Speaker Toni Atkins reflects on 2015 legislation during La Jolla Community Center visit

When asked what her constituents approach her with most often, Speaker of the Assembly Toni Atkins said it depends on the time in the legislative calendar. “For a while it was economic development and Covered California, but if there is a big piece of legislation or if it’s budget season, we’ll get a lot of calls,” she said.

This year, there was a lot of legislation passed, on which her constituents offered a lot of feedback. Atkins spoke at La Jolla Community Center Oct. 20 to highlight some of the important bills, budget successes and what the legislative future looks like. Her district includes Del mar, Solana beach, La Jolla, Coronado, Imperial beach, and beach communities.

“I was happy to have a lot of bills signed, especially ones that address environmental resources,” she said. one of them, Assembly Bill 392, gave the San Diego River Conservancy program permanency, when it previously only had the funding to function until 2020. Another Bill, AB 226, established the Pacific to Plate program through which San Diego fishermen can sell their catches to the public directly under certain conditions, with Health Department approval (similar to a farmers market).

but the bill she was proudest to sign was AB 96, which closes a loophole in selling elephant ivory. “Most bills are numbered somewhat randomly, but this was named deliberately because 96 elephants are slaughtered each day in Africa for their ivory,” she said. “We had a loophole in California that said you could sell ivory that was gotten before 1977, but you can’t tell how old ivory is.” Atkins’ bill closed that loophole and will hopefully diminish the sale of ivory.

Another hot-button topic for Atkins is the budget, she said.

This year, she had one of her biggest budget “successes” with an agreement she forged with schools in the University of California and California State University system. She explained that during the recession, colleges and universities were able to meet their budget by accepting more out-of-state and international students, which conventionally pay more than in-state students.

“We have California students who meet all the criteria for a UC school and are not able to get into those schools, especially UCSD. ... Those students weren’t able to get enough grants and scholarships to pay for their education and had to get loans,” Atkins said. “We put additional money in UC and CSU schools, but with the condition they accept 5,000 more California students this year.” Additionally, she kept the Middle Class Scholarships program for students whose families make less than $100,000 a year.

Looking ahead

“We’ve tackled a lot this year, but there are some big issues we will look at next year,” she said, including how to regulate drones and finding additional funding for mental health services, among other things.

Regarding drones – the remotely piloted aerial devices that can be used for recording, weaponry or deliveries – Atkins said there are several questions that have yet to be answered. “Innovation and technology create interesting products that do good things, but they also create dilemmas in terms of privacy and public safety,” she said. “We’re going to have a huge discussion and debate on how we look at this issue.”

When it comes to mental health issues, she said, “The state has a role to play here. There is a role for state, county and federal agencies ... and the system is broken ... We need to get a better system and we are working on it, but not fast enough.”

■ The La Jolla Community Center Distinguished Speaker Series resumes 3 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 5 with Scripps researcher David Pierce discussing “El Nino and its effect on California.” The Community Center is at 6811 La Jolla blvd. The event is free. (858) 459-0831.