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Resistance State: California in the Age of Trump

Between Sacramento and Washington D.C. sits the rest of the country, and a chasm. On immigration and taxes, guns and healthcare, cannabis and climate change, California is the federal government’s equal and opposite reaction. One year into President Trump’s first term, the push and pull continues—playing out under the Capitol dome, in the courts and on Twitter.

Ready for another year? Follow along here.

Resistance State: California in the Age of Trump


Jan. 24, 2018 12:57 pm

California sues Trump administration for canceling fracking rules

Environment Reporter
A pumpjack in a California oilfield. Image by Thomas Hawk via FLICKR

Note: This post was updated to include an oil-industry comment.

California’s government started the new year much as it ended the last one: by filing a lawsuit against the Trump administration. This time, the state hit back against Washington’s decision last month to repeal Obama-era regulations governing hydraulic fracturing.

The rules would have required companies drilling on federal land to disclose the chemicals used during the fracking process, in which water and chemicals are pumped underground under high pressure to break oil deposits loose.

The process has been used in oil fields for decades, to establish new wells and revitalize existing ones. But the tremendous pressure applied by operators today is blamed for low-level seismic activity and for cracking open subterranean rock that protects aquifers, potentially fouling water supplies.

State Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced the lawsuit today—the 26th time California has taken the Trump administration to court.

“The risk of fracking to our health and to our environment are real, they are known,” Becerra said at a press conference. He added that the administration gave no legal justification for abandoning the regulations, which were arrived at after years of scientific analysis.

California, Becerra said, was taking the action as a stand against “federal overreach and to insist that the rule of law be followed by everyone, including the occupant of the White House.”

Most of the oil development in California occurs on federal land, operating under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which oversees nearly 16 million acres in the state and operates a federal leasing program.

The rules established by the federal bureau were supposed to take effect in 2015 but were blocked by legal challenges. The agency quietly dropped them last month.

In 2015, California adopted strict fracking rules for oil operations on state land, also requiring comprehensive disclosure of chemicals used in the process. The state released an environmental impact report concluding that fracking could have “significant and unavoidable impacts” on a number of fronts, including water and air quality, greenhouse-gas emissions and public safety.

The state regulations also require oil companies to expand monitoring and reporting of water use and water quality at or near fracking sites and conduct broad analysis of potential engineering and seismic effects of their operations.

The California Council on Science and Technology, a group of scientists who advise the state, issued a 2015 report that found the hazards associated with about two-thirds of the additives used in fracking are not clear. The toxicity of more than half of those additives, the report said, remains “uninvestigated, unmeasured and unknown. Basic information about how these chemicals would move through the environment does not exist.”

Oil companies dispute that fracking is dangerous and say operators are fully complying with state laws.

“We are aware of the lawsuit and will closely monitor its outcome,” said Catherine Reheis-Boyd, president of the Western States Petroleum Association, “as it could have broad impacts on the exploration and production of oil and petroleum products.”

Want to submit a reader reaction? You can find our submission guidelines here. Please contact Dan Morain with any questions, [email protected], (916) 201.6281.

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Dec. 11, 2018 10:18 am

California AG labels Trump’s draft “public charge” crackdown on immigrants reckless—and unconstitutional

Health and Welfare Reporter
Cruz Cubias Castillo, 77, lives with her son Alejandro Cubias and his family. The only money she earns is from recycling cans and bottles. The green card holder qualifies for food assistance but won't apply for it because she fears that could hurt her or her family later. Photo by Elizabeth Aguilera for CALmatters
Cruz Cubias Castillo, 77, lives with her son Alejandro Cubias and his family. The only money she earns is from recycling cans and bottles. The green card holder qualifies for food assistance but won’t apply for it because she fears that could hurt her or her family later. Photo by Elizabeth Aguilera for CALmatters

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra is labeling as unconstitutional the Trump administration’s  proposed rule that would block some legal immigrants from getting a green card if they’ve used—or may use in the future—public services like health care, food assistance and housing programs.

Just hours before a midnight Monday deadline for comment, Becerra submitted a 51-page denouncement of the “public charge” rule, warning it would have “dire consequences for the vitality of California and undermine our State’s investment in our communities and our commitment to supporting working families.”

Since the proposal’s release, he has promised to take “any and all legal action to challenge this reckless proposal.” Becerra already has sued the Trump administration 42 times, with nine of those cases contesting President Trump’s immigration moves.

Becerra’s latest comment contends that the Trump administration has “utterly failed to account for the potential impact the Proposed Rule has on states and their residents, especially in California. The Rule will have truly damaging and irreparable ramifications to our State’s families, employers, economy, and public agencies for years to come.” It says the proposal unconstitutionally
targets immigrant communities of color and interferes with California’s administration of programs that benefit the health and safety of its residents.

The controversial proposal is viewed as another step in the Trump administration’s efforts to reduce migration from developing countries and make it more difficult for poorer immigrants to stay and potentially pursue a path to U.S. Citizenship. More than 115,000 comments have been filed nationwide in anticipation of the federal government issuing a final determination.

Historically the federal government has subjected certain immigrants applying for legal permanent residency, otherwise known as green cards, to a test to determine if they have ever been or would ever need to be supported by taxpayers.  This “public charge” assessment is done at two points in the process—when people from abroad apply to enter the U.S., and when they apply to become a legal permanent resident. It has long focused on judging a person’s need for cash aid programs.

The new proposal would expand the list to include receiving food stamps, Medicaid (in California, Medi-Cal) health care and Section 8 housing assistance. It could affect immigrants here on worker visas who then apply for a green card, and those who apply for one after marrying U.S. citizens.

US Citizenship and Immigration Services, the federal agency,  said it is making the change to better define guidance on how to determine if a person “applying for a visa, admission or adjustment of status is likely at any time to become a public charge.”

“Since the 1800s, federal laws have required foreign nationals to be able to care for themselves without being a public charge,”  the agency’s director,  Francis Cissna, said in a statement. “As such, it is incumbent upon the U.S. government to evaluate applications in a manner consistent with federal law, and I believe the public charge regulation is a necessary step to achieving that goal.”

The Trump administration estimates about 380,000 applicants nationwide may face additional scrutiny under the new rule.

But California forecasts a larger chilling effect because of the fear a rule change is likely to instill among the nearly 30 percent of the state’s population who are immigrants. Becerra’s letter said there are about 5 million Californians living in mixed-immigration status households, with at least one family member who is undocumented, and nearly 3 million children, most of them citizens, with immigrant parents receive public benefits.

The UCLA Center for Health Policy Research estimates that as many as 300,000 eligible people could cancel their enrollment in CAL Fresh, the state’s food stamp program, equaling up to $488 million dollars in annual benefits. For Medi-Cal, the center estimates a decline of up to 741,000 eligible people, accounting for more than $1 billion in funding for the health care coverage. The center’s research concludes the state could lose up to$1.67 billion in benefits, $2.8 billion from the economy and lose 17,700 jobs including in the health care, agriculture and other food related industries.

“The programs lift hundreds of thousands of Californians out of poverty,” said Ninez Ponce, director of the UCLA center. “There is a lot of confusion and fear and so children and families, parents, individuals who are wholly eligible and who have already adjusted to legal permanent status may be confused—and may think that this may threaten their continued pathway to citizenship, and so may dis-enroll.”

Supporters, however, argue the country should reserve benefits for citizens, especially those who are homeless or jobless and need support.

“When you look at what a poor job we are doing with our most vulnerable people (citizens), our inability to provide meaningful work, living wages, what sense does it make to bring in someone who is indigent or very marginal and could be a burden to the taxpayer,” said Kevin Lynn, executive director of Progressives for Immigration Reform, a group that supports limited immigration.

Becerra pointed out that most of the families using the supplemental services are working and need the assistance to make ends meet—especially low-wage workers in health care, agriculture and childcare. “Discouraging eligible immigrants from accessing Medi-Cal, (food stamps) and housing benefits, will ultimately transfer costs to state and local governments and community organizations, as those families rely on emergency services and public safety net programs, such as local shelters, homeless services and food pantries,” said Becerra, who also predicted a major impact on California’s agricultural and construction industries should immigrants choose to leave the state.

An analysis of the change by the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan research organization, found that the new rule would shift immigration from Latin America to Europe. Researchers applied the new test to immigrants who have become legal permanent residents within the last five years and found that nearly 70 percent had at least one negative factor.

Currently immigration officers assess the public charge rule by considering a person’s age, health, family status, assets and resources and education and skills. New factors could also include if someone is a child or a senior, those with limited English proficiency, limited education and medical conditions.

The only positive factor for avoiding being classified as a public charge: if someone has financial assets  or earns at or above 250 percent of the federal poverty level. That’s about $63,000 for a family of four.

Advocates say the new rules would favor wealthier immigrants, who tend to be white, and disproportionately harm women, children and the elderly. They report that legal immigrants are asking questions about how this rule will impact them and many are backing away from programs they qualify for, or that benefit their children.

“The majority of people who receive these benefits are working, so it’s really an unprecedented departure of our understanding of public charge to say that a person who is working but now is receiving supplemental assistance would be considered a public charge,”  said Gabrielle Lessard, senior policy attorney for the National Immigration Law Center. “It’s narrowing who is able to fit through.”

Health providers, especially those in low-income immigrant areas, are already seeing the fallout from the proposal. People are afraid and asking to be disenrolled from programs or are refusing to sign-up even if they qualify.

“This is a vulnerable population and we are concerned about it because these residents are here legally and may be in need of health care, and we should be helping to keep them safe and well,” said Erik Wexler, chief executive of Southern California’s Providence St. Joseph Health, a health care provider that serves a predominantly lower-income Medi-Cal population.

Eisner Health, which provides health care to low-income residents in Los Angeles, said in its submitted public comment: “The effect of this rule could drive entire families away from enrolling in programs that help them stay healthy.”

Among Eisner’s patients is Cruz Cubias Castillo, who lives in South Los Angeles. She recently told an outreach worker there that she did not want to apply for CALFresh benefits after all. The 77-year-old green card holder wishes she could accept the benefit since she lives with her son and has no income except the few bucks she earns collecting cans and bottles to recycle. But she is afraid.

“I am embarrassed to not have any of my own food and I have to get from my son and his family,” she said. “It really pains me—he has his family and has a daughter in a wheelchair. He is the only one that works.”

Castillo has been in the United States for 17 years, and has held a green card since 2010. She worries that the government might come after her or her son later for whatever benefit she might receive, or that they might take away her green card if she accepts the food stamps. So she’s going to go without.

She is, however, taking her chances on one program: Castillo is staying on Medi-Cal and says she can’t quit because she suffers from diabetes.

In Los Angeles County more than 1 million immigrants receive CAL Fresh, cash aid through Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Medi-Cal, and Section 8 benefits. If a quarter of those families drop their benefits, the county estimates that the local economy would lose more than $60 million.

“Our government should never be in the business of punishing people who may need a little help making sure their kids are safe, fed, and have a roof over their heads,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said in his submitted comment. “Creating fear and targeting legal immigrants who follow the rules does nothing to increase our security or strengthen our economy—it is nothing less than a public disgrace.”

Want to submit a reader reaction? You can find our submission guidelines here. Please contact Dan Morain with any questions, [email protected], (916) 201.6281.

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With a quarter-million Californians evacuated from their homes and wildfires so far claiming nine lives, President Donald Trump today took to Twitter and inflamed tensions—blaming California for causing the fires by mismanaging its forests and threatening to cut off federal funds.

Although he approved the state’s request for a state-of-emergency declaration—freeing up funds to help the massive firefighting effort and recovery—the president couldn’t miss the opportunity to aim a derisive shot at the nation’s largest “Resistance State.”

Donald J. Trump on Twitter

There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor. Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests. Remedy now, or no more Fed payments!

But Trump’s shot was a bit off the mark: The deadly Camp Fire is burning in parts of the Plumas National Forest. To the extent that there is mismanagement, as Trump suggests, it could be said to be the responsibility of the federal government, which oversees the lion’s share of the timberland covering the state. California owns and manages only about 2 percent of the forested acres in its boundaries.

And the Southern California blazes, the  Woolsey and Hill fires, are raging in canyons and suburban subdivisions west of Los Angeles. The fires are racing toward beaches in Malibu, nowhere near a forest, federal or otherwise.

The president’s response unleashed a flood of retorts from critics including Katy Perry, John Legend, members of Congress and everyday Californians, many of whom noted that California faces persistent drought and increasing wildfires as a consequence of climate change, which the Trump administration has largely dismissed.

The state’s governor-elect, Democrat Gavin Newsom, offered this:

Gavin Newsom on Twitter

Lives have been lost. Entire towns have been burned to the ground. Cars abandoned on the side of the road. People are being forced to flee their homes. This is not a time for partisanship. This is a time for coordinating relief and response and lifting those in need up.

While criticism abounds regarding appropriate forest thinning, controlled burns and other fire-management approaches, there are no simple solutions to the complicated management of forests.

A state commission recently reported on what it described as the neglect of the state’s forests, but apportioned blame to a broad swath of agencies.

“The president’s assertion that California’s forest management policies are to blame for catastrophic wildfire is dangerously wrong,” Brian Rice, head of the 30,000-member California Professional Firefighters said in a statement. He added “nearly 60 percent of California forests are under federal management, and another two-thirds under private control. It is the federal government that has chosen to divert resources away from forest management, not California.

“Natural disasters are not “red” or “blue”—they destroy regardless of party. Right now, families are in mourning, thousands have lost homes, and a quarter-million Americans have been forced to flee. At this desperate time, we would encourage the president to offer support in word and deed, instead of recrimination and blame.”

President Trump has made comments about withholding federal funding from California whenever state events aroused his irritation, including when protests on the UC Berkeley campus kept right-wing speakers from being heard and when California moved to become a “sanctuary state” for undocumented immigrants. But he never followed through on those threats.

And California officials are fond of pointing out that California send more money to the federal government in taxes than it received back from Washington in federal funds.

Update: For all the blowback,  the president later tweeted that he was issuing a “major disaster declaration” for California, which authorizes federal relief for these fires—adding “God Bless all of the victims and families affected.” 

Donald J. Trump on Twitter

I just approved an expedited request for a Major Disaster Declaration for the State of California. Wanted to respond quickly in order to alleviate some of the incredible suffering going on. I am with you all the way. God Bless all of the victims and families affected.

For a deeper look at the issues at stake, explore our wildfire tracker.

Want to submit a reader reaction? You can find our submission guidelines here. Please contact Dan Morain with any questions, [email protected], (916) 201.6281.

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Nov. 8, 2018 3:42 pm

UC urges students to file DACA renewals as appeals court rules against Trump

Higher Education Reporter
DACA recipient Flor Martinez attends a rally following President Trump’s rescindment of the program, Monday, Sept. 5, 2017, in San Jose, Calif. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

California notched another legal victory Thursday in its bid to protect undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children from deportation, as a federal appeals court agreed with the state’s attorney general and the University of California that the Trump administration cannot dismantle the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit is the first federal appeals court to rule on the fate of the Obama-era program, which provides two-year permits for some 800,000 Dreamers, allowing them to work and study in the country.

About one in four Dreamers live in California, according to Attorney General Xavier Becerra. He called Thursday’s ruling “a tremendous victory for everyone who is a believer in the American dream.”

The ruling upholds an injunction filed by a federal district court in January preventing Trump from ending DACA. Justice Department lawyers had argued that President Obama illegally overstepped his authority when creating the program, and that Congress should decide Dreamers’ fate.

But the appeals court found that the executive branch has long used deferred action for certain groups of immigrants in order to better manage scarce enforcement resources. Programs like DACA “enable DHS to devote much-needed resources to enforcement priorities such as threats to national security, rather than blameless and economically productive young people with clean criminal records,” the judges wrote.

The Trump administration will likely appeal the case to the Supreme Court. A new Democratic majority in the House of Representatives could also try to push legislation granting Dreamers legal status.

Barely a week after tweeting out a xenophobic midterm campaign ad, President Trump indicated at a press conference Wednesday that he was still open to negotiating with Democrats on DACA. “I think we could really do something having to do with DACA,” he said. “We’ll see how it works out at the Supreme Court.”

Meanwhile, UC tweeted out a message Thursday urging students who already have DACA status to renew it. The program is not accepting new applications but is processing renewals.

Maria Blanco, the director of the university’s Immigrant Legal Services Center, said her office had helped students file between 700 and 800 renewal applications since the lower court’s injunction in January. An estimated 5,000 UC students participate in the program.

Blanco said that while the ruling won’t change the advice she gives students, the fact that UC was the lead plaintiff in the case, and the subsequent legal victories, have encouraged them.

“Every time the program is not struck down, there’s a little bit of hope that it might survive overall,” she said.

Want to submit a reader reaction? You can find our submission guidelines here. Please contact Dan Morain with any questions, [email protected], (916) 201.6281.

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Speaking against the backdrop of a busy morning freeway, California officials this morning reaffirmed their opposition to a Trump administration proposal to roll back automobile fuel efficiency standards—noting the state had just filed 415 pages of comment strenuously objecting to the federal plan.

That plan would unravel two instruments critical to California’s climate change policies: The previously-agreed upon benchmarks for car makers to roll out vehicles that consume less gas, and the legal right of the state to set its own auto emissions standards.

The federal rules change, which is not yet finalized, calls for freezing fuel-efficiency standards in 2020 at an average 35 miles per gallon. California had led negotiations that established more ambitious cuts and those rules were formalized in the waning days of the Obama administration.

The officials—Gov. Jerry Brown, Attorney General Xavier Becerra and Air Board chairwoman Mary Nichols—were equally dismissive of the decision to eliminate California’s longstanding waiver, which allows state officials to set car emissions standards that are more stringent that those imposed by federal regulators.

Nichols provided the morning’s most comprehensive takedown of the federal government’s justification for changing course, saying, “What they are proposing not only doesn’t make sense from its own logic, it’s poorly argued, poorly organized, not based in fact and illegal.”

In announcing the rules changes, the federal Environmental Protection Administration and the National Highway Transportation Administration argued that, among other things, the lighter vehicles required to meet the fuel standards would make American drivers less safe. That analysis has been widely criticized, and runs counter to California’s own review.

Gov. Brown noted that even as American automobile manufacturers are seeking to arrest the steady march toward cleaner cars, China is growing its market for electric cars and battery technology. He said that the administration’s policy will negatively impact “jobs and American power in the world.”

Brown chided Trump for rollbacks that he said “jeopardizes the health of millions and will cost billions at the pump. Wrong way to go Donald. Get with it. Bad.”

Want to submit a reader reaction? You can find our submission guidelines here. Please contact Dan Morain with any questions, [email protected], (916) 201.6281.

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Sept. 28, 2018 4:40 pm

Judge rules Huntington Beach doesn’t need to obey ‘sanctuary law’

An Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer handcuffs an adult male.
An Orange County lawsuit has challenged California’s sanctuary state laws.

An Orange County Superior Court judge has ruled that California’s “sanctuary state law” conflicts with Huntington Beach’s rights as a charter city, throwing some protections for undocumented immigrants into question in 120 cities throughout the state.

Senate Bill 54 or the California Values Act, authored by state Sen. Kevin de León, a Los Angeles Democrat who is challenging incumbent U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, doesn’t actually make California a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants. Rather, it puts limits on the amount of work state and local government officials can do to expedite ICE enforcement.

Though many California cities support the law, arguing it makes immigrant communities less afraid to report crimes and promotes trust in local institutions, dozens of other municipalities have adopted resolutions opposing it in principle. Huntington Beach, in coastal Orange County, was the first to take its challenge to court.

Judge James Crandall did not issue a legal opinion about the case, but granted a writ of mandate, ruling that the state cannot enforce its sanctuary law there, based on Huntington Beach’s status as a charter city.

Charter cities are organized under their own municipal codes, rather than under the state’s general law. One hundred twenty-one of California’s 482 cities share the designation, including Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Jose, San Diego and San Francisco.

Lawyers for Huntington Beach argued that the state sanctuary law intruded on the city’s local control.

“Huntington Beach is saying, ‘If we want to volunteer to go above and beyond to help immigration officials, we should be able to do that.’ Under SB 54 they can’t,” said immigration law expert Jean Reisz at University of Southern California’s Gould School of Law.

It’s unclear how the judge’s decision will affect other charter cities, or whether it will inspire more legal opposition.

“It certainly could apply to all of them, but this is an injunction to keep the state from enforcing this law against Huntington Beach, not all charter cities,” Reisz said.

The state Attorney General’s office is expected to appeal.

“Preserving the safety and constitutional rights of all our people is a statewide imperative which cannot be undermined by contrary local rules,” state Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in an email. “We will continue working to ensure that our values and laws like the California Values Act are upheld throughout our state.”

The ruling is separate from the federal lawsuit challenge filed last year by the Department of Justice to the sanctuary laws, which are actually made up of three pieces of legislation. A U.S. District Judge struck down one of the three, pertaining to business owners’ interactions with immigration authorities, but upheld the other two, including SB 54.

Want to submit a reader reaction? You can find our submission guidelines here. Please contact Dan Morain with any questions, [email protected], (916) 201.6281.

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Sept. 12, 2018 6:58 pm

Judge sides with California, faults DeVos for delaying student borrower protection

Higher Education Reporter
U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos
U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, photo via Wikimedia Commons

A federal judge ruled Wednesday that the U.S. Department of Education’s delay of rules meant to protect student loan borrowers from predatory practices was “arbitrary and capricious,” granting a legal victory to the state of California and borrowers who say their colleges defrauded them.

If upheld, the ruling could make it easier for students like the tens of thousands of Californians left in the lurch when for-profit chain Corinthian Colleges abruptly closed its doors to recoup their investments.

Corinthian’s 2015 collapse prompted the Obama Administration to issue new rules the following year allowing groups of students to apply for federal loan forgiveness en masse if their college closed, misled them or broke the law. The so-called “borrower defense rules” were hailed by consumer advocates and criticized by representatives of the for-profit college industry, who said they would put small vocational schools out of business.

The Trump administration has repeatedly pushed back implementation of the rules, and in August proposed a new plan that would make each individual borrower prove that their college knowingly lied to them in order to have loans discharged.

But Judge Randolph S. Moss agreed with the complaint filed by a pair of student borrowers, joined by the attorney generals of 19 states including California, that the department illegally “failed to offer a reasoned basis” for the shift in policy. The two sides are scheduled to meet in court Friday to discuss remedies in the case.

 “This is a big win for students in California and the nation who were cheated of a quality education,” said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who has filed multiple lawsuits on behalf of student loan borrowers.

The Department of Education did not reply to requests for comment late today.

Track all of California’s lawsuits against the Trump administration here.

Want to submit a reader reaction? You can find our submission guidelines here. Please contact Dan Morain with any questions, [email protected], (916) 201.6281.

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Aug. 30, 2018 3:28 pm

California poised to offer strongest net neutrality protection in the country

Sen. Scott Wiener visits the Assembly floor during the last week of 2018 legislative session. Photo by Antoinette Siu for CALmatters

California’s push to pass the nation’s strongest net neutrality protections—and bring back Obama-era rules undone by the Trump administration—advanced today, one step in a high-stakes tech battle that’s being waged from here to Washington.

The bill by Democratic Sens. Scott Wiener and Kevin de Léon survived intense negotiations to pass the Democratic-controlled Assembly with overwhelming support by a vote of 61 to 18. It goes back to the Senate for a final vote before the legislative session ends Friday. If passed, it would prohibit internet service providers from slowing or speeding content based on preference or extra payment.

“The core premise of net neutrality is that we get to decide where we go on the internet, as opposed to telecom and cable companies telling us where to go,” Wiener said in a statement.

SB 822 aims to protect an open internet by replacing the Trump administration’s repeal of federal protections established during the Obama administration in 2015. It is considered the strongest set of net neutrality provisions since Obama’s were rolled back in June, and would be enforced by California’s attorney general.  

Wiener and de Léon’s proposal would ban internet companies from charging businesses access fees in order to reach its online customers. It would also prohibit “zero rating,” a practice in which providers charge consumers for accessing their competitors’ content, but provide a free data incentive for accessing their own content.

Republican opponents of the bill slammed it as an overreach that meddles with a free market, creates a regulatory patchwork and invites litigation. Advocates, meanwhile, argued that such protections prevent internet service providers, such as AT&T and Comcast, from throttling internet speeds and creating so-called “fast lane” access.

Net neutrality proponents include not just technology companies such as Google parent Alphabet Inc. and Facebook, but also the Writers Guild of America and the American Civil Liberties Union.

The bill garnered national attention as it moved through the Legislature earlier this year. Facing strong opposition from internet companies and Republican legislators, Democrats anticipated a legal challenge as the state measure advanced.

In committee, the bill was heavily amended by Assemblyman Miguel Santiago, a Los Angeles Democrat. In response, Wiener almost withdrew his “hijacked” bill, which he said had been stripped of all its key protections.

But in July, the bill’s original provisions were restored and lawmakers reached an agreement to advance it together. Santiago eventually came around and joined as principal coauthor.

“This bill is about value,” Santiago said. “The question before us is, do you believe in a free and open internet?”

On the floor, Republican leaders charged regulation should be left to the feds. Assemblyman Jim Patterson, a Fresno Republican, said the issue will go straight to the U.S. Supreme Court, and the state will lose. Other opponents argued it will chill the tech industry and result in a less robust market for consumers.

“The worst possible thing we can do is to create 50 different state FCCs,” Patterson argued. “If you are really interested, the place to have this fleshed out is the federal level with federal elections and accountability. It takes several steps way too far.”

“You’re wading into an area where you have no business in,” echoed Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez, a Lake Elsinore Republican. “This is embarrassing.”

Lobbying was intense as Thursday’s vote neared. A group affiliated to AT&T was reportedly using robocalls to send out automated messages claiming the law would raise consumer cell phone bills. Earlier this month, Verizon was widely criticized for allegedly throttling data speeds for the Santa Clara County Fire Department during the Mendocino Complex fire, a complaint the company denied.

Ryan Singel, media and strategy fellow at Stanford University’s Center for Internet and Society, says public pressure clearly helped secure Assembly approval.

“While it seems like getting net neutrality passed in California should be simple, the reality is that AT&T is incredibly powerful in California’s legislature—which was made clear when the bill was gutted in committee in June,” Singel said in an email.

In recent months, more than 20 states have introduced bills aiming to restore the federal net neutrality protections. Washington and Oregon have already passed legislation.

Meanwhile, the fight on the federal front is far from over. Tech groups including Amazon, Facebook and the Internet Association this month filed briefs with the federal appeals court supporting a lawsuit against the Federal Communications Commission to bring back net neutrality.

Want to submit a reader reaction? You can find our submission guidelines here. Please contact Dan Morain with any questions, [email protected], (916) 201.6281.

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Aug. 8, 2018 5:10 pm

Becerra requests Trump administration emails, internal records about immigration crackdown

Audience Engagement Intern
An Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer handcuffs an adult male.
An Orange County lawsuit has challenged California’s sanctuary state laws.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra filed a federal records request today for information about the impact of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy on immigrant children’s mental and physical wellbeing.

The Freedom of Information Act request seeks all records related to the creation of the policy and the federal government’s determination of its ability to care for the influx of children detained as a result of the policy.

The request follows a hearing last week in which federal health official Jonathan White said he warned the Trump administration of potential negative effects children could suffer if they were parted from their undocumented immigrant parents. “Separation of children from their parents entails significant harm to children,” said White. “There’s no question that separation of children from parents entails significant potential for traumatic psychological injury to the child.”

Last week’s Congressional hearing shows that this President and his Administration received warnings about the impacts of the family separation policy and still acted,” said Becerra in a press release. “We must have answers and accountability. We all deserve to know what went into the federal government’s inconceivable decision to separate thousands of children from their families.”

Becerra’s request targeted the Justice, Homeland Security and Health and Human Services departments, and included disclosure of senior staff communications—including memorandums, emails, and notes of meetings or calls regarding the “zero tolerance” policy. He specifically is pursuing internal communications from Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and the current and former secretaries of Health and Human Services.

President Trump has defended the policy as necessary to stem what he has characterized as a host of societal ills resulting from illegal immigration. “It’s about keeping families together, while at the same time, being sure that we have a very powerful, very strong border,” he said in a statement.

Becerra co-leads a coalition of 18 attorneys general that sued President Trump in June over the “zero tolerance” policy. He has sued the Trump administration 39 times times since March 2017.

Note: This post has been revised to correct the number of lawsuits Becerra has filed against the Trump administration.

Want to submit a reader reaction? You can find our submission guidelines here. Please contact Dan Morain with any questions, [email protected], (916) 201.6281.

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Update: The Legislature passed, and Gov. Jerry Brown signed, SB 910.

Legislators in California appear ready to counter a new Trump administration move, this time on health insurance.

Last week, federal officials announced they would expand health insurers’ ability to sell so-called skinny insurance plans, short-term policies that offer only bare-bones benefits. Those plans also are called “junk” plans because of the dearth of conditions and ailments they cover—for instance, most don’t cover maternity care or cancer treatment, and some have high deductibles or exclude pre-existing conditions.

Less expensive because of the “skinny” coverage, the plans were launched under the Obama administration as a bridge to Affordable Care Act plans. They were limited to three months and could not be renewed.

The new federal rules allow low-benefit plans that don’t comply with ACA standards to last a year and be renewed for up to three years.

A proposal making its way through California’s Legislature, which returns from summer recess tomorrow, would ban such insurance in California.

SB 910, by Democratic Sen. Ed Hernandez of Azusa, would outlaw issuance or renewal of any health plan shorter than 12 months in duration. ACA standards require longer-term insurance, bar denial of coverage based on pre-existing conditions and mandate 10 essential health benefits.

The short-term, low-benefit plans are fine as long as you stay well, Hernandez said. But people with those plans who get sick often discover they have to pay for treatment and medication themselves. Basically, he said, that’s not health care coverage.

“California needs to ban junk health insurance policies in our state, not only because they are an affront to the basic principles of the Affordable Care Act, but also because they are dangerous and deceiving,” Hernandez said by email Friday.

Dozens of Republican legislators have either voted No on his bill or abstained, but did not articulate that opposition in hearings. Attempts to contact several of them were unsuccessful Friday.

One health care expert said he had hoped the idea of limited-benefit plans had been put to rest, after the years of policy discussion before and during setup of the Affordable Care Act.

“There are significant costs to having skinny plans,” said Micah Weinberg, president of the Bay Area Council’s Economic Institute, a San Francisco-based business think tank. “People still get medical care, even if it’s not covered, so the hospitals or the state end up holding the bag.”

That means taxpayers are basically subsidizing people on limited-benefit plans, he said.

“It isn’t actually insurance,” Weinberg said. “It provides a sense that you’re insured, but if you need it, you don’t really have it.”

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Aug. 1, 2018 2:53 pm

Trump can’t withhold federal money from ‘sanctuary’ cities, court rules

Web Producer/General Assignment Reporter
Marchers in Sacramento protest Trump administration immigration policies. Photo by Trevor Eischen for CALmatters
Marchers in Sacramento protest Trump administration immigration policies. Photo by Trevor Eischen for CALmatters

A federal appeals court ruled today that President Trump does not have the authority to withhold federal funding from so-called sanctuary cities and counties.

Upholding a lower court decision, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said the power to allocate federal funding belongs to Congress: “The Executive Branch may not refuse to disperse the federal grants in question without congressional authorization.”

Last year, U.S. District Judge William H. Orrick III in San Francisco issued a national injunction against an executive order that Trump issued five days into his presidency. The president’s order directed that federal monies be withheld from “sanctuary” jurisdictions such as San Francisco.

San Francisco and the County of Santa Clara, which have declared themselves sanctuary jurisdictions, limiting cooperation with federal immigration authorities, sued the Trump administration.

Orrick said Trump’s order was unconstitutional, violating the Separation of Powers doctrine and the Fifth and Tenth amendments.

Today, the 9th Circuit panel of judges agreed but removed his injunction, except in California, citing a lack of evidence to keep it in place elsewhere and returning it for reconsideration. The judges said California, specifically San Francisco and Santa Clara counties, are “likely targets” of Trump’s order and retained it for the state.

The federal Justice Department denounced the decision on funding as “a victory for criminal aliens in California.” The state “will protect them from federal immigration officers whose job it is to hold them accountable and remove them from the country,” spokesman Devin O’Malley said in a written statement.

California laws limiting cooperation with federal immigration agents went into effect this year. Dozens of local governments have dissented, suing the state, joining a federal lawsuit against the policy or taking other actions.

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