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Politically Powerful Activist Behind SB 18, the Troubling “Children’s Rights Bill”

One of the most alarming bills to come out of the California legislature this year is SB 18, the so-called “Bill of Rights for Children and Youth in California.” Authored by Senator Richard Pan, this bill establishes a list of inherent rights, staggering in their breadth, to which all of California’s minors are supposedly entitled. Even the LA Times editorial board is shocked, calling the new bill “overly ambitious” and “troubling.”  

This broad list of children and youth entitlements includes:

  • the “right to parents, guardians, or caregivers who act in their best interest,”
  • the “right to live in a safe and healthy environment,”
  • the “right to social and emotional well-being,” and
  • the “right to opportunities to attain optimal cognitive, physical, and social development.”

Appropriate health care, life skills leading to self-sufficiency, and healthy attachments with adults are also among the list of guarantees this bill is supposed to ensure for all minors.

The current version of SB 18 only lays out the intent of the bill, with the specifics yet to come, but many parent groups are already concerned this bill threatens parental rights, and lets the government act as a wedge between parents and their children. Instead of parents deciding what is in the best interest of their children regarding health, safety, education, and social activities, government officials will hold veto power over those decisions.

And since this bill establishes these broad standards as rights, does that mean the state government or even minors themselves can sue parents for not providing “optimal” opportunities? The LA Times editorial board fears any local government entity could use these new rights to sue the state for not providing adequate funding for child care, new school buildings, or adequate parks. The problems with this bill seem endless.

Although SB 18 is authored by Pan, he is not alone in trying to meddle in the lives of parents and children. The driving force behind this legislation is it’s official sponsor, Common Sense Kids Action, and the group’s founder Jim Steyer. If you haven’t heard of Jim Steyer, you have probably heard of his more famous billionaire brother Tom Steyer, a political and environmental activist known for spending tens of millions of dollars supporting Democratic candidates and causes around the country.

Even though Jim is not as well known as his richer brother Tom, he is just as well connected to the elite political class. He interacted with the state’s oligarchy while teaching political science at Stanford over the last 25 years. Some of his former students include New Jersey Senator Cory Booker and President Obama’s National Security Advisor Susan Rice. He even taught Chelsea Clinton and has been close with the Clinton family for several decades. According to Politico, both Jim and his brother Tom have ambitious plans for America, saying, “we are trying to change the world.”

While his brother Tom’s advocacy is more narrowly focused on global warming and environmental issues, Jim activism over the past 20 years has focused on children. In 2003, he founded Common Sense Media, a nonprofit dedicated to improving media and technology choices for kids and families. Steyer claims he now has 65 million users coming to his website, including 300,000 educators, who can view more than 24,000 articles from educators and child development experts who have reviewed the content of child-oriented movies, TV shows, and video games.

Steyer now plans to use this grassroot network to advocate for government policies he believes kids need to thrive. He details his plans at his Common Sense Kids Action website, where he promotes federal and state legislation he supports around the country, including SB 18.

Next week, Steyer and Senator Pan plan to jointly host a town hall meeting in Sacramento to talk about SB 18 and review a report Steyer’s group produced which provides a “blueprint for a child-centered system that nurtures every child from the beginning of life.” The paper highlights the high poverty rates among California’s children and promotes new laws to help parents pay for daycare and preschool for children, and to force companies to provide more generous family leave time.

We urge all of our supporters who can make it to Sacramento to attend this event on Tuesday, February 28!

For more details about the upcoming town hall meeting, please click here.

SB 18 is still in the Senate Rules Committee and will not be assigned to a policy committee until specifics of the law are added. For the bill to be passed this year it must get out of a Senate policy committee by April 28th.


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