Photograph taken in front the Capitol building in Sacramento, featuring a diverse groups of divestment allies holding up a large banner which reads, "Divest California's Public Pensions."

California public pension divestment bill building momentum; passed Senate Labor and Judiciary Committees

SB 252 now heads to Appropriations and then a Senate floor vote

April 18, 2023
Contact: Shana DeClercq | | (415) 376-3746
Photos available here | Banner image by Tesa Richardson Photography

SACRAMENTO | Today, SB 252 – a widely-supported bill for CalPERS and CalSTRS to phase out fossil fuel investments – passed its second Committee hearing in the California State Senate at the Senate Judiciary Committee. After an opening statement from bill author Senator Lena Gonzalez (D), Long Beach), and expert testimony from Hannah Estrada, Youth vs. Apocalypse, and Ron Rapp, Legislative Director, California Faculty Association, the Committee opened the floor to in-person and phone call public testimony. Nearly 150 Californians called in or joined in person to support SB252. The phone lines overflowed with Central Valley community members, Bay Area youth, organizational representatives, and pension beneficiaries from across California striving to make their enthusiasm for divestment heard.

Eight Senate committee members voted Aye, and the bill has been referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee. This momentum for public pension divestment comes as Californians recover from record-shattering floods, while also girding themselves for ever-lengthening wildfire seasons in the Western U.S. – climate impacts directly caused by the extraction, transportation, and burning of fossil fuels.

Carlos Davidson, CalPERS recipient and California Faculty Association member, gave the following statement: 

“What we are seeing with SB 252 is tremendous momentum, in no small part due to the strong labor support for divestment of CalPERS and CalSTRS. Just as our pensions are the largest in the United States, our union workforce that contributes to those pensions is also a force to reckon with. Unions supporting the bill, such as the California Faculty Association, AFSCME California, the California Nurses Association, the American Federation of Teachers California, and more, together represent over 470,000 California workers.” 

Miriam Eide, Coordinating Director, Fossil Free California, added the following statement:

“Union members, workers, retirees, and pension members have made it clear: we want out of fossil fuel investments and we want out yesterday. Fossil fuels are toxic, not only to the financial future of pensions, but to the health of our communities. This vote is a massive testament to the power of unions and the power of Californians when we come together across our differences to unite for our collective future. We are counting on the climate leadership of California’s Senate, Assembly, and Governor Newsom. It’s time for California’s elected officials to listen to unions, working Californians, and constituents – not the fossil fuel lobby. For California and for our public investments, it’s not a matter of if, but when, we go fossil-free.” 

Marlay’ja Hackett, 16, Youth vs. Apocalypse, spoke for the California Fossil Fuel Divestment Coalition:

“As much work as we’re doing and as loud as we’re shouting, money is flowing from public pension funds and into the fossil fuel industry. It is beyond time for us to move past the status quo. This bill is a necessity to have in the battle we’re all fighting for California to go green. Not just for my health and future but for the future generations, your family, peers, and everyone on this Earth. We are in danger and it’s showing more every day with storms, fires, and disasters. We don’t need just your support right now. We need your action. The power to pass this is in your hands. Don’t drop it.”

The vote had strong support across the Judiciary Committee with Aye votes from:

  • Sen. Ben Allen (D) – District 24 (Manhattan Beach, Redondo Beach, Santa Monica)
  • Sen. Angelique Ashby (D) – District 8 (Sacramento)
  • Sen. Maria Elena Durazo (D) – District 26 (Los Angeles)
  • Sen. John Laird (D) – District 17 (San Luis Obispo; Monterey; Santa Cruz)
  • Sen. Mike McGuire (filling in for Senator Stern, Joint author of SB 252) (D) – District 2 (North Coast/North Bay)
  • Sen. Dave Min (D) – District 37 (Irvine)
  • Sen. Thomas Umberg (D) (Chair) – District 34 (Santa Ana) 
  • Sen. Scott Wiener (Joint author of SB 252)(D) – District 11 (San Francisco)

In April 2023, Professor James Stone wrote, “Fossil fuels are a losing bet. Why are CalPERS & CalSTRS still investing in them?” Advocates argue that when considering fiduciary responsibility over CalPERs and CalSTRS pension funds; the stability and growth of those funds; and the well-being of pension beneficiaries and California communities, fossil fuel divestment is the only prudent course of action. In February, The Sacramento Bee revealed the fossil fuel lobby spent more than $34 million in Sacramento in 2022

To date, over 1,550 institutions representing more than $40 trillion in assets have committed to some level of fossil fuel divestment. This comes as fossil fuel-funded politicians peddle anti-ESG legislation and false, politically-motivated claims, garnering much hype but very few statehouse wins, while costing taxpayers millions. Ten states across the U.S. are mobilizing to pass divestment legislation, with Vermont passing divestment through its Senate last month. Over 130 Californian organizations endorse SB 252, including unions representing over 470,000 Californians. 

Following its passage through the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Senate Appropriations Committee will hear the bill before it goes to a full Senate floor vote.