In summary

Legislators return from summer break set to tackle slew of issues, including the nature of work and California’s recycling crisis.

Good morning, California.

“Depriving a child of a fair chance to learn is wicked, it’s warped, it’s morally bankrupt, and it’s corrupt.”—Attorney General Xavier Becerra, announcing the settlement of a lawsuit over segregation at the Sausalito Marin City School district.

Careful of the alligators

Some legislation might bite.

Legislators return today from a month-long break to consider hundreds of bills affecting everything from guns and electricity customers to Louisiana alligator farmers.

And WhatMatters will be paying attention to measures that would:

  • Give electric utilities, primarily Pacific Gas & Electric, the authority to use bonds of up to $40 billion to pay off wildfire damages, AB 235 by Assemblyman Chad Mayes, Yucca Valley Republican.
  • Exempt internet-based telephone service from state regulation through 2030. AT&T and cable providers want the exemption. Consumer, labor and civil liberties groups oppose it, AB 1366 by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, San Diego Democrat.
  • Restrict bogus medical exemptions for parents who don’t want their kids vaccinated, Senate Bill 276, Sen. Richard Pan, Sacramento Democrat.
  • Guard against Trump administration roll-backs of federal clean air, water, labor and endangered species laws. It’s the so-called Trump Insurance bill, SB 1 By Senate President Pro Toni Atkins.
  • Allow more lawsuits against churches, schools and other institutions responsible for molestation of children in their care, AB 218, by Gonzalez.
  • Restrict access to e-cigarettes to minors, a bill opposed by health groups, AB 1639 by Assemblyman Adam Gray, Merced Democrat.
  • Impose a $25 tax on gun sales to fund violence prevention, AB 18 by Marc Levin, Marin County Democrat.
  • Allow for continued importation of alligator products, AB 719 by Blanca Rubio.  Without the bill, alligator products will be banned starting on Jan. 1.

It’s a thing: Louisiana alligator farmers, the state of Mississippi, leather producers and pet food producers are pushing for the bill. Environmentalists oppose it, noting there is no way to tell the difference between farmed and wild ‘gators.

Future of work

California Labor Federation form given to groups seeking exemptions from AB 5.

No bill awaiting a final decision in the coming month will have a greater impact on the nature of work than Assembly Bill 5.

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, a San Diego Democrat and labor lawyer, is the bill’s author. Organized labor is taking a direct hand in shaping the legislation, which would define workplaces for millions of Californians.

As CalMatters’ Judy Lin explained, AB 5 would put into law a 2018 California Supreme Court ruling that requires gig economy businesses to employ workers who have been independent contractors.

The ruling directly affects Uber and Lyft. Their business depends on having large numbers of independent workers. 

  • Independent contractors lack protections such as workers compensation, minimum wage and sick leave.
  • Businesses that depend on contractors avoid expenses related to those protections.

Physicians, Realtors and insurance agents have received exemptions from AB 5 and will remain independent contractors. Representatives of dozens of other businesses want carve-outs, such as barbers, therapists, translators and personal trainers.

As an initial step, their representatives met with the California Labor Federation, AB 5’s sponsor and perhaps the single most influential lobby organization in Sacramento.

Labor Fed lobbyists present one-page questionnaires asking, among other questions, whether they’ve met with affected unions.

  • Steve Smith of the Labor Fed: “We are just simply helping the author collect the information. She is making all the decisions.”
  • Gonzalez said she had never seen the form but was not offended by it: “We have the same values and same perspective.”

Battling plastic waste

Recycling facility in San Jose

As California’s recycling economy falters, a trio of bills in the Legislature take aim at plastic manufacturers, CalMatters’ Rachel Becker reports in the second part of her series, Wasted: Can California save recycling?

  • International recycling markets are in turmoil.
  • Scraps of plastic wrappings and bags that used to end up in China are being dumped in landfills.
  • GreenWaste Recovery in San Jose dangles valuable recyclables such as detergent bottles to entice buyers to take plastic food containers and packaging films off their hands. 

Recology’s Eric Potashner has a request for manufacturers: “Either create a market for it or make something else.”

Some California lawmakers aim to do exactly that by creating tough financial incentives for manufacturers. 

  • Assembly Bill 792 by Assemblyman Phil Ting, San Francisco Democrat, calls on manufacturers to increase the minimum recycled content in plastic beverage bottles over the next decade.
  • AB 1080 by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, San Diego Democrat, and Senate Bill 54 by Sen. Ben Allen, Santa Monica Democrat, would require manufacturers to reduce waste from single-use packaging and certain single-use plastics.

All three have cleared their houses of origin but face industry pushback on their way to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk. To read Becker’s piece, please click here.

‘All deliberate speed’

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra

A school district in exclusive Marin County has acknowledged that it systematically discriminated against black and Latino students.

Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced a settlement Friday with the Sausalito Marin City School District. The district promises to desegregate by the 2020-21 school year. 

  • 1955: The U.S. Supreme Court ordered that schools be integrated “with all deliberate speed.”
  • 1964: The California Department of Education concluded Sausalito Marin City School District schools were segregated. The district promised to reform.
  • 2011: An outside consultant told the school board  it was operating a “very segregated” school in Marin City, an unincorporated area that has been predominantly African-American. The Marin City school was 78% black and 13% Latino, in a county that is almost 73% white.
  • 2013: The district opened a new racially segregated elementary and middle school to serve Marin City’s children, and cut math, Spanish and English instructors. Kids from affluent Sausalito went to a charter public school.

The settlement calls for reparations in the form of scholarships and counseling for Marin City students, The Marin Independent-Journal reports.

National implications: In her presidential campaign, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris has been criticized  for not pursuing school-segregation cases during her 2011-2016 tenure as attorney general, The New York Times reports.

The California Department of Justice began its investigation in November 2016, the month then-Attorney General Harris was elected to the U.S. Senate, Becerra’s lawsuit notes.

UC’s admissions secret

A student at UCLA

The Varsity Blues scandal cast a spotlight on an obscure corner of the University of California’s admissions process: how students get in without meeting the elite system’s minimum standards.

CalMatters’ Felicia Mello found that the process is shrouded in secrecy.

UC campuses can admit up to 6% of each class from applicants who don’t meet minimum grade and test score standards. The slots go to athletes, students with special talents, out-of-state students, homeschoolers and other disadvantaged students.

Mello sent a California Public Records Act request to UC’s nine undergraduate campuses. Four months later:

  • UCLA shared documents on the exceptional admits. 
  • Two others, Riverside and Santa Cruz, made admissions staff available for interviews.
  • UC Santa Cruz exceeded the 6% cap in 2018.
  • Six campuses failed to respond or said they did not have records that answered CalMatters’ questions, including the most basic one about how many students were admitted by exception last year.

To read Mello’s full report, please click here.

Newsom goes old-school

Gov. Gavin Newsom

Gov. Gavin Newsom bestowed a much-coveted slot on the UC Board of Regents to San Francisco philanthropist Janet Reilly, a Democratic donor and past political candidate.

Newsom is following many past governors who rewarded friends and donors with the plum post of UC Regents. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Reilly, a longtime friend and supporter, helped raise $375,000 for Newsom’s election in 2018. 

Reilly ran for San Francisco supervisor in 2010 and the Assembly in 2006. Her husband, Clint Reilly, owns a commercial real estate firm. Earlier, he was among California’s top campaign consultants. They own the Nob Hill Gazette.

Commentary at CalMatters

Debbie A. Mukama and Robert Weisberg, Stanford Law School: As our nation takes steps to cure its addiction to mass incarceration and at a time when we recognize the benefits of diverse workforces, we should welcome—not discourage—qualified individuals with criminal records to join the legal profession

Dan Walters, CalMatters: The draft of a “model curriculum” for ethnic studies in the state’s high schools has sparked an outpouring of criticism.

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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.

Barbara is a master's student at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism, where she studies new media. She holds an undergraduate degree in journalism from Sacramento State, where she served as editor...