In summary

Legislation seeks to address physician shortage. Rift develops between labor and cannabis industry. California sees uptick in layoffs.

Good morning, California.

“I still get moved every time I walk into the Capitol dome building, because I believe it’s a monument to democracy, to people being in charge.”—Daniel Zingale, a top adviser to Govs. Gray Davis, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Gavin Newsom, in an interview with L.A. Times columnist Patt Morrison, as he prepares to retire.

Healing shortage of doctors

Nurse Practitioner Surani Hayre-Kwan, left

The Legislature is considering what could be a solution to California’s shortage of primary care physicians: allowing nurse practitioners to do what they’re trained to do, and open clinics without a supervising physician, CalMatters’ Elizabeth Aguilera reports.

A nurse practitioner is a registered nurse who has a master’s degree or doctorate in nursing practice, and additional training. Most work in primary care.

  • 28 states and the Veterans Administration grant nurse practitioners greater authority than California to provide health care.

The twist: Assembly Health Committee Chairman Jim Wood of Santa Rosa is carrying Assembly Bill 890. Wood, a dentist, voted against similar legislation in 2015. But he has seen first hand the shortage in his Northern California district.

The California Medical Association opposes the legislation, concerned that nurse practitioners could nibble away at doctors’ scope of practice.

Money matters: The medical association spends more than $1 million a year on lobbying, and regularly spends hundreds of thousands in campaigns to help elect lawmakers who are aligned with its vision.

  • Wood: “This bill is not the Boogeyman that the CMA portrays it as. It would be the strictest bill of its kind in the country, and I believe it will help urban and rural underserved communities.”

The bill passed the 80-seat Assembly by 61-1 margin. The Assembly’s one physician, Joaquin Aramula, did not vote.

What’s next: The legislation heads to the Senate. Sen. Richard Pan of Sacramento, a physician, chairs the Senate Health Committee.

To read Aguilera’s story, please click here.

Challenging cashless stores

Sen. Jerry Hill

Business owners increasingly are accepting only credit cards, debit cards or digital wallets like Apple Pay. It’s more efficient and lowers the risk of being robbed, they say.

Democratic Sen. Jerry Hill of San Mateo believes cash-free stores are discriminating against low-income customers who don’t have bank accounts, CalMatters’ Jackie Botts reports. And he has a bill to fix it.

  • Hill: “I don’t think it’s intentionally discrimination. But that’s in fact what they’re doing.”

Botts: California residents with limited resources are far more likely to use cash. While 7.4% of California households do not have banks, the rate among households earning less than $15,000 per year is 27.3%.

  • Retailers likely will lobby against the bill.
  • Organized labor views the cashless trend with concern, seeing it as part of a move to greater automation, and is backing Hill’s bill.

Labor schools cannabis lobby

Billboards advertising cannabis-delivery companies

The cannabis lobby has quickly become formidable in the Capitol, but it’s still an upstart. A leading marijuana trade association crossed organized labor, prompting California’s top labor leader on Wednesday to call on the Democrats in the Legislature to stop dealing with it.

The issue: The 2016 initiative that legalized commercial marijuana sales sought to guarantee that cannabis businesses would not block efforts to organize retail clerks and drivers.

However: The California Cannabis Industry Association recently distributed a paper to its members titled “Tips for Cannabis Business Owners Negotiating a Labor Peace Agreement.”

That paper tells members that if a union organizes the business, it will “encounter decreased flexibility and increased costs.”

In a letter to the Democrats in the Legislature, California Labor Federation leader Art Pulaski called the paper “a piece of anti-union literature.” 

  • The letter: “Given CCIA’s posturing on how to engage with organized labor, we ask all members of the Democratic caucus to refrain from engaging with the association for the time being.”

Teamsters and United Food & Commercial Workers executives, seeing legalized weed as a place to expand their ranks, signed the letter.

The Cannabis Association needs help in the Legislature as its members struggle to compete against lower cost blackmarket weed. Not wanting labor as a foe, the association moved late Wednesday to defuse the situation, issuing a statement to me:

  • “We did not intend for this document to be interpreted as anti-union, and we retract any statements that may have been misleading.”

A blip, perhaps, or a warning

Photo by Mark Robinson via Fickr

In an expanding economy and unemployment at a low of 3.9% in California, the announcement of the closure of one meat-packing plant in San Jose could be a blip. Or it could be a warning.

The company, Smithfield Foods, intends to lay off 22 salaried and 117 hourly workers by this time next month, The San Francisco Chronicle reports.

The San Jose plant, a union shop, had been operating for decades. The Chinese company, WH Group, the largest pork producer in the world, bought Smithfield in 2013.

By law, Smithfield had to make a public disclosure announcing the layoffs by issuing a so-called WARN Act notice and giving workers 60 days notice:

  • “We regret the circumstances that made this layoff necessary.”

James Araby of Local 5 of the United Food and Commercial Workers, which represents the packing house workers, told me the Bay Area has been losing such plants to the Los Angeles County industrial city of Vernon, the Central Valley, and other parts of the country: 

  • “These are high-skilled, blue-collar jobs. Because of a desire to make more profits, they’re getting cut.”

Wages ranged up to $28 an hour. Araby hopes to help the workers look for jobs with retailers, perhaps in supermarkets. The pay likely will be lower.

Mass layoffs on the rise

Though an imperfect economic barometer, the number of WARN Act notices announcing mass layoffs in California spiked in the first seven months of the 2019-20 fiscal year.

The law: Employers of 50 or more workers must give a 60-day notice when they are going to shut down a plant and lay off workers. That’s according to the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, or WARN Act, authored by L.A. City Councilman Paul Koretz when he was in the Assembly in 2002.

Between July 2019 and January 2020, there were 610 such notices affecting 49,436 workers. That’s the largest number by far dating to at least 2014-15.

  • There were 420 notices affecting 42,801 during the same period the year before.
  • There were 366 such notices affecting 34,681 workers in the first seven months of 2014-15.

Keeping high-speed rail on track

High-speed rail under construction

The California High-Speed Rail Authority is committed to building a 171-mile electrified line from Merced to Bakersfield, to the dismay of L.A. and Orange County legislators who want to shift transit spending to more densely populated urban areas.

The authority restated its position to stick to the Central Valley route initially in a new business plan released Wednesday.

Led by Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon of Lakewood, lawmakers proposed building a non-electrified line in the Central Valley and diverting those savings to MetroLink in the Los Angeles region and the Valley Link, designed to connect San Joaquin County to the Bay Area.

  • The legislators: “We insist that discussions include our proposed alternative that provides for early service investments in other high-speed rail corridors while also continuing work in the Central Valley.”

Brian Kelly, chief executive of the authority, told The Associated Press money is being spent in Southern California, the Bay Area and the valley:

  • “California is further along than I think a lot of people think.”

The cost to complete high-speed rail is now estimated at $80.3 billion, a $1.3 billion increase. The authority expects to lay 20% of track by 2022.

CalMatters’ Judy Lin notes: Voters approved high-speed rail in 2008. The ballot measure capped administrative spending at 2.5%. The Newsom administration is asking lawmakers to tweak that definition by labeling environmental and engineering work as non-administrative. 

In other transit news

The San Francisco Chronicle: The Bay Area Rapid Transit District “has lost nearly 10 million night and weekend passengers in just four years at a time when the region is enthusiastically promoting a transit-first philosophy.”

  • Reasons: “[M]isgivings about crime, filth and homeless people seeking shelter on the rail system, which, according to the survey, were a bigger deterrent than service delays, the cost of fares or disruptions from weekend track repair.”

Commentary at CalMatters

Loren Kaye, California Foundation for Commerce and Education: If you’re looking for a job or a healthy lifestyle, California remains a dream come true. But there’s a problem. Many Californians can no longer afford California. Here’s what legislators can do to reduce the cost of living.

Dan Walters, CalMatters: What used to be called vocational education is making a comeback as education officials recognize the needs of students and the larger society.

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Dan Morain joined CalMatters in March 2018. He is the former editorial page editor of The Sacramento Bee. Morain also spent 27 years at The Los Angeles Times, and has covered the Capitol since 1992.