Good morning, California.

“I think there’s other places the president can grab money.”—House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, telling The San Francisco Chronicle that President Trump would not redirect disaster relief and flood control funds earmarked for California to pay for border wall construction if, as expected, he declares a state of emergency today.

Then again, the President did tweet earlier this week that California should return $3.5 billion in federal funding for high-speed rail.

Becerra in a public records fight

The fight for police records continues, despite a new California law.

The police transparency fight has moved to the courts, as First Amendment advocates sued California Attorney General Xavier Becerra Thursday over his refusal to comply with a  state law requiring the release of records related to use of force.

  • California police have some of the nation’s strongest privacy protections, thanks to powerful unions. But because of uproar over police shootings, records now must be made public when an officer uses deadly force, lies or commits a confirmed sexual assault.

Agencies are resisting—including top cop Becerra’s. The law clearly applies to records after Jan. 1, 2019, when it took effect. The dispute involves pre-2019 documents.

  • Becerra has told local law enforcement to preserve pre-2019 records, but has balked at releasing older documents involving California Department of Justice officers and records his office has from other police agencies:

“Historically, under state statute, peace officers have had a significant privacy right in their personnel records. … When it comes to disclosing a person’s private information, you don’t get a second chance to get it right.”

Becerra’s stand is troublesome because he is the state’s top law enforcement official, says David Snyder of the First Amendment Coalition, which filed the suit: “The Attorney General sets the tone for the entire state.”

  • The law’s author, Sen. Nancy Skinner of Berkeley, is urging compliance from fellow Democrat Becerra.
  • Agrees Republican Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham of San Luis Obispo, who voted with her: “He has a constitutional duty to follow California law.”

Red states challenge CA gun law

Red states are suing over a high-tech California handgun law.

One of California’s signature gun control measures is being challenged before the U.S. Supreme Court, and attorneys general from Republican states are leading the attack.

  • Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed first-in-the-nation legislation in 2007 requiring that all new handguns sold in the state include microstamp technology that would impart a unique signature to cartridges.
  • Police and prosecutors joined gun control advocates in supporting the measure, seeing it as a way to help solve gun-related crimes.
  • In 2013, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, then California’s attorney general, concluded the technology existed and would help “law enforcement in identifying and locating people who have illegally used firearms.”
  • Gunmakers and National Rifle Association sued, contending the technology didn’t exist. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal and California Supreme Court rejected the challenges.

Now, Calguns Foundation, Inc., is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case, as is Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who filed a brief on behalf of 19 Republican-control states.

  • Pro-gun groups claim the technology doesn’t exist, and argue the law violates the Second Amendment by effectively banning new handguns sales in California.

Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer carried the bill when he was in the Assembly. Predicting the Supreme Court would not hear the case, Feuer urged gun manufacturers to comply by adding microstamps, which would help law enforcement in all states:

“They have the technology. It’s good for public safety. … This is about giving police leads to enforce the laws we have.”

Mitigating disaster costs

Should California explore wildfire insurance?

California should consider buying wildfire insurance, having spent nearly $1 billion fighting wildfires last year, three officials say.

  • Legislation authorizing the state to explore purchasing a policy to cover wildfires, earthquakes, floods and other disasters is being backed by Napa Democratic Sen. Bill Dodd, Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara and Treasurer Fiona Ma, CALmatters reporter Judy Lin writes.

Dodd: “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.”

The state essentially self-insures now, paying for firefighting costs out of pocket. In 2018, California spent $947 million on fire suppression and emergency response, far exceeding the budgeted $450 million.

  • The insurance idea is not new: The Federal Emergency Management Agency purchases protection on its flood response to hurricanes. And Oregon has saved millions by paying premiums to cover its wildfire costs.

Tax chaos in CA

How many votes does it take for a tax to become law?

A California Supreme Court decision from 2017 is wreaking legal havoc on city finances, Ben Christopher reports for CALmatters.

  • Oakland is getting sued for collecting a tax that got 61 percent of the vote.
  • San Francisco is getting sued twice for doing the same.
  • Fresno is getting sued for not enacting a tax.

From Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, which is suing San Francisco:

“Both legislative bodies and courts could do the people a big favor in being more precise when they pass legislation or issue court decisions…They decided not to do that. So it’s like ‘thanks a lot, now you’ve just given us five years of litigation.’”

Commentary at CALmatters

Lawmakers continue to move election dates.

Larry Levine, Democratic consultant: By continually moving the primary election date, the Legislature is attempting to hit the moving target of relevance based on circumstances that can neither be controlled or known. But if the past is any guide to the future, we can expect them to continue to try.

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.

What Matters will be taking Monday off for Presidents Day. See you Tuesday.