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Your guide to California policy and politics
BY Ben Christopher October 24, 2022
Presented by Climate-Smart Agricultural Partnership, Californians Against Higher Taxes, Save our Capitol and Sutter Health

Cracking down on wage theft

For eight years, the Los Angeles-based janitorial service provider Pacific Commercial hired one employee to work from morning until dusk, but also commissioned an independent contractor to take the night shift.

The catch: The employee and the contractor were the same person, a 52-year-old named Edith Lopez.

By classifying Lopez as a non-employee from 5 to 10 p.m., Pacific Commercial was able to save on overtime pay, as well as other benefits and protections guaranteed to full-time employees.

Lopez caught a break earlier this year. The Los Angeles District Attorney’s office filed criminal charges against Pacific Commercial’s owner, Moon Hyuk Hahn. He took a plea deal, paying Lopez $30,000 in restitution as part of a $1.6 million settlement. 

Cases of wage theft rarely result in criminal charges. But in their latest installment in an ongoing series, reporters Jeanne Kuang and Lil Kalish of CalMatters’ California Divide team write that could be changing.

  • Santa Clara County District Attorney investigator Michael Whittington: “We truly turned our focus to finding what we called the human toll of fraud investigations, and focusing on wage theft first.”

The challenge for prosecutors, UCLA’s Tia Koonse said, is to strike a balance between cracking down hard enough to deter scofflaw bosses, but not so hard you close their businesses for good.

  • Koonse: “If they’re behind bars, they’re definitely not paying their workers.”
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Get ready to vote: Find out everything you need to know about voting in California’s Nov. 8 election in the CalMatters Voter Guide, which includes information on races, candidates and propositions, as well as videos, interactives and campaign finance data. And if you missed last week’s CalMatters event on the seven ballot measures, you can watch it here.

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1 The first and last debate

Gov. Gavin Newsom, left, and Republican challenger, state Sen. Brian Dahle, second from left, take a question from co-moderator Marisa Lagos, right, during their debate held by KQED in San Francisco on Oct. 23, 2022. Second from right is co-moderator Scott Schafer. Photo by Rich Pedroncelli, AP Photo Pool

Maybe you thought California’s one and only gubernatorial debate of 2022 was going to be boring.

Maybe you assumed that because Gov. Gavin Newsom is leading his opponent, Republican state Sen. Brian Dahle, in the polls by 30 percentage points, had to be cajoled into debating in the first place, and then only agreed to do so on the radio on a Sunday at the same time as a 49ers game, that the whole thing would feel phoned-in and low-key.

You would be wrong. 

At the San Francisco studios of KQED, Newsom and Dahle tore into one another, with the governor denouncing his opponent’s opposition to abortion and California’s climate policy and Dahle deriding the governor’s “dream of being president” and blaming him for just about every one of California’s woes. 

If you don’t have time to watch the entire hour-long debate, CalMatters’ Alexei Koseff was on scene and has the top takeaways.

  • Newsom: “He does not support reproductive freedom, does not support reproductive choice, regardless of rape, regardless of incest.”
  • Dahle: “Californians are fleeing California for one reason — because they can’t afford to live here — and he’s out of touch with everyday, hardworking, middle-class Californians.”

2022 Election

Latest coverage of the 2022 general election in California

More election news:

  • Our bad: On Friday, the California Association of Realtors apologized for its role in promoting redlining and other racist housing policies that drove segregation in the state. The apology tour is part of the group’s effort to promote a constitutional amendment slated for the 2024 ballot that would rescind a Realtor-sponsored 1950s law that requires cities to get voter approval before building public housing.

2 Burying bad news on test scores?

Students at a classroom at St. HOPE’s Public School 7 Elementary in Sacramento on May 11, 2022. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters

What kind of toll did the pandemic take on public education in California? 

New test score figures, due to be published at 10 a.m. today, should help answer that question.

According to CalMatters education reporter Joe Hong, the way state education officials have slow-walked the data release suggests that the news won’t be good. Late Sunday night, the governor’s office issued a press release acknowledging that the pandemic impacted student achievement, but asserting that in a just-released national test comparison, California students performed better than those in most other states.

  • Earlier this year, the Education Department refused to release data on how California students performed on the Smarter Balanced standardized test based on state standards, saying it would do so by the end of the year — which skeptics interpreted to mean after the election.
  • The department reversed course in the face of a legal appeal and scheduled the public data release for today. But though it provided reporters with a sneak peak of the underlying data, they did it on a Sunday, making it more difficult for reporters like Joe to interview school officials and experts.

Did we mention that the Superintendent for Public Instruction Tony Thurmond is up for reelection on Nov. 8?

  • David Loy of the First Amendment Coalition: “I can’t read minds, but it does give the appearance of trying to conceal the data.”

Once the scores that assess how California students are faring based on the state’s standards are made available to the public, we’ll be posting a story, so check back.

If California’s scores are sagging, it would be part of a national trend. 

Aggregate test scores released in September hit a two year low. And a new study, based on a survey of elementary and middle schools in 12 states, estimated that shifting from in-person to fully virtual education increased standardized test score fail rates by 13 percentage points in math and 8 percentage points in reading. The study also found that schools with more Black and Latino students were more likely to stay shuttered for longer.

3 Witnesses named in #MeToo case

The rotunda at the state Capitol on May 31, 2022. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters

Three years after former Matt Debabneh, a San Fernando Democrat, resigned from his Assembly seat following multiple allegations of sexual harassment and other inappropriate workplace behavior, the Legislature handed his legal team a list of the 52 witnesses who had participated in the state Assembly investigation into him, according to documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times.

The Assembly handed over the list of names in order to settle a lawsuit with Debabneh after a judge ruled the witnesses were “not entitled” to confidentiality. 

The reporting raises new questions about how the Legislature can protect witnesses who might be reluctant to accuse those in power without the promise of anonymity while still guaranteeing the due process rights of the lawmakers and staffers under investigation.

  • Wendy Musell, a labor lawyer: “To learn at the end of the day that the person that you had the courage to come out and complain about is going to get a list of you and everybody else who provided statements, that is absolutely going to discourage people from coming forward.”

The Dababneh affair was part of a wave of accusations and resignations that rippled through California politics in 2017. One of the upshots: The formation of a workplace conduct unit.

That unit’s work has been under intense scrutiny this year. This summer, the San Francisco Chronicle spoke to multiple former staffers who said the Legislature’s investigators were slow to act on their complaints, kept them in the dark for years and failed to keep their complaints confidential. 

In response, the Legislature’s two leaders — Speaker Rendon and Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins — vowed to revamp how the unit operates.

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CalMatters Commentary


CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: In 2018, California voters passed a law barring sales of pork products from hogs not reared in prescribed humane conditions. The U.S. Supreme Court now is weighing whether the law unconstitutionally interferes with interstate commerce.

California enjoys the nation’s strongest privacy protections, but a bipartisan proposal in Congress could weaken abortion rights, writes former state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson.

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Other things worth your time


Some stories may require a subscription to read

Southern California’s notorious container ship backup ends // Wall Street Journal

Opinion: The way L.A. is trying to solve homelessness is “insane” // New York Times

California’s drought is hurting tomato farmers // San Francisco Chronicle

Racist audio leak could push L.A. City Hall further left // Los Angeles Times

Car buried in Atherton backyard puts previous homeowner under spotlight // ABC7

Sacramento approved 20 homeless sites. Why have none opened? // Sacramento Bee

Red states AGs argue California tailpipe emissions waiver is unconstitutional // Reuters

Opinion: Newsom has thoughts about San Francisco’s $1.7 million toilet // San Francisco

What will Valley high-speed rail stations look like? // Fresno Bee

Why one Orange County desal plant was approved but another wasn’t // OC Register

A coming-out party for generative A.I., Silicon Valley’s new craze // New York Times

Hollywood’s broken promises to make sets safer after shooting // Los Angeles Times

How a photo of Hitler sparked a debate over school oversight // San Diego Union-Tribune

Comedian Andy Dick arrested for burglary in Santa Barbara // Edhat

Snapchat shutters San Francisco office // San Francisco Examiner

Billy Al Bengston, painter who channeled California cool, dies // New York Times

See you tomorrow

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