Happy Earth Day, California. 

“California will keep pushing increased consumer protections because we understand that student loans not only affect the lives of borrowers but have radiating negative effects throughout the economy.”—Assemblyman Mark Stone, D-Scotts Valley, on legislation to create a Student Borrower Bill of Rights.

Protection for student borrowers

Student loan debt is $1.4 trillion nationally.

Once more, the California Legislature is preparing to step in where the Trump administration has retreated, this time to protect people who take student loans.

The bill by Scotts Valley Democratic Assemblyman Mark Stone would establish the Student Borrower Bill of Rights and:

  • Create a student borrower advocate within the Department of Business Oversight who would be responsible for reviewing complaints.
  • Authorize the state to collect more data about the student loan servicing industry.
  • Allow borrowers to sue if servicers fail to comply with the act.

Seth Frotman took the lead on student loan issues at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau during the Obama administration, and quit last year, sending a scathing letter denouncing the Trump administration’s efforts to unravel protections.

  • Frotman established the Student Borrower Protection Center, and will testify at today’s Assembly Banking Committee hearing.
  • He predicted other states would follow California, and once Trump is out of office, “what is coming out of Sacramento will be the road map for the federal government.”

The bill’s one listed opponent is the Student Loan Servicing Alliance, which represents lenders and servicers, including Wells Fargo, Navient, Discover and Great Lakes Educational Loan Services.

Money matters: In Washington, the student lending industry spent $9.9 million on lobbying in 2017-18.


EV sales motor ahead

Electric vehicle sales jumped 13 percent in the first quarter.

Led by delivery of Tesla 3 model, Californians bought 30,745 electric vehicles in the first quarter of 2019, a 13 percent increase over the first quarter of 2018, the nonprofit organization Veloz reports.

Some other stats, provided by the California Air Resources Board and Veloz:

  • California accounts for half of the nation’s electric vehicle sales, 570,079 of the nation’s total, 1,178,918.
  • Electric and plug-in hybrid electric cars accounted for 7.8 percent of all new car sales in California in 2018 and are about 10 percent now.
  • In 2018, California paid $172.4 million in rebates to 72,871 individuals and business owners who purchased zero-emission vehicles, averaging $2,366. That was up from $114.8 million in rebates in 2017.
  • Rebates for Tesla purchasers totaled $80.8 million in 2018, up from $15.7 million in 2017.

California’s goal, stated in executive orders by then-Gov. Jerry Brown, is to have 1.5 million zero-emission vehicles on the road by 2023, and 5 million by 2030.


Child labor and green economy

Cobalt is essential to electric car batteries.

Not that she necessarily seeks to spew diesel fumes at California’s Earth Day picnic, but Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez hopes to raise inconvenient questions today about who mines the cobalt that is essential to batteries that propel electric cars.

Melendez, a Republican from Lake Elsinore, is carrying legislation headed for a hearing today that would require the California Air Resources Board to certify that batteries used in zero-emission vehicles are free of material mined or produced by child laborers.

  • Zero-emission vehicles use lithium ion batteries, which contain cobalt. Half the world’s supply comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
  • A legislative staff analysis of the bill cites studies that 40,000 Congolese children are involved in cobalt production.

Melendez: “This is about child labor. This isn’t an attempt to undermine the green economy.”

She added: “We should think about consequences and costs that come along with reaching all these goals we’ve set.”

A rarity: The Sierra Club is on the same side as auto manufacturers opposing the bill, albeit for different reasons.

Sierra Club: “If this was a sincere attempt to address the issue of child exploitation, it would include all vehicles sold in California. We ask you to expand the scope and amend the bill to include all vehicles.”

The legislative staff report notes “it may be difficult for any entity, including a regulatory agency, to 100 percent ensure that the cobalt used in the final product was not mined using child labor in a faraway country.”

Tracking spread of syphilis. Slowly

Syphilis bacterium

Syphilis is spreading in rural America, in part because of increased drug use and a fraying public health care system, Kaiser Health News reports.

But California led the nation in the number of syphilis cases in 2017 with 21,804. That’s 21 percent of all cases reported that year, the Centers for Disease Control reports.

Looking deeper: California had 30 percent of all congenital syphilis cases and almost 22 percent of all late and latent syphilis cases in 2017.

  • More babies by far were born with the easily treatable disease, and more older people went untreated in California than in any other state in 2017.

We cite 2017 numbers because the California Department of Public Health tells me via email that it won’t have 2018 numbers for syphilis until mid-May or June.

For more on the topic, see CALmatters’ commentary: “California faces a sexually transmitted disease crisis. Why aren’t we confronting it?

Let's play ball

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf wants a waterfront stadium.

The Oakland A’s quest for a waterfront stadium leads back to Sacramento with a rally and a hearing today on legislation needed to allow for construction.

  • Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf supports the effort.
  • Opponents include entities that depend on the Port of Oakland, including truckers and shippers who fear a stadium north of Jack London Square would interfere with their operations.

A’s President Dave Kaval told me:  “We need to make sure our proposal doesn’t interfere with the expansion of the port. We heard that loud and clear.”

The bill by Democratic Assemblyman Rob Bonta of Alameda would authorize the State Lands Commission to settle title and boundary uncertainties and approve a finding that a baseball stadium and related activities are consistent with long-standing law that tidal areas are part of the public trust.

Advocates contend Oakland needs a new baseball stadium to retain its baseball team, with the Raiders departing for Las Vegas and the Golden State Warriors to San Francisco.

  • Lawmakers last year approved legislation speeding California Environmental Quality Act review of the A’s proposal.
  • The Legislature has made similar exceptions for several other major league sports businesses.

Rent control redux

Pro-tenant bills have resurfaced in the Legislature.

Six months after voters smacked down an initiative that could have expanded rent control, several Democratic lawmakers are back with pro-tenant bills that this week will face their first major legislative hurdles.

  • The effort comes as Michael Weinstein, the proponent of the 2018 rent control initiative, has filed a new version, potentially for the 2020 ballot.

CALmatters’ Matt Levin and the L.A. Times’ Liam Dillon delve into the measures in their new installment of “Gimme Shelter: The California Housing Crisis Podcast.” Their guests include Michelle Pariset, a policy advocate with Public Advocates, and Assemblyman Rob Bonta, Democrat from Alameda.

Commentary at CALmatters

Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, professor of Medicine and Public Health at UCLA: Failure to respond to California’s sexually transmitted disease crisis will have serious and direct health consequences for Californians. If Californians don’t demand urgent action, we will doom the current generation of young adults to a legacy of ill health they did not deserve.

Dan Walters, CALmatters: California’s “achievement gap” in its K-12 schools has persisted, despite spending many billions of dollars to close it. Two new proposals, a state audit and a system to track students’ achievement, may tell us why the gap has been so stubbornly wide.

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

See you tomorrow.