In summary

Legislative sprint begins in Sacramento. Trump and California battle over tailpipe emissions. Counties pressured to closed the food stamp gap.

Good morning, California.

Roger, are they locked inside the boat? Roger, can you get back on board and unlock the boat, unlock the door so they can get off? Roger, you don’t have any firefighting gear at all, no fire extinguishers or anything?”—Coast Guard Dispatch, as quoted by the L.A. Times, to a man who radioed for help as the Conception burned off Santa Cruz Island, part of the Channel Islands National Park.

  • At least 25 are dead and nine are missing.

The legislative sprint begins

Assembly chambers soon will be filled.

Legislators return today for a final two weeks to vote on hundreds of bills that survived Friday’s legislative bloodletting.

While you prepped for Labor Day on Friday (and anti-vaxxers raucously protested), the Senate and Assembly appropriations committees killed scores of bills that got attention earlier in the year.

CalMatters staffers noted some that died: end paper retail receipts; more heavily regulate student loans servicers; increase the renters’ tax credit to help low-income parents.

Among the living:

  • Pacific Gas & Electric is seeking legislative approval to sell $20 billion in bonds to extricate itself from bankruptcy. 
  • The powerful California Teachers Association announced its opposition, contending the tax-exempt bonds would cost the state $4.2 billion over the bonds’ 30-year life, taking money from schools.
  • Assembly Bill 5 would put into code—with modifications—the 2018 California Supreme Court’s Dynamex decision limiting employers’ ability to classify workers as independent contractors.
  • Lyft, Uber and Doordash dumped $90 million into campaign committees on Friday to fund a ballot measure that would, presumably, overturn the court ruling and AB 5, both which threaten their business model.
  • Senate Bill 1 is intended to combat Trump administration efforts to roll back the Endangered Species Act and, by extension, deliver more water to Central Valley farmers. At the Newsom administration’s request, lawmakers softened the bill but probably not enough to placate farm groups.

P.S.: The vaccine bill, SB 276, survived, despite the noisy protest on Friday.

Trump vs. California on climate

Highway traffic in Los Angeles

As global temperatures climb, the federal government threatens to blunt one of California’s weapons in the fight against climate change: the power to police tailpipe emissions. 

CalMatters environmental writer Rachel Becker breaks down that fight in a variety of ways in this explainer.

  • Want to know the roots of California’s authority to regulate emissions? 
  • Or how Trump’s plan would affect our air? 
  • Or perhaps you want to know why car companies are taking California’s side, not Trump’s.

California leaders and President Donald Trump fight on many fronts. But the battle over climate change cuts to the core of their competing visions of the state’s power. For a primer on the fight, please click here.

California’s food stamp gap

A food bank hosts a CalFresh sign up table at a low-income health clinic in Contra Costa County.
An applicant signs up for food stamps, known as CalFresh in California.

Pressure is increasing on counties to sign up more people for food stamps in a state with one of the nation’s lowest participation rates, The Fresno Bee’s Cresencio Rodriguez-Delgado and CalMatters’ Jackie Botts report in the latest installment of The California Divide collaboration. 

Greater enrollment may require more money or more state intervention.

  • California enrolled just 72% of eligible residents in CalFresh in 2016, the fifth-lowest rate in the nation, leaving behind about $1.8 billion in federal funding
  • California is one of only 10 states that manage the food-assistance program at the county level, with a wide range of application procedures, technologies and staffing levels.
  • Each California food stamp case cost $808 to administer in 2016, compared with the national average of $348. 

Sen. Scott Wiener, a San Francisco Democrat, had legislation that would have set a goal for California to enroll 95% of eligible households by 2024. But it stalled in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

To read the full report by Rodriguez-Delgado and Botts, please click here.

Enfranchising parolees

Color image of some people voting in some polling booths at a voting station.
Should parolees have the right to vote?

In 1974, two of California’s most liberal legislators of the day, Sen. George Moscone and Assemblyman Julian Dixon, sponsored a ballot measure that gave ex-felons the right to vote.

That measure stopped short of extending the right to vote to people on parole. 

Now, two of the most liberal legislators of this day, Assemblyman Kevin McCarty of Sacramento and Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco, are proposing to revisit the issue by giving people who are on parole the right to vote.

They are pushing Assembly Constitutional Amendment 6. If approved by the legislature, voters would get a chance to make the final decision.

  • 40,000 Californians would be otherwise eligible to vote except that they are on parole, a legislative staff analysis of the bill says. Most are African American or Latino.

Why not give people in prison the right to vote, as Maine and Vermont do, and as U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders advocates?

  • McCarty: “You have to draw the line somewhere.”

History: In 1966, the California Supreme Court  ruled that a blanket ban on felons voting was unconstitutional. 

The California case involved a Quaker, Katsuki James Otsuka, who was sentenced to three years in prison for refusing to perform nonmilitary work during World War II.

For a fascinating recitation of the issue, read the late Justice Stanley Mosk’s 1966 opinion in Otsuka’s case.

Integrating ex-felons

California lawmakers are trying to overhaul the justice system.

Legislation that would allow ex-felons to serve on juries is heading for a final vote in the coming days. It’s one of many examples of California lawmakers’ effort to overhaul the justice system.

The measure by Sen. Nancy Skinner, a Berkeley Democrat, would exclude from juries people who are on parole or are registered sex offenders. 

Prosecutors could still exclude individual ex-felons from sitting on juries.

But hundreds of thousands of former felons, many of them African American, would gain the right to do their civic duty.

  • Pro, the ACLU: Excluding ex-felons “sends the damaging message to many people of color and those with a felony conviction that their voice, experience and judgment are worthless in civil society.” 
  • Con, Riverside Sheriffs’ Association: “Convicted felons possess a very real and demonstrated disregard for the laws … and especially for the dedicated peace officers who have sworn to enforce those laws.”

The bill awaits a vote in the Assembly and would return to the Senate for a final vote.

Kamala Harris watch

U.S. Senator Kamala Harris speaks during a launch rally for presidential campaign in Oakland last month. Photo by Jose Carlos Fajardo, Bay Area News Group
U.S. Senator Kamala Harris

U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris is focusing significant effort on the early caucus state of Nevada, competing head to head with U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the nonprofit news organization Nevada Independent reports.

She has walked on a picket line, been there more than other top-tier candidates, and hired what insiders see as probably the best team of Nevada operatives. 

To read the full—albeit early—assessment of the Silver State campaign, please click here.

‘I smoke a lot of weed’

“I smoke a lot of weed. As much as I can, as often as I can, as soon as I wake up, before I go to bed.”—Cam McKeel, in The San Francisco Chronicle

  • McKeel tends 35 pot plants on a West Oakland lot that he and his homeless friends call home.
  • There’s a security camera and a fence, built from material collected from a trash bin.
  • The city hasn’t decided what to do.

The Chron: “The episode highlights the complexities of managing two surging trends in Oakland and other Bay Area cities: homelessness and cannabis regulation.”

Commentary at CalMatters

Gerald Haslam, author and California State University graduate: Count me among those advocating free California State University tuition for California residents. It would be a brave investment in California’s future, but California State Universities and the community colleges have long been bootstrap institutions.

Eve Bukowski, Stage 4 cancer patient: If the goal is to make medicine more affordable and accessible, the last thing patients need is a new legal roadblock that will stifle access to lower-cost alternatives. Assembly Bill 824 would restrict access to medication.

Dan Walters, CalMatters: Sen. Kamala Harris is trying to join the very few Californians who have won the presidency, but she seems to be fading.

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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.