SACRAMENTO -- When Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez announced the new Assembly leadership positions and committee chairs for the new legislative session last month, legislators braced themselves for the new appointments.
Most had returned to their former posts due to experience and expertise, while other freshmen lawmakers were surprised at the opportunity to lead committees for the very first time.
"I was very pleased and very honored to be a freshman and be appointed to a committee that is as important as the State of California," said Assembly member Susan Talamantes-Eggman, D-Stockton.
Recently appointed Chair of the Agriculture Committee -- perhaps one of the most important posts for the state -- Talamantes-Eggman says her personal upbringing and experiences will help her make careful decisions in her new role.
"I have an agricultural background. My brother and my father maintained a bee farm for many years so I saw the opportunities and challenges that arose from that. Also coming from Stockton, I know the importance of water and having access to it," said Talamantes-Eggman.
This year, she plans on addressing vital healthcare problems that are beginning to surface in the Latino community, namely diabetes and obesity.
"I am very interested in bridging access from farm to table. As a Latina, healthcare is incredibly important and if we don't address the health problems plaguing our community, it will have huge repercussions in our near future," she said.
Talamantes-Eggman wants to ensure schools, communities and neighborhoods have access to fresh fruits and vegetables including access to farmers markets.
"Agriculture is very diverse in the State of California so I have already begun to do outreach and meet with farmers to learn what the needs are and what issues need to be addressed," she said.
Committee chairs hold the most important job of their committees.
As leaders, they call the committee together to perform its duties, preside and maintain order over the meetings, decide what questions they will address and subjects, supervise and direct the staff of the committee and most importantly, prepare and supervise the preparation of reports of the committee for submission to the legislature.
"This talented group represents the diversity of California and offers the leadership, working knowledge and expertise needed to tackle the important issues facing our state," said Pérez, D-Los Ángeles, in a press release.
Leading the Budget Subcommittee No. 2 on Education and Finance is Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla. This will be her third year as committee chair.
"I requested to stay in this position because it is such a critical time for education and as a former high school teacher, I am very committed to representing educational policy here in the legislature," said Bonilla, D-Oakley.
In the last two years, Bonilla says education has faced devastating cuts to both K-12 schools and higher education in order to reach a balanced budget. This year, she will carefully track the financial component of Proposition 30.
"This year, we have a real obligation to deal with education funding carefully and responsibly. We asked the voters to pass this initiative so now we need to make sure they have trust in us as legislators and track how the money is spent," said Bonilla.
Still, passage of Proposition 30 is not a guarantee that more money will be directly funneled into the classroom.
"We can't accurately predict what the revenue stream of Prop. 30 will be like. Part of the benefit of Prop. 30 is that it will stabilize the budget but we are not going to see a difference in the classroom as far as money goes. If anything, we are going to be preventing extreme cuts that would have happened without the passage of Prop. 30," said Bonilla.
The committee's highest priority will be on the Cal GRANT.
"We need to protect it because it is the key that opens the door for college education for so many young Californians. I went to college on a Cal GRANT and I feel that it is critically important that we protect its funding and not cut it any further," said Bonilla.
Assembly member José Medina, D-Riverside, also wants to focus on education as chair of the committee on Jobs, Economic Development and the Economy.
"With proposed Bill 27, I want to bring funds to the new UC Riverside School of Medicine to expand and diversify the regions workforce but also help improve the health of medically underserved folks and help create jobs for the community," said Ava Sánchez, Medina's communications director.
Assemblywoman Norma Torres, D-Pomona, who was named chair of the Housing and Community Development Committee for the fourth year wants to continue advocating for better housing opportunities.
"I have a great interest in housing. I come from a background of local government, affordable housing and community development so one of the most important issues we have been tackling is helping homeowners who are at risk of losing their homes to stay in their homes," said Torres, who is currently vying for the 32nd state Senate district seat.
If she wins, she will become the only Latina in the state Senate.
She credits the committee's ability in securing nearly $2 billion in funding from the federal government to assist homeowners during the economic recession and the development of four key programs to offer homeowners assistance to stay in their homes.
"For me, the number one issue is that I don't want to see homeless families or children. I want to make sure that folks who have lost their job or have had significant wage losses are able to continue to have a roof over their head," said Torres.
To her surprise, Latinos know the least about the programs and are the least likely to apply for them, though they may be the most qualified to receive aid.
"Our Latino families are not applying for this funding and its there. They can answer five short questions and get pre-qualified. It is not a bank program nor is it associated with a bank. It is a safe program that offers assistance and credit counseling and they are there to help," said Torres.
Nuevos puestos, nuevas oportunidades
Cuando el Presidente de la Asamblea John A. Pérez anunció los nuevos puestos de liderazgo en la asamblea y los presidentes de los comités para la nueva sesión legislativa el mes pasado, los legisladores estatales se preparaban para los nuevos nombramientos. La mayoría había regresado a sus puestos de trabajo anteriores, debido a sus experiencias y conocimientos técnicos, mientras que los nuevos legisladores se sorprendieron por la oportunidad de dirigir uno de los comités por la primera vez.
"Estoy muy satisfecha y muy honrada de ser una nueva legisladora y ser nombrada a una comisión que es tan importante como el Estado de California," dijo la asambleísta Susan Talamantes- Eggman (D-Stockton).
Recientemente nombrada la Presidente de la Comisión de Agricultura -- tal vez una de las posiciones más importantes del estado -- Talamantes-Eggman dice que su educación personal y experiencia le ayudará a tomar decisiones cuidadosas en su nuevo papel.
"Tengo un fondo agrícola. Mi hermano y mi padre mantuvieron una granja de abejas durante muchos años, así que vi las oportunidades y desafíos que se plantean a partir de eso. También soy nativa de Stockton y conozco la importancia del agua y el acceso a ella," dijo Talamantes-Eggman.
Este año, planea enfrentar los problemas vitales de la salud que están empezando a surgir en la comunidad latina como la diabetes y la obesidad.
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