are the backbone of California’s economy. I also want to build on state suicide prevention efforts by increasing access to crisis lines that can be the difference between life and death.
Improving the processes for assisting the most vulnerable among us—the homeless mentally ill—is another focus for me this year. The pandemic has only exacerbated this crisis that has been festering for too long. This past summer, the California state auditor released a detailed and long-awaited review of how counties across the state deal with this population. The report will serve as a guidepost for fellow legislators and me to tackle this issue affecting many families and communities.
COVID-19 itself and the ensuing economic fallout have subjected so many people to much suffering. So my staff and I will also continue working to the best of our ability to serve the 40th District. One ongoing area of service has been assisting constituents with difficulties they are experiencing with their unemployment insurance claims. My district office staff have helped hundreds of constituents in their dealings with the Employment Development Department even as we also demand increased accountability from EDD.
We also held multiple virtual town halls dealing with local COVID-19 resources, tribal needs during the pandemic, and the challenges of recovering from the losses of loved ones due to suicide.
We had to confront significant first-ever changes during 2020 to the legislative calendar, to meeting and voting processes as well as limits on the number of bills we can pursue and other adjustments the pandemic forced upon us. Nevertheless, we made it through last year and we are better prepared to continue working our way through this crisis in 2021. More work remains to ensure that Californians survive this unprecedented emergency and rebound quickly. This means that more than ever before, lawmakers must work collaboratively and as a team at the state Capitol across the aisle, with lawmakers from both houses and with the governor.
Finally, I need to thank all who supported me during the past demanding year for your input, encouragement, and kindness. It is an honor to serve you.
I wish you a very safe, healthy, and prosperous 2021.