Good morning, California.

“This package of bills is poison, and we will not go quietly.”—Myrna CastrejĂłn, president of the California Charter Schools Association, before a hearing on bills to curb charter schools.

“If you’re a good charter operator, there is nothing for you to worry about in this bill.”—Assembly Education Committee Chairman Patrick O’Donnell, author of one of the bills that passed Wednesday.

Round One of charter schools battle

Charter school advocates and students demonstrate outside the CTA office in Sacramento.

Bills that would dramatically curb the growth of the mostly non-union charter schools cleared the Assembly Education Committee, as California’s teachers’ unions flexed their political muscle in the new Legislature.

  • Hundreds of charter school advocates, who rallied in the Capitol and testified against the bills, left disappointed.
  • It was the first vote in what figures to be a high-stakes battle this session over the future of charter schools, CALmatters’ Ricardo Cano reports.

That the committee approved Assembly Bills 1505, 1506 and 1507 on Wednesday wasn’t surprising.

Authors of the bills sponsored by the California Teachers Association made up two-thirds of the Education Committee, and the committee is chaired by a former public school teacher who was part of the CTA’s policymaking assembly.

The hearing included more than five hours of impassioned debate and testimony, and offered insight into how consequential the charter proposals are to teachers unions and charter advocates.

For Cano’s full report, click here.

Possible pesticide ban and swing seats

A pesticide used since the 1960s might be banned.

Legislation that would ban a pesticide used on 50 crops, including almonds, citrus and wine grapes, would be banned under legislation that cleared its first hurdle, the Senate Health Committee, on Wednesday.

  • The pesticide, chlorpyrifos, has been in use since 1965. In California, a licensed pesticide applier must apply it. 
  • Labor, including the United Farm Workers, and environmentalists are pushing for the legislation by Sen. Maria Elena Durazo, a Los Angeles Democrat and a former Los Angeles County Federation of Labor leader. They cited evidence that the pesticide damages children’s brains.

Farm organizations oppose the bill.

The bill places Central Valley Democrats in an especially tough position.

Democratic Sen. Melissa Hurtado of Shafter: “I’m deeply troubled. I can’t sleep.”

Hurtado, a health committee member, abstained. In November, she unseated a Republican senator in an ag-rich district that includes some or all of Kings, Kern, Tulare and Fresno counties, and will be a Republican target in 2022.

The Legislature rarely bans pesticides, leaving such decisions to the state’s scientists. The California Department of Pesticide Regulation, which is evaluating chlorpyrifos, reports that its use has dropped from 2 million pounds in 2005 to 900,000 pounds in 2016.

  • A fraught history: The Obama Administration moved to ban chlorpyrifos. Scott Pruitt, President Donald Trump’s first Environmental Protection Agency administrator, reversed that effort.
  • A three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals last year ordered the EPA to ban it, though the appellate court has agreed to rehear the case.


A safe haven for abortion rights

Jennifer Siebel Newsom motions at Wednesday's Planned Parenthood rally.

With First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom by her side, Dr. Leana Wen, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of American, warned that 25 million women of child-bearing age soon could be living in states where abortions are illegal.

“What else can we call it if not misogyny?” Wen told several hundred pink-shirted Planned Parenthood activists and volunteers visiting the Capitol to buttonhole legislators and staffers.

She listed some of the threats:

  • In Alabama, a bill would ban abortion two weeks after fertilization.
  • In Georgia, a bill would allow for investigations of women who have had miscarriages.
  • In Texas, legislation introduced would subject women who get abortions to homicide prosecution. In the extreme, the penalty could execution.
  • In 15 states, bills have been introduced that would ban abortions after the sixth week of pregnancy.

California isn’t among them.

Wen: “They’re going to need to go somewhere for their care; You could be that haven for them.”

  • Gov. Gavin Newsom is proposing to double state funding for reproductive care to $100 million, a record sum, with much of that going to heath care providers such as Planned Parenthood.
  • Pending legislation would provide morning-after pills on college campuses.

Why some homes survived the Camp Fire

Homes built after 2008 were more likely to survive the Camp Fire.

As Californians brace for another wildfire season, fire and property records show that the types of roofs and the year of construction can determine whether a home will burn or survive, according to a McClatchy News analysis.

McClatchy’s Dale Kasler and Phillip Reese detail the story of Oney and Donna Carrell, who sped away from their Paradise home, thinking it would burn to the ground. But their home survived the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history with a couple of warped window frames, a partially charred down spout and a stubborn, smoky smell inside.

McClatchy: “A landmark 2008 building code designed for California’s fire-prone regions — requiring fire-resistant roofs, siding and other safeguards — appears to have protected the Carrells’ home and dozens of others like it from the Camp Fire.” 

More than half of the 350 single-family homes in the path of the Camp Fire built after 2008 survived, McClatchy’s analysis of Cal Fire data shows. And only 18 percent of the 12,100 homes built prior to 2008 escaped damage.

  • Foothill cities have the ability to bypass safety standards in spite of considerable fire risks. And the state has done nothing to persuade Californians to retrofit homes built before 2008.
  • Spoiler alert: Not all cities vulnerable to wildfire are in the Sierra foothills. To see which cities are most vulnerable to wildfires, click here.

SALT in the wound

Inglewood taxpayers Jason and June Cao Jarvis

April 15 is around the corner, and as Californians approach their first Tax Day without the old, unlimited ability to deduct state and local taxes from federal filings, “that dear, departed deduction has been Topic A,” CALmatters’ Judy Lin reports.

  • Remind me: The federal tax overhaul passed by President Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress put a $10,000 cap on federal tax deductions for state and local taxes, not to mention a $750,000 cap on mortgage interest. Combined, the changes were a calculated one-two punch to affluent taxpayers in high-tax states.

In effect for a year, the new tax law has been linked to Republican disaffection in pricey Orange County, and has been a theme among disgruntled taxpayers and statewide office holders.

Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis at a policy forum last month, to wild applause: “It’s just scandalous that the Trump administration did away with our SALT deduction.”

Inglewood taxpayer Jason Jarvis, to Lin: “The federal government really jacked us.”

For a CALmatters primer on California taxes, click here.

Take a number: 619,000

That’s roughly how many California taxpayers, earning between $100,000 and $250,000, fall into the category of those particularly hurt by the loss of the full SALT deduction, CALmatters’ Judy Lin writes.

  • The now-capped federal write-off for state and local taxes particularly salts the wounds of California homeowners who purchased in recent years during a strong real estate market, and who can now only deduct interest on up to $750,000 of their mortgages.

Reality check: But the lion share of the SALT cap in California will come out of the pockets of 43,000 top-bracket taxpayers earning more than $1 million. California ranks 10th in overall taxation and has the highest personal income tax rate at 13.3 percent for millionaires.

Commentary at CALmatters

Thank a librarian this week

Greg Lucas, California State Librarian: In this National Library Week, thank a librarian. Libraries are safe, accessible, non-stigmatized places that welcome everyone, even our most disenfranchised. Libraries aren’t the cure for California’s most vexing challenges, but investing more in them makes those challenges less vexing.

Dan Walters, CALmatters: California community colleges are under pressure to improve outcomes for their students, but college officials complain that the data being used to measure progress are faulty.

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See you tomorrow.