Good morning, California.

“So we’re trying to just sort out — ‘How the hell do you do something like this?’ — and still see your kids and make sure that her dreams and aspirations aren’t deferred for too long.”— Four-term Congressman Eric Swallwell to The San Francisco Chronicle, on edging closer to running for the White House. The move would open the Dublin Democrat’s congressional seat. 

Becerra's public records request

Attorney General Xavier Becerra wants released police records given back.

In an extraordinary request, Attorney General Xavier Becerra is insisting that reporters return documents obtained through the California Public Records Act detailing  the transgressions of 12,000 current and former law enforcement officers and applicants who have been convicted of crimes.

  • The Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley and its production arm, Investigative Studios, requested and received the documents from the Commission on Peace Officers Standards and Training.

Becerra sent a letter on Jan. 29 saying the commission did not have the right to release the documents, which come from the Automated Criminal History System, a database used by law enforcement.

The letter: “You are hereby on notice that the unauthorized receipt or possession of a record from the Department’s ACHS or information obtained from such a record is a misdemeanor.”

The Mercury News and KQED, which are collaborating with the investigating reporting group, gave their answer Tuesday, jointly publishing a story that begins:

“Their crimes ranged from shoplifting to embezzlement to murder. Some of them molested kids and downloaded child pornography. Others beat their wives, girlfriends or children. The one thing they had in common: a badge.”

The public records remain public. However, the reporting group has withheld publication of the entire list until the identities of the nearly 12,000 people named in the documents could be confirmed with further reporting, said John Temple, director of the Investigative Reporting Program. 


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November lands for charter schools

Bills would impose severe restrictions on California charter growth.

Advocates for charter public schools lost the races that count in the November election: governor and Superintendent of Public Instruction. Now come the consequences.

  • Legislation limiting the privately-operated public schools, which are mostly nonunion, has been introduced by Democratic legislators who agree with teachers unions that California should rein in the growth of charters.
  • Bills would cap the number of charter schools, limit the ability of charter school advocates to open new charters, and allow school districts to consider the financial impact of allowing more charters to open. Already being fast-tracked is legislation to impose open meetings laws and other transparency measures on charter schools. 

The California Teachers Association, other teachers and school employees unions endorsed the bills, according to Edsource, a nonpartisan journalism organization that focuses on education.

  • Elections matter: Gov. Jerry Brown supported the concept of charter schools, having founded ones in Oakland. Gov. Gavin Newsom defeated former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a charter advocate, in the June primary. And Tony Thurmond defeated charter school executive Marshall Tuck for to become superintendent of public instruction.

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A hard CA look at for-profit colleges

The California Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education.

Incensed at for-profit college abuses—and failures by the state agency that is supposed to address them—state lawmakers have proposed major changes in the standards for-profit colleges must meet to operate in California, CALmatters’ Felicia Mello reports. 

  • A package of bills to be unveiled today would, among other things, bar schools from enrolling California students in programs designed to prepare them for careers if their students’ debt after graduation rises above a certain percentage of their incomes. The proposal is based on a “gainful employment” rule adopted by the Obama administration and since delayed by U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

Assemblyman David Chiu of San Francisco, the bill’s author: “The story is commonplace—students taking out thousands of dollars of loans to enroll in a career training program they have been led to believe will lead to a job, only to discover they’ve got themselves in a horrible financial hole with no return on their investment.”

 The legislation was inspired in part by a CALmatters-Sacramento Bee investigation that found California’s Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education often failed to enforce state laws designed to prevent predatory recruiting and other abuses at for-profit schools.

  • That state agency announced this month it had created a special five-member task force of current and retired investigators to reduce the backlog.

Should it be easier to pass a parcel tax?

A new proposal cites need to raise more local funding for schools.

Concerned about teacher pensions, two Democratic lawmakers want to make it easier for communities to supplement state school funding, over and above the chunk of the state budget that goes to K-12 education.

  • A  constitutional amendment proposed by Sens. Jerry Hill of San Mateo and Ben Allen of Santa Monica would lower the two-thirds threshold for passage of school parcel taxes to 55 percent.
  • Local bonds for school construction already can pass with just 55 percent of a district’s voters. The legislation would set a similar bar for the popular property tax add-ons that many California communities also seek (with less success) to help pay for school operations.  A statewide vote could come as early as March 2020.

An email seeking support from Democratic legislators said districts need to offset “a required increase in contributions to the California State Teachers Retirement System, increased healthcare costs, declining enrollment in many districts, and salary increases.” 

  • A Santa Monica-Malibu school trustee before winning a legislative seat, Allen called the existing two-thirds requirement anti-democratic because “the only way local voters can support a school district is through the passage of parcel tax.” Hill said schools are closing in his wealthy Peninsula district.

Hill: “This is becoming the perfect educational storm and it is harming the next generation of children.”

Doing the math: The senators’ plea says one-third of California’s school districts had a deficit in 2018-19, and two-thirds will have deficits in 2019-20, even as state school funding approaches an all-time high.

Hearings open on the future of work

Lobbyists outside Tuesday's packed Assembly Labor Committee hearing.

A sweeping California Supreme Court ruling last year made it harder for companies to classify workers as independent contractors, upending business plans from Uber to hospital emergency rooms.

  • On Tuesday, the first legislative hearing to deal with the so-called Dynamex decision was packed into the hallways with lobbyists and advocates. It’s a sign of a major battle in the year ahead.

Organized labor embraces the Dynamex ruling, involving a trucking company that replaced employees with independent contractors.

  • Not so much, companies whose margins depend on the lower payroll costs of independent contractors who can’t command the same benefits and job stability as employees, not to mention the right to join unions. Also, some workers say they prefer to operate independently.

On Tuesday, Assemblyman Heath Flora, a Republican from Ripon, urged a middle ground in which “small guys who truly want to be independent” can continue to operate. He cited personal trainers who work at gyms and pilates instructors, who aren’t particularly the subject.

Caitlin Vega of the California Labor Federation: “Nothing in Dynamex stops any individual from going into business for themselves in any industry.”

Doug Bloch of the Teamsters said that the vast majority of truckers are considered independent contractors, and they have no benefits and no job security.

  • One exception is UPS, a company that has a union force. Drivers with a high school diploma can earn $75,000 a year, with full benefits. And UPS remains highly profitable, he said.

Take a number: $22,785

California students graduate from college with the fifth lowest level of student debt of out of the 50 states, at $22,785, says the Institute for College Access & Success. Although California spends $10.3 billion a year on student aid, lawmakers were urged in a hearing Tuesday to make low-interest loans and aid more accessible. Connecticut students have the heaviest debt, at $38,510.

Commentary at CALmatters

California organic farming is growing and policymakers can help.

Dwayne Cardoza, President of California Certified Organic Farmers, Fresno-Tulare Chapter:California agriculture is presented with an opportunity it has only begun to tap. Despite rapid growth in organic food production, only 4 percent of all agricultural land in the state is being farmed organically. We need policies that use organic agriculture as a practical, evidence-based approach to solving the complex challenges facing California.

Dan Walters, CALmatters: Californians dodge a bullet by electing a moderate new party chairperson, but Jessica Patterson faces a daunting task to resuscitate her party.

Please email or call with tips, suggestions and insights, [email protected]org, 916.201.6281. Shawn Hubler, [email protected]edits WhatMatters. Thanks for reading, please tell a friend and sign up here.

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