Charter schools, gig workers, the Kochs, the streets of L.A., and a lobbyist who made a difference

Good morning, California.

“Any suggestion that this administration isn’t aggressively fighting for the right of workers to organize and earn higher wages—including ride share drivers—is flat-wrong. The reality is that these drivers have no voice under federal law. The only path for them to join together and form a union is if California steps in.”—Ann O’Leary, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s chief of staff. 

  • O’Leary issued the statement a day after the Newsom administration disinvited Robbie Hunter, head of the State Building & Construction Trades Council, from serving on the governor’s Future of Work Commission. 
  • Hunter and O’Leary argued over whether gig workers should be classified as employees, independent contractors, or some third type of worker.
  • O’Leary is the daughter of a labor leader.

Newsom strikes charter school deal

File photo: Charter advocates rally at the California Teachers Association office in Sacramento.

An overhaul of charter school rules is poised for passage in California with just weeks to go in the legislative session, CalMatters’ Ricardo Cano reports. 

Brokered by Gov. Gavin Newsom, the deal is being celebrated by teachers’ union members, who have been complaining for years about the growth of charter schools, particularly in cities.

Created as a way to bring innovation into public K-12 education, the charter classrooms are publicly financed, but independently operated — and mostly non-union.

If passed by state lawmakers during the remaining weeks of the session, the deal would give districts more say over charter approvals, hit pause for two years on new online charters, and phase in a requirement that charter teachers get the same credentials as other public school teachers.

Charter backers would keep some important rights to appeal denied charters and get fast-tracked renewal for higher-performing charters. 

Elections have consequences: Under Gov. Jerry Brown, who founded successful charter schools in Oakland, challenges to the existing charter regulations mostly went nowhere.

That changed with the election of Newsom, who was backed by the unions and opposed to the tune of many millions of dollars by wealthy proponents of charter schools.

Fight over future of work gets loud

Uber and Lyft drivers caravan in front of the Capitol.

Waving blue banners and honking horns, a caravan of Uber and Lyft drivers circled the Capitol on Wednesday in support of Assembly Bill 5. They were clear about the bill’s intent: Giving ride share drivers a path to unionization.

The bill’s author, Democratic Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez of San Diego: “If you do the work for the company, you are their employee and deserve every single right and … that includes the right to organize.”

The organized labor-backed Mobile Workers Alliance and Gig Workers Rising contend that giving ride share drivers employee status will entitle them to the minimum wage, overtime pay, unemployment insurance, paid sick days and paid family leave.

Uber and Lyft, which have also organized their own opposition rallies, oppose the bill and say drivers will lose flexibility and independence.

AB 5, like scores of other bills, faces a key vote Friday in the Senate Appropriations Committee, which can hold bills or let them proceed to a vote by the full Senate.

Kochs vs. Kamala Harris

U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris

As California Attorney General, Kamala Harris insisted in 2015 that nonprofit organizations that claim California state tax exemptions reveal their donors to the California Department of Justice, which is responsible for overseeing charities.

Now Americans for Prosperity, which has been backed by billionaire Charles Koch and his recently deceased brother, David, has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene. 

The issue: Nonprofits must submit their tax returns in publicly available files. But their donors are confidential. 

Why: In 1958, the Supreme Court ruled that for donors’ safety in the Jim Crow South, Alabama could not compel the NAACP to reveal its contributors’ identities.

Harris and her successor, Xavier Becerra, do not propose to publicly reveal donors, but they have contended their deputies need the donors’ identities to properly oversee charities that receive tax breaks. 

After losing before the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, Americans for Prosperity filed its brief with the high court: 

  • “California officials, including the predecessor Attorney General [Harris], have taken aim at the relevant network in an effort to stamp out anonymous giving, which they denigrate as ‘dark money.’”

Dozens of nonprofits, most of them conservative, and attorneys general in several Republican-controlled states filed briefs in lower courts siding with the Kochs’ position. Many liberal groups also seek to keep their donors secret.

The court won’t decide whether to hear the case for months.

Money matters: Charities will save almost $3.4 billion in California state taxes this year, the California Department of Finance estimates

Seeking to help low-income renters

Image via Flickr
Lawmakers are seeking to remedy the shortage of Section 8 housing. Image via Flickr

Low-income Californians can wait years to qualify for Section 8 housing vouchers. When they do, they often can’t find housing before the vouchers expire, CalMatters’ Jackie Botts and The Fresno Bee’s Manuela Tobias report in the latest installment of The California Divide series. 

Roughly 17% of the 21,000 Fresno County residents who applied in 2018 for a voucher got one. But less than half of them found a place before the clock ran out.

Lawmakers are weighing two remedies:

  • One bill, by Sen. Anthony Portantino, Democrat from La Cañada Flintridge, would provide state tax breaks for landlords who rent to Section 8 tenants, equal to 3% of the voucher’s value. Landlords support it.
  • The other, by Sen. Holly Mitchell, Los Angeles Democrat, would make it illegal for landlords to discriminate against tenants who receive housing assistance. That’s the choice of housing advocates.

Leah Simon-Weisberg, who leads the tenants rights program at Centro Legal de la Raza in Oakland: “In the same way it’s unacceptable to say ‘No Jews’ …, it has to be equally unacceptable to say ‘No Section 8.’”

Greg Terzakis, of the California Apartment Association: “It’s not that we don’t understand people need to find a place to live. Our concern is that this is creating more and more regulatory burdens.”

ICYM: CalMatters’ Matt Levin and the L.A. Times’ Liam Dillon focus on Section 8 housing in the latest episode of Gimme Shelter: The California Housing Crisis Podcast.

Homeless in L.A.

Will, a homeless man on the sidewalk across the street from LAC+USC Medical Center

Dwayne Fields, a 62-year-old homeless man described as a beloved musician, died when he was burned to death by another homeless man, the L.A. Times reported.

Jonathan Early, 38, is accused of setting a tent on fire while Fields was inside. The motive, if one exists, is not known.

In November 2016, Los Angeles voters approved measure HHH, a $1.2 billion bond to build housing for homeless people. L.A. County had 56,000 homeless in the most recent point-in-time count, though the number could be as high as 122,000.

The authority failed to meet goals of placing people in shelter; assessing those people who were placed in shelters; and helping people who were mentally ill or drug abusers get treatment. Finally, the authority failed to report whether its data are complete and accurate.

Other numbers:

  • 8,785 homeless people are mentally ill in L.A. at least.
  • 918 homeless people died on L.A. streets in 2018, compared with 290 in New York City.
  • Plus one burned to death in 2019

Rusty Selix’s contributions

Rusty Selix was the lead author of Proposition 63, the 2004 Mental Health Services Act.

Rusty Selix, a lobbyist, lawyer and part of the Capitol for three decades, was the lead author of Proposition 63, the 2004 initiative that delivers $2.4 billion a year intended to help people who are severely mentally ill. He died Tuesday night. He was 68.

Selix made countless appearances before legislative budget subcommittees seeking funding for mental health care services, often coming away with less than he sought. Lawmakers generally find other ways to spend tax money.

But in 2003, Selix and Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, then an assemblyman, devised a plan to push an initiative to impose a 1% income tax on people earning $1 million or more to pay for mental health care services. 

The Mental Health Services Act of 2004 passed with 53.8% of the vote, a rare instance in which voters agreed to raise taxes.

Critics contend some of the money is wasted. But it remains the main source of funding for numerous mental health care services. Voters last year amended it to provide housing for mentally ill people, a measure Selix supported.

  • Steinberg: “His decades of advocacy transformed the landscape for mental health treatment in California.”

In 2017, Selix was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. 

In 2018, Selix made a final appearance before the Assembly budget health subcommittee, advocating on behalf of victims of ALS. 

Lawmakers and Gov. Jerry Brown added $9 million to the budget over three years to provide care not covered by health insurance for people with ALS. 

  • Lobbyist Fred Noteware, who represents the ALS Association: “He absolutely helped. … It became more real when Rusty testified.”

Commentary for CalMatters

Art Pulaski, California Labor Federation: The system is rigged to the advantage of the wealthy few and corporate interests at the expense of everyday working people. Wages are stagnant. Income inequality and job insecurity are soaring. Workplace mistreatment is on the rise. To help shape the future of work, workers know they need a countervailing force: a strong labor movement.

Dan Walters, CalMatters: When the state Supreme Court tightened the legal rules defining work, it touched off an epic political battle now nearing a climactic point.

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