The Toni Times | October 2023

October 1, 2023

Note from Toni



Autumn is here and with it comes Interim Study Recess and the ability to spend more time in my beautiful home district of San Diego and meet with the neighbors and communities that make our region so special. I’m also looking forward to Halloween, and already starting to think about my costume this year – I’m pretty certain that I’ll dust off my broom and don my witch’s hat. Stevie Nicks turned 75 years young this year and doesn’t look any bit of it, so I’m thinking there’s some practical magic to be had there!

This welcome time in Senate District 39 follows the fast-paced final weeks of the first year of our 2023-24 legislative session, when both houses had to get hundreds of bills heard and over the finish line before Sept. 14. That challenge was intensified by the tough economic forecast, destructive storms, and a persistent homelessness crisis, but despite those difficulties, my Senate colleagues and I were determined to protect the progress we have made by championing new approaches to mental health, homelessness, infrastructure, housing, and climate.

We took historic action to address the homelessness crisis by putting mental health at the forefront, and changing how individuals living on the street with mental illness can be placed under a conservatorship to receive care. We also passed two measures that will go before voters in March – one implements a structural reform to the Mental Health Services Act and the other is a $6.3 billion bond to build more than 10,000 units of much-needed treatment beds and housing to get people the help, housing, and hope they need. This is the intentional, focused approach that our state needs, and provides us with a roadmap of solutions for this crisis.

We also passed legislation addressing a wide array of issues, including bills that tackle climate change realities facing our state, enhance protections for reproductive health care, provide more income security for workers by establishing a new minimum wage, crack down on fentanyl distribution, prioritize the needs of human trafficking and sexual violence survivors, and enhance consumer protections for Californians. And while four of my bills were passed by the Legislature, two have already been signed into law – there are updates on that included later in this newsletter!

This legislation session also marked my final one in the role of Senate President pro Tempore. While my work for constituents in Senate District 39 will continue through the end of 2024, as you may have read recently, Senator Mike McGuire has been named Pro Tem Designee, with a transition to be announced after the start of the year. It’s been the honor of a lifetime to serve as Senate Leader – and the first women and openly LGBTQ Senate Pro Tem at that! If someone had told 20-something me, who was heading to San Diego to help my sister and her newborn, that I would be in this position and have had all these opportunities, I would never had believed them. But that’s the California Dream, and I intend to keep paying it forward.

As Stevie says, lightning strikes – maybe once, maybe twice.

– Toni


Legislative Update: Success!



This year, four of my bills were passed by the Legislature and two have already been signed into law! Here is some information on each of these important pieces of legislation.

The BRIDGE Project – SB 447

Senate Bill 447 was signed by Governor Gavin Newsom on September 13 and is in effect! This bill lifted California’s travel ban and created in its place a fund to create non-partisan, inclusive messaging, discourage discrimination, and help members of the LGBTQ+ community feel less isolated. Called the BRIDGE Project – Building and Reinforcing Inclusive, Diverse, Gender-Supportive Equality – the legislation will help California champion compassion and outreach to people throughout the country, and further position our states as a national leader on inclusivity and a beacon of hope for those who have been isolated by state-sponsored discrimination elsewhere.

There’s so much hate, so much hurt, so much harm being inflicted on people who are just trying to live their authentic lives. The BRIDGE Project is a chance to counter that with kindness and empathy – we will be the bridge to a more understanding and compassionate nation.

Abortion Rights  – SB 385 & SB 487

Building on more than a decade of work to protect and expand access to reproductive health care in California, I authored two abortion care access bills this year, both of which were included in the Legislative Women’s Caucus’ 2023 Abortion Bill Package.

Senate Bill 385, which was signed by Gov. Newsom on September 8, better aligns abortion training to physician assistants’ scope of practice and clears pathways for physician assistants to meet requirements to perform aspiration abortions. The bill further allows physician assistants to perform aspiration abortions without the direct supervision of a physician. The bill intends to widen access to abortion services by increasing the number of practitioners available to provide this critically needed care.

Senate Bill 487, which was signed by Gov. Newsom on September 27, will ensure that a health insurer, Medi-Cal, or health care service plan cannot penalize a licensed California health care provider who performs abortion or gender-affirming care services. Additionally, Medi-Cal will not be able to automatically suspend a provider’s license when they are suspended by a Medicaid program in another state for performing abortion or gender affirming care services. The bill does not shield a provider from facing suspension or other consequences for any other wrongful or illegal acts, as determined through existing law.

Transparency, Oversight for In-Custody Deaths – SB 519

Senate Bill 519 would increase transparency and accountability for local detention facilities as it relates to in-custody deaths. SB 519 will help improve conditions in county jails statewide and increase transparency for the families of victims through the following measures:

  • Makes investigatory reports of an in-custody death conducted by a sheriff’s department public in an effort to reduce future deaths;
  • Creates the position of Director of In-Custody Death Review within the Board of State and Community Corrections, who will review investigations of deaths and make recommendations regarding policies, procedures, staffing, and other factors;

Directs the Board of State and Community Corrections to employ a sufficient number of licensed medical and behavioral health professionals to participate in reviews, help establish and implement health and behavioral health standards, and review delivery of medical and behavioral health services within local detention facilities.


2023-24 State Budget Includes Over $60 Million for San Diego Region



Being able to champion state funding for our San Diego community and residents is an important part of my legislative focus. This year, despite economic challenges facing our state, our local delegation colleagues and I were able to secure more than $60 million in the 2023-24 state budget for critical initiatives in the region. 

Of that, over $25 million will go toward projects and programs within the city, including $8.5 million for these infrastructure projects in Balboa Park:

  • $5.6 million for exhibit space at the Fleet Science Center;
  • $500,000 for the Spreckels Organ Project;
  • $1.4 for improvements to the San Diego Natural History Museum;
  • $1 million for facility improvements at the World Beat Cultural Center.

It also was important to me that we continue to support small businesses this year. Given that, I secured $1.5 million to support our local Business Improvement Districts, as they provide community programming and events such as street fairs and farmers markets.

Other budget allocations secured for the City of San Diego include:

  • $500 thousand for library materials;
  • $1 million to support the La Jolla Streetscape Project;
  • $2 million for the San Diego Housing Commission’s Casa Colina project that will support the densification of public agency-owned land and maximize the opportunity for additional affordable housing;
  • $2.5 million to the San Diego River Park Foundation for construction of the River Center at Grant Park;
  • $1.25 million to fund essential upgrades for the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department;
  • $3.5 million for the Memorial Community Park sports field lighting project.

Funding highlights for the region include:

  • $2.7 million to the San Dieguito River Park Joint Powers Authority for the Reach the Beach Trail and Western Gateway Project and Coast to Crest Trail;
  • $5 million to the Scripps Institute of Oceanography at UC San Diego for California Coastal Monitoring and Coastal Ocean Pollution Pathogen Predictions modeling for the Tijuana River Estuary and border beaches;
  • $1 million to the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance for California’s Wildlife Health and Zoonotic Disease program;
  • $1.95 million for the East County Water Purification Project;
  • $2.5 million for the San Diego State University Imperial Valley Student Housing Project;
  • $2.2 million to create the San Diego Gun Violence Response Task Force.

These regional budget wins are a result of great collaboration with my Assembly and Senate colleagues in our San Diego delegation, the offices of local elected officials, governmental agencies, and non-profit partners throughout the region.

My colleagues and I will be looking for more ways to support our community in the coming legislative year as well!


Indigenous Peoples' Day



On Indigenous Peoples’ Day (10/9), we reflect on the many ways that indigenous people have shaped our state and nation, in spite of a history of oppression and injustice against them. The stories of Indigenous Americans are part of the unique fabric of our nation, and we must continue to commit ourselves to meaningful collaboration with Native leaders to uplift Indigenous communities.

On Indigenous Peoples’ Day and all days, I look forward to strengthening our partnerships to create economic opportunity, combat the missing and murdered indigenous women crisis, and further secure their rights to land, water, and self-determination.


Around the District


The County of San Diego Black Chamber of Commerce has long supported and invested in San Diego’s Black business community. Last year, I secured $2 million in the state budget to help them develop an Urban Business Resource Center. I met with them to discuss the work they’ve accomplished and our continued partnership.

The John S. Lyons Memorial Foundation awardees have contributed greatly to the ongoing fight for workers’ rights. Their tireless efforts are improving working conditions, pay, and benefits for workers in San Diego and across California!

For 32 years, Fern Street Circus has been entertaining children and adults of all ages. I met with my longtime friend John Highkin, Executive Director of Fern Street Community Arts, to learn about their new Circus Community Center where they will teach circus arts, free of charge, to youth all year round!

Congratulations to the California Psychological Association on their 75th anniversary! Their leadership in reducing mental health stigma and increasing access to care has positively impacted the wellbeing of Californians throughout our state.

This month, we gathered with the community to celebrate Mother Curley Davis’ 107th birthday! What an incredible woman with an amazing life story.

Team Toni attended Clairemont Family Day, a joyful annual celebration of Clairemont’s small town character and many community events and programs! This year, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Clairemont pool and upcoming improvements to the facility.

This month, I recorded an interview for the California State Archives Oral History Program. Thank you to San Diego State University Professor, Dr. David Cline, for conducting such a thoughtful interview about my family and life growing up in Appalachia, my career, and my devotion to public service.


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