Inside the Capitol: California News and Analysis
Where to find news about how the California Capitol works—the players, the policies that affect how state government affects you.
Before Gavin Newsom can reach his audacious goal of universal preschool, California will first have to get to full-day kindergarten. And full-day kindergarten means having to build a lot more classrooms with little adjacent toilets to meet all those 5-year-olds’ bladder needs.
California is among dozens of states that don’t require full-day kindergarten, and despite recent legislative incentives, the state still pays school districts the same amount for student attendance regardless of whether they offer half-day or full-day programs. As a result, an estimated 30 percent of schools in California don’t offer full-day kindergarten.
On Thursday the governor’s office proposed spending roughly $1.8 billion on a suite of early education initiatives. Most of that money, around $1.5 billion, would be one-time funding that takes advantage of a projected $14.8 billion surplus in the 2019-20 budget year.
Of that, Newsom wants to use $750 million to expand kindergarten facilities. This money would be aimed at expanding classrooms and infrastructure to offer full-day programs in schools where only half-day kindergarten is offered. Finance officials estimate the money is enough to build 750 new classrooms and retrofit 1,400 existing classrooms.*
Many schools split limited classroom space to provide only a choice of morning or afternoon sessions because they lack the accommodations for more students. The abbreviated school day often leaves parents scrambling for pickup in the middle of the day or coordinating a patchwork of after-school programs.
Part of the problem is that kindergarten classrooms are different from those for older grades.
“Little kids need extra space to move around in. They shouldn’t just be crammed into rows of desks,” said Hannah Melnick, an early childhood learning analyst at the Learning Policy Institute, a research and policy organization based in Palo Alto.
“They also need age-appropriate play structures. Also, you need to have bathrooms and hand-washing stations available that are not required for older children.”
Her colleague, Beth Meloy, stresses the latter.
“It seems like a strange point to make, but the bathrooms need to be ideally connected to the classroom so that young children can respond to their physical needs rather than walk down the hall alone, which they’re too young for,” Meloy said.
Another factor is population growth. New research from the University of California, Berkeley, and the American Institutes for Research shows that Southern California is experiencing a decline in the number of children aged 3 and 4. However, that age group is growing in the Central Valley, where many families have moved to escape the high cost of housing. That suggests a need for more kindergarten classrooms in some parts but not all of the state.
It’s unclear how many classrooms Newsom’s proposed $750 million will cover (the governor’s budget proposal is likely to contain more details), but advocates say the plan takes a first step toward expanding full-day kindergarten by creating the foundation.
Beyond kindergarten, Newsom wants to commit another $747 million for child care training and expansion of facilities already subsidized by the state. He also will propose a three-year ramp-up for expanding pre-kindergarten programs, starting with a $125 million investment.
Advocates say the long-term benefits of high-quality preschool and early learning result in higher rates of graduation, college attendance and employment. They say young people who have had the advantage of good preschools are also less likely to come into contact with the juvenile justice system or require academic remediation.
What remains a big unknown is where the ongoing funding will come from to support early learning programs, once the infrastructure is constructed.
During the recession, funding for early learning programs dropped by nearing $1 billion; a quarter of child care slots were slashed between 2008 and 2013. While state spending on education has recovered, overall funding for early childhood and child care programs remains below pre-recession levels, according to the Learning Policy Institute.
As CALmatters’ education reporter Ricardo Cano noted, the pent-up demand among education advocates for early learning programs is high after ambitious proposals either stalled or failed in last year’s legislative session. One unsuccessful proposal to extend transitional kindergarten to all 4-year-olds, SB 837, was estimated to cost as much as $2.4 billion annually.
The newly sworn state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond writes that he intends to “put the needs of the youngest Californians and their families front and center.”
And Newsom, a father of four children under age 10, spoke of his own plans to let his perspective as a parent inform his policy proposals, as CALmatters political columnist Laurel Rosenhall captured from his inauguration speech.
“It will take a lot of political will,” Meloy, the early education analyst, said. “We’re not going to be able to expand high-quality early learning overnight. It costs a lot of money.”
Hoping to save California taxpayers some money after spending nearly $1 billion to fight wildfires last year, three officials say it’s time to look at purchasing disaster insurance for the state.
Napa Democratic Sen. Bill Dodd, Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara and Treasurer Fiona Ma announced Senate Bill 290, which would authorize the state to explore purchasing a policy to cover wildfires, earthquakes, floods and other disasters.
“It works just like your home insurance but for our state,” Lara said at a Capitol press conference Thursday. “You pay a premium each year and we are protected. If a disaster strikes, once you cover the deductible, the plan pays you back for your losses.”
Other states and even the federal government have used reinsurance policies to manage costs associated with natural disasters. Notably the Federal Emergency Management Agency purchases protection on their flood response to hurricanes. And Oregon has saved millions by paying premiums to cover their wildfire costs.
Dodd and Lara say the state needs to get creative in confronting climate change-driven disasters, which have transformed California into “a tinderbox” during fire season.
Last year, more than 6,000 wildfires burned 876,000 acres, leveled thousands of homes and killed 104 people.
The state recorded $24 billion in insured losses in the two most destructive wildfires—the Tubbs Fire in 2017 and the Camp Fire in 2018. As a result, the state has exceeded fire suppression costs in seven of the last 10 years.
In 2018, California spent $947 million on fire suppression and emergency response, far exceeding the budgeted $450 million.
“This is a smart approach to one of the biggest challenges ever faced by the state of California and that is, how to keep the public safe without breaking the bank,” Dodd said.
Updated: 9 p.m. Feb. 6, 2019
A statewide poll released tonight found that Californians are generally positive about Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom and the new California Legislature, but still down on President Donald Trump, whom most blame for the federal government shutdown. As in previous polls, they favor keeping the state’s property tax limits for homeowners—but maybe not for businesses.
The poll, from the Public Policy Institute of California, indicated that 70 percent of all California adults and 64 percent of likely voters supported Newsom’s proposed budget after being read a summary of it, with robust majorities backing his push to spend $1.8 billion expanding early childhood and pre-kindergarten programs, and an extra $832 million on public colleges and universities.
PPIC’s poll was made public after the morning release of a Quinnipiac University Poll of registered California voters. It found that the state’s junior U.S. senator, Kamala Harris, has an early home state advantage among Democrats in her run for the presidency—just as long as more high-profile Democrats don’t jump into the race. The poll reported that 58 percent of Democratic-inclined California voters said they would feel “excited” if she became the Democratic nominee. Statewide, voters of all political persuasions were split over whether she would make a good commander-in-chief, with 40 percent agreeing and 38 percent disagreeing.
The excitement factor was higher for Harris than any other declared or hypothetical candidate, save one. Perhaps unsurprisingly given his high name ID, 60 percent of Democratic leaning California voters reported being enthusiastic about the prospect of former Vice President Joe Biden as the party’s presidential nominee. He has not yet said whether he will run.
For those who think it’s far too early for anyone to be earnestly crunching the numbers on 2020, get used to it. California legislators decided to move up the state’s place on the primary calendar up by three months, making it newly relevant for presidential aspirants and the pollsters and consultants who care about them. That all should provide ample fodder for California journalists—but apologies if you were hoping to get through dinner interrupted over the next 13 months.
The Quinnipiac poll also found Californians starkly divided on a wide range of issues. Among registered voters surveyed, a majority of only Democrats supported a single-payer health care system and expanding health insurance to undocumented immigrants. Meanwhile a majority of only Republicans approved of President Trump’s job performance, support a border wall, and oppose strict gun control and marijuana legalization. A majority of those Republicans, unlike Democrats and independents, also said the California economy is not doing well—perhaps a reflection of the fact that the GOP has failed to win any statewide office and Democrats hold a robust supermajority of the Legislature.
The PPIC poll asked Californians how they feel about the new state government, now that Gov. Jerry Brown has finally left state politics. Adults surveyed approved of Gov. Newsom 44 percent to 23 percent, a more than 10 point margin. A third of respondents were undecided. A similar breakdown of Californians support the new Legislature.
In contrast (and coming as surprise to virtually no one), the survey found that the vast majority of Californians disapprove of President Trump, with 64 percent (including 52 percent of political independents) blaming him for the recent 35-day shutdown of the federal government.
These approval and disapproval numbers generally mirror the findings of the Quinnipiac poll.
The Public Policy Institute also found that a broad swath (61 percent) of Californians believe that Proposition 13, the 1978 constitutional amendment that capped the rate at which property taxes can increase, has been “mostly a good thing” for the state. But 47 percent said they supported stripping that benefit from commercial property owners, compared to 43 percent who opposed it—marking some growth in support for the idea compared to earlier polls.
A ballot measure to tax commercial property based on its market value (often referred to as the “split roll” initiative) will be on the 2020 ballot.
Provided with a list of issues and asked to identify the most important issue for the governor and Legislature to work on in the coming year, 15 percent of respondents said immigration/illegal immigration (the top choice), followed by education/schools/teachers with 11 percent and jobs/economy with 10 percent.
Negotiations have broken down between law enforcement and civil rights advocates on legislation to curb police shootings, with each side proposing their own bill meant to reduce the number of Californians killed by police—a development that indicates the Capitol’s dominant Democrats will likely be divided as the emotional issue of police shootings takes center stage this spring.
Assemblywoman Shirley Weber is reviving a controversial idea she proposed last year: to change the legal standard for justifying deadly force so that police can only lawfully kill when it’s “necessary” to avoid imminent danger.
“Not when you think or feel fear, but when you know, given the totality of the circumstances, that the person trying to be apprehended is going to do harm to you, the officer, or someone in the immediate environment,” Weber, a San Diego Democrat, said in an interview.
The current legal standard, known as the “reasonable” standard, justifies deadly force whenever a “reasonable officer” in the same circumstance would do the same thing. It stems from a 1989 U.S. Supreme Court case and is the reason so few police are prosecuted when they kill. Law enforcement officials see the reasonable standard as a critical legal protection they need to perform a dangerous job, and vehemently opposed Weber’s bill last year.
Weber, who plans to announce the bill at a Capitol press conference this morning, said a new standard will make officers safer too.
“We believe the necessary standard is an absolute, and a standard that has to exist because it talks about the sanctity of life,” she said.
“I think we all have always believed that officers only used deadly force when they had no other options available to them. That has always been my perception, and I discovered later that it’s not really true.”
Her legislation is backed by a coalition of civil rights groups and families who have lost loved ones to police shootings. Law enforcement groups are likely to fight it.
Instead, law enforcement groups announced separate legislation Tuesday, backing a bill to require police departments to adopt policies that detail techniques for avoiding force and guidelines for when deadly force is appropriate, and to develop a new statewide training program to educate officers on use of force rules. The bill, which has not yet been assigned a number, will be carried by state Sen. Anna Caballero, a Salinas Democrat.
It will “provide the utmost and highest standard of training for our officers around California… to find ways to reduce incidences of the use of force,” David Swing, President of California Police Chiefs Association, said in a phone call with reporters.
“The sanctity of life is important for all of our peace officers in California. This bill moves the needle on ensuring that we have policies and training that helps preserve the sanctity of life.”
Their bill also changes the legal standard for using force, but in a way that is narrower than Weber’s.
The law enforcement coalition, which includes rank-and-file officers in the Peace Officers Research Association of California, is also asking the state for $300 million over the next three years to provide more homeless services, mental health professionals and substance abuse programs with which police can coordinate.
Neither side would comment on the other’s proposal and it wasn’t immediately clear Tuesday if the two policies could eventually co-exist. Civil rights advocates and law enforcement lobbyists have been negotiating for months over use-of-force legislation—and trying to find common ground. The fact that they introduced separate proposals, carried by different Democratic lawmakers, suggests they couldn’t agree.
“While these two pieces of legislation make their way through the process, I will continue to be engaged to find common ground,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins, a San Diego Democrat, said in a statement.
The schism also indicates that the law enforcement groups are trying a new tactic this year, one that may complicate the politics inside the Capitol. Last year, police set out to quash Weber’s legislation, and they succeeded. This year, their actions indicate that they expect Democrats to act on the issue of police accountability, and are proactively defining their own solution.
Whether Democrats, who hold roughly three-quarters of the Legislature’s seats, will embrace both proposals—or just one of them—becomes the next big question.
After four consecutive years of catastrophic wildfires, Napa Democratic Sen. Bill Dodd wants to establish a California wildfire warning center that would allow officials to turn off power and better position firefighting crews during extreme heat and high winds.
“It would give us more tools in trying to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” Dodd told CALmatters as he introduced legislation today.
The bill, SB 209, calls on the California Public Utilities Commission, the Office of Emergency Services and Cal Fire to work together on monitoring fire weather and to make threat assessments. The center would partner with investor-owned utilities as they install weather-monitoring equipment. The hope is to be able to identify high winds and dangerous conditions before a wildfire breaks out.
SB 209 is just one of several wildfire prevention proposals being introduced this session. Dodd is also carrying SB 190 to improve local government plans for defensible space.
There’s no price tag for the bill yet.
“The cost of this a far less than the cost of fighting a fire and then taking care of people and communities after the fire as the state has done in every one of these events,” Dodd says.
California already has 109 laws on the books that regulate the use of firearms, more gun-control rules than any other state. More, it seems, are on the way.
This morning an all-Democratic contingent of lawmakers announced plans to send a raft of new gun-related bills to the governor before the end of the legislative session. The 16 lawmakers were joined by former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, a gun control advocate and mass shooting survivor, along with representatives of the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
With Democrats now wielding unprecedented political power in Sacramento and with the recent election of Gov. Gavin Newsom, who embraces his role as public enemy of the National Rifle Association, the time seems ripe for a new legislative push.
“We have expanded Democratic majorities in both houses, we have a bright and ambitious new governor with a real track record on this issue,” said Assemblyman Jesse Gabriel of Encino, who helped form the “gun violence working group” with Berkeley Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks. “We have a special opportunity here in California to draft some forward-thinking, meaningful, evidence-based legislation that is going to help end mass shootings and end gun violence.”
Among the legislative proposals introduced today:
- AB 165 by Gabriel, which would call for standards to be developed to teach police officers how to temporarily remove guns from those a court has decided poses a threat to themselves or others. That may include those charged with domestic violence. After a man shot and killed 12 people at a Thousand Oaks bar last November, it was reported that police had paid a home visit to the shooter prior to the incident, but decided not to seek a “gun violence restraining order” against him.
- A proposal by Wicks (yet to be formally introduced) to boost funding to the California Violence Intervention and Prevention grant program, which funds local programs that strive to reduce gun violence.
- A proposal by Assemblyman Mike Gipson from Carson (yet to be formally introduced) that would regulate certain metal components that can be assembled into firearms. A similar bill of his was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown last year.
“America’s love affair with firearms has got to end,” said Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson from Santa Barbara. “I am hopeful that we are going to take our country back.”
But as lawmakers ramp up gun control legislation in California, the judicial winds seem to be blowing against them.
Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a challenge to a New York City law that strictly limits where gun owners can carry their firearms. That decision was widely taken as a sign that the current court may take a more expansive view of the Second Amendment—perhaps at the expense of California’s strict gun control laws.
“We as a state have the right to protect our citizens, to protect our kids and to protect our schools and so we think we can accomplish both of those things while being consistent with the second amendment and also doing big things to prevent gun violence,” said Gabriel.
To learn more about gun policy in California, explore our in-depth explainer.
Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris had a rough weekend.
The freshman Democrat from Orange County, who represents part of Huntington Beach, has been working since last week to neutralize a state lawsuit against the seaside city, threatened by Gov. Gavin Newsom under a new state anti-NIMBY law.
Newsom announced the lawsuit late Friday, citing new California rules designed to punish cities that don’t allow enough housing to be built within their borders.
“I reached out to every member of the city council and the city manager and also the governor’s office,” Petrie-Norris told CALmatters before stepping into more negotiations. “My goal in all this was to reach a resolution without having to take this to the courts.”
Late today Newsom’s office encouraged such efforts, but warned any compromise would have to meet state housing law. .
“Our goal has always been for Huntington Beach to amend its housing plan to allow for more housing,” a Newsom spokesman responded in an email. “The Governor supports and encourages all efforts to help the city come into compliance with state housing law, and the state will gladly drop its lawsuit once it does so.”
Petrie-Norris and fellow Democratic Sen. Tom Umberg, whose district also includes the city, each won traditionally Republican seats by relatively narrow margins, coasting on the so-called “blue wave” that crested over Orange County. Voter registration in Huntington Beach is 40 percent Republican and 28 percent Democratic, and its local government and state legislators historically have tilted conservative.
The city has sued the Democrat-dominated state at least twice in two years: once challenging California’s “sanctuary state” law limiting local involvement in federal immigration enforcement, and again attempting to overturn another state housing law that bypasses city approval.
Having Democrats such as Petrie-Norris and Umberg represent the city could make a deal to end the lawsuit more likely, given that their legislators, governor and attorney general are all members of the same political party. But any compromise could still face opposition from those who want less local control over housing policy.
Petrie-Norris says she’s heard a mix of opinions from her constituents about Newsom’s lawsuit. But what she hears most is, “Why us?”
“There are those people that feel that Huntington Beach has been unfairly singled out while cities like Marin are in as bad a situation as Huntington Beach,” said Petrie-Norris.
The county of Marin, of course, was the longtime home of Gov. Newsom and has served as a slow-growth poster child for decades.
At the very least, Petrie-Norris said, she would have appreciated more of a heads up that the lawsuit was coming.
The governor’s announcement “was not handled in the spirit of collaboration that I hope we can manage going forward,” she said.
Note: This story has been updated to more accurately reflect voter registration in Huntington Beach.
Not that anyone need more evidence of the Republican Party’s collapse in California. Democrats, in the last election, flipped seven GOP seats in the U.S. House and eight more in the state Legislature. They’ve swept every statewide office since 2010.
But more evidence emerged anyway today, when Republican Assemblyman Brian Maienschein of San Diego announced that he had switched parties and is now a Democrat. A reliably moderate Republican during his six years in the Legislature, Maienschein said his own views had moved to the left as his party veers hard right.
“Donald Trump has led the Republican party to the extreme on issues that divide our country. But its leadership is not the only reason for changing my party affiliation,” Maienschein said, citing his support for gay rights, abortion access, organized labor, gun control and immigration.
He called President Trump’s conduct “offensive,” “immature” and “counter-productive” and said, “at some point I have to take a stand… and say that this isn’t somebody I can continue seeing as a leader of a party I belong to.”
The assemblyman’s switch is the latest sign that the style of Republican politics emanating from the White House does not play well on the left coast. Last month, California saw another high-profile GOP defection when Tani Cantil-Sakauye, the chief justice of the state Supreme Court, said she had re-registered without party affiliation following the tumultuous confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, Trump’s pick for the U.S. Supreme Court.
It also bolsters Democratic dominance in the state Capitol to epic proportions, giving them more than 76 percent of the seats in the Assembly. That’s far more than the two-thirds needed to pass tax increases and put constitutional amendments on the ballot, and means Democrats can theoretically pass supermajority bills even if they don’t all agree.
Assembly Republican leader Marie Waldron called Maienschein a “turncoat.”
“Running away from the fight for a more affordable, efficient and accountable government for hardworking Californians is not the answer,” she said in a statement. “While Brian is enjoying the perks of his new status as a member of the Democrat majority in the Legislature, we Republicans will continue to stand for the people of California.”
The California Republican Party didn’t spend any money to help Maienschein in his re-election campaign last year, which turned out to be extremely close as the Democratic wave washed across previously-GOP regions of the state. Democrats, meanwhile, poured almost $1.2 million into supporting his Democratic challenger, Sunday Gover, who nearly ousted Maienschein.
The assemblyman said the close election did not factor into his decision to switch parties, but it’s hard to imagine he would ignore the signs that constituents in his northern San Diego district are trending blue. Democrat Hillary Clinton won the district in 2016, and Maienschein won re-election as a Republican in 2018 by just 607 votes. By 2020, he would have been on the ballot in a presidential election year, when turnout typically gives Democrats an edge.
“Trump is having a major effect in polarizing the public and… a big effect in turnout in bringing out voters who don’t normally vote in a gubernatorial cycle,” said Mark DiCamillo, a pollster whose research during last year’s election showed that Californians’ overwhelming dislike of Trump helped many Democrats to victory.
“It’s a tough thing for Republicans in California, given the president’s stances,” he said.
Former Gov. Jerry Brown, who pushed to rein in public employee pension costs, has started drawing on his $120,000-a-year pension after decades of public service.
Brown officially retired Jan. 7 to his ranch in Colusa County and began drawing $9,994.29 a month after 33.5 years of service, according to Amy Morgan, a spokeswoman for the California Public Employees’ Retirement System.
Brown, the son of former Gov. Pat Brown, began his political career on the Los Angeles Community College Board of Trustees. Over a five-decade span, he served as secretary of state, mayor of Oakland, attorney general and a record four terms as governor, all of which counted toward his service credit at CalPERS.
Brown retired at age 80, which is 22 years older than the average retirement age of state workers. Among his legacies is a rebalancing of state pensions for hundreds of thousands of public employees, a fight he took all the way to the California Supreme Court.
Payments for public employee retirement benefits are putting pressure on government budgets throughout cities, counties and school districts in the state, so much so that Brown once called pension reform a “moral obligation.”
For comparison, Brown’s pension falls in the middle of recent governors. According to CalPERS, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger waived his salary so he isn’t collecting a pension. Gov. Gray Davis retired in 2003 with 30 years of service and collects $140,767 a year. Gov. Pete Wilson retired in 1999 with about 12 years of service and receives $77,051 a year.
With the 2018 election hailed as the Year of the Woman, how far has California—a state that prides itself on being on the progressive vanguard—actually come?
As CALmatters’ latest “Legislators: Just Like You?” interactive demonstrates, only three out every ten lawmakers are now women. That means not only is California far behind neighboring Nevada, which became the first state with a majority of female legislators. It lags 19 states, including its other regional neighbors Arizona, Oregon and Washington, not to mention New York and Colorado, according to the latest count by the National Conference of State Legislatures. This is true despite the fact that California reached a high-water mark in the last election for the largest number of women elected to state and federal office this century.
Notably, California is represented by powerful women in Washington D.C., including both U.S. senators and the House Speaker, as well as its first female lieutenant governor, Eleni Kounalakis, and Senate President Pro Tem, Toni Atkins. It has never, however, come close to accurately reflecting the majority of adult Californians who are female, and has never elected a female governor.
Why the gap? Political scientists have noted that women sometimes face a double-standard of judgment even from female voters, and that women typically face more obstacles raising campaign cash. But there’s another potential barrier that deters women from running and winning elected office—the need for childcare. And a bill introduced by Democratic Assemblyman Rob Bonta of Alameda aims to lessen that barrier.
Even Bonta, when first ran for Assembly, found that a lack of childcare impacted him. “I had to miss meetings,” he said. “I had to miss important campaign events.”
Assemblywoman Blanca Rubio recalled traveling to events where her departing flight left at 7 a.m. and her her returning flight at 9 p.m. She even filled in 16 different names on her children’s emergency contact forms so that a vast cadre of family and friends were authorized to pick up her kids when she was on the campaign trail.
While the law now allows candidates to spend a max of $200 per event on childcare, according to the California Fair Political Practices Commission’s campaign manual, Bonta’s bill would eliminate that cap.
The manual currently doesn’t specify what constitutes an event, or whether parents may spend money on child care when they have flight schedules that conflict with their children’s school schedule? Bonta said the bill will create clarity.
Childcare has proven a challenge for many female candidates—among them Oakland’s new Democratic Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks, who has acknowledged the complications of breastfeeding her child while running for office.
“The thing that I realize is, sometimes in order to fight for change you need a little help changing the diaper.”
Parents of young children are part of this year’s class of new lawmakers. So while the number of female lawmakers still doesn’t match the number of men, the update in campaign finance rules could be one way to close that gap.
“The simple truth is that women are underrepresented at every level of government—from city councils to state Assembly to Congress,” said the bill’s co-author Democratic Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris of Laguna Beach, in a press release. “This bill removes a critical barrier and helps more women run for office and enter public service.”
Note: This comparison is based on CALmatters’ calculation of the percentage of California’s female legislators, which at 30.5 percent ranks California slightly higher for gender equity than the 29.2 percentage used by the National Conference of State Legislatures. Our percentage is based on a total of 118 California legislators instead of 120, because two seats are currently vacant and will be filled by upcoming special elections.
A California lawmaker who resigned abruptly at the end of 2017 citing health problems likely harassed at least two legislative staff members while he was in office, according to an investigation commissioned by the state Assembly.
Investigators determined that former Assemblyman Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, a Democrat who represented part of Los Angeles for four years, “more likely than not” made a sexual advance on a staff member after asking her to dinner and telling her he was obsessed with her. It’s also “more likely than not” that he repeatedly winked at another staff member and held her hand in a way that made her uncomfortable, according to records the Legislature released today.
The redacted records do not identify the victims but describe Ridley-Thomas trying to kiss the staffer he asked out to dinner:
“He walked me to my car and… he basically kissed me. He tried to put his tongue in my mouth. I could feel his erect penis on my leg. I told him I wasn’t interested,” the report says.
After that, the records say, the assemblyman continued to call and text the staffer.
Ridley-Thomas denied the allegations, releasing a statement through his attorney that criticized the Assembly’s investigation process and accused officials of breaching confidentiality.
“The amount of redaction in the documents released by the Assembly shows that most of the allegations were unsubstantiated. For those that remain, my client refuted each one point by point during the investigation and provided evidence supporting his position,” said the statement from attorney Nancy Sheehan.
“In light of how this investigation was skewed, it is difficult to have confidence in its findings. Allegations of sexual harassment are serious. The process used to investigate them and make findings needs to be careful, fair to all involved, and conducted with absolute integrity. Unfortunately, this wasn’t true in my client’s case and is therefore unacceptable.”
The Legislature is releasing the report in accordance with a change of policy ushered in by last year’s #MeToo movement striving to end sexual harassment. Even though state law says the Legislature can keep its investigations secret, the new policy calls for making investigations public in cases that substantiate complaints against elected lawmakers or high-level staff.
CALmatters is tracking records the Legislature has released since last year. Scroll to the right for a link to the original documents.