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Gun talk in Washington, gun bills in Sacramento

Your guide to California policy and politics
Ben Christopher BY Ben Christopher January 18, 2023
Presented by American Property Casualty Insurance Association, Dairy Cares, Climate-Smart Agricultural Partnership and New California Coalition

Gun talk in Washington, gun bills in Sacramento

After twice spurning the Trump White House following NBA titles, the Bay Area’s Golden State Warriors paid a visit Tuesday to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. for a celebration of the team’s 2022 NBA championship.

And prior to a few backslapping speeches by President Joe Biden and Warriors superstar Steph Curry, White House staffers gathered with Warriors coach Steve Kerr and players Klay Thompson and Moses Moody to talk gun safety and violence.

While details of the discussion weren’t made public, Kerr, who has become a persistent voice on gun violence, spoke to the press after the hour-long meeting.

  • Kerr: “We learned a lot about what this administration is doing to help create a safer environment in our country.” 

Biden praised Kerr and the Warriors for “rallying the country against gun violence.” While the president signed a significant gun violence bill last year after the Texas school massacre, he also wants to renew a ban on assault-style weapons.

But with Republicans now officially, if narrowly, in control of the House of Representatives and the Senate 60-vote filibuster rule serving as a perennial check on controversial legislation, the administration’s options for new firearm restrictions are going to be limited.

Not so much in California. 

While the state already has some of the nation’s toughest gun laws, Attorney General Rob Bonta joined the top prosecutors of 17 other states to urge the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold a New York law that makes it easier for residents to sue gun manufacturers for contributing to a “public nuisance.” The court’s decision would implicate a similar California law sponsored by Bonta.

And with the new legislative session ramping up, here are a few more gun bills on deck:

  • Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel, a Woodland Hills Democrat and one of the most outspoken legislators on gun violence, has reintroduced a bill that would levy a tax on firearms and ammunition to fund gun violence prevention measures. Gabriel appears to be picking up on the work of former Assemblymember Marc Levine, who introduced two ill-fated ammo tax proposals before leaving the Legislature. 
  • A Republican authored (and therefore, long-shot) approach to gun violence: New Westminster Assemblymember Tri Ta wants people convicted of gun-related crimes to receive longer prison sentences. This would carve out an exception to a 2021 bill, written by Sen. Nancy Skinner, a Berkeley Democrat, that requires state judges to dismiss sentence lengthening “enhancements” if it’s “in the furtherance of justice to do so.” 
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CalMatters covers the Legislature: With the state Legislature back in session, CalMatters has you covered with guides to keep track of your lawmakers, explore its record diversity, make your voice heard and understand how state government works. We also have Spanish-language versions for the Legislature’s demographics and the state government explainer.   

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1 A more inclusive Capitol?

Speaker of the Assembly Anthony Rendon speaks during the State of the State ceremony in Sacramento on March 8, 2022. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters
Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon speaks during the State of the State ceremony in Sacramento on March 8, 2022. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters

Just a month after the swearing-in of the most diverse crop of lawmakers in state history, two new initiatives announced Tuesday could see more of the state government’s workforce — not just its elected leaders — more closely resemble the state population they serve.

First, Speaker Anthony Rendon announced a new four-month paid internship in the state Assembly for California community college students.

Emphasis on paid. For years critics have called out the Capitol’s dependence on a small army of unpaid interns as a barrier for those who can’t afford to work for free. 

Rendon, who has credited his education at Cerritos College in Norwalk for sparking his path to one of the top jobs in California politics, said the program isn’t just about promoting fairness, but improving the lawmaking process.

  • Rendon: “Community college students bring with them unique perspectives and life experiences that will help the Assembly create better policy for California.”

We can expect to hear a lot more about fairness and pay among the Legislature’s unelected workforce in the weeks to come as lawmakers again consider a proposal to allow lawmakers’ staffers to unionize. That bill was unceremoniously killed last year when outgoing Assemblymember Jim Cooper, an Elk Grove Democrat who then led the Assembly’s Public Employees and Retirement Committee, denied it a vote.

But Cooper, elected last November as Sacramento County’s sheriff, is out of the building. Who holds his old committee leadership post? Inglewood Democrat Tina McKinnor, the author of this year’s unionization bill. If that wasn’t a sure enough sign that the effort has the speaker’s backing, her bill also got a coveted, if ceremonial, spot in the legislative line up as Assembly Bill 1.

Second, Bonta said the state Department of Justice hired its first ever Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer. 

According to a press release, the officer, Kevin E. Hooks, will be responsible for “cultivating a work environment that values the differences, talents, and abilities of all employees and fosters a culture of belonging.”

2 Cuts coming to thirsty valley

A field of spinach is irrigated with Colorado River water in Imperial Valley on Dec. 5, 2022. Growers in region are debating how they will cut Colorado River water imports. Photo by Caitlin Ochs, Reuters
A field of spinach is irrigated with Colorado River water in the Imperial Valley on Dec. 5, 2022. Photo by Caitlin Ochs, Reuters

Abutting the Mexican border, Southern California’s Imperial Valley is a checkerboard oasis of alfalfa, vegetable crops and fruit orchards, and it owes its existence to imported Colorado River water — lots of it. 

Farmers there used more water than all of Arizona and Nevada combined in 2022, and they have senior water rights to about two-thirds of California’s Colorado River supplies.  

But their allocations of river water may soon go to the chopping block, explains CalMatters water reporter Alastair Bland. The federal government has ordered the seven states that rely on the Colorado to come up with a plan by Jan. 31 to reduce their water use by 30%, or 4 million acre feet. California has offered to cut back by 400,000 acre feet per year, and Imperial farmers will be on the hook for more than half of this. That means they would have to give up about 10% of their water this year. 

No surprise: Farmers aren’t happy about it.

  • Mark McBroom, Imperial Valley grower of alfalfa, citrus and dates: “What’s more important – growing food or growing houses?” 

California’s climate solution: What if the Imperial Valley swapped out its crops for solar panels? As the Los Angeles Times reports, many see that as a win-win for a parched, electricity-starved state — but try telling that to the farmers.

3 A reprieve for state water board

Senator Melissa Hurtado speaks at a press conference on Oct. 14, 2022. Photo by Larry Valenzuela, CalMatters/CatchLight Local
State Sen. Melissa Hurtado speaks at a press conference on Oct. 14, 2022. Photo by Larry Valenzuela, CalMatters/CatchLight Local

Though state Sen. Melissa Hurtado, a Bakersfield Democrat, is chairperson of the powerful Senate Agriculture Committee this session, she has no plans to reintroduce a controversial plan to scrap the State Water Resources Control Board

Last year, Hurtado co-authored a bill that would have eliminated the state’s primary water overseer and directed a “blue ribbon commission” with the job of rethinking the state’s water management policy. That idea hit a brick wall of legislative opposition, and though the senator told CalMatters in October that she still stands by the idea, she’s taking the hint for now.

  • Hurtado’s chief of staff, Elizabeth Mocettini: “While Senator Hurtado still feels major reform to the water board is still necessary, there currently does not seem to be an adequate path forward through the Legislature.”

Of course, that’s only relevant so long as Hurtado remains a state senator. Though her 20-vote lead over Republican David Shepard has been certified by state election officials and Hurtado has already declared victory in the Senate District 16 race, a recount has been underway for two months.

At last count, Shepard has flipped a few votes, but not enough. Hurtado’s lead still sits at 13. Tuesday, her campaign again called on Shepard to concede. And today, he did concede.

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CalMatters Commentary


CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Dianne Feinstein, who has been a U.S. senator from California for three decades, hasn’t yet said whether she’ll seek another term in 2024, but would-be successors are already standing in line.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has proposed a tax on the oil industry’s excess profits, but California lawmakers should instead take a closer look at how refiners use maintenance shutdowns for their benefit, argues Larry Harris, a professor and the Fred V. Keenan Chair in Finance at the USC Marshall School of Business

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