In summary

“Disaster relief” summer schools proposed in wildfire country. A new effort emerges to control health care costs. Stalled bills may rise again.

Good morning, California.

“Adam Schiff might be the most underestimated politician California has produced. Many in GOP dismiss him as bland/partisan. But the way he has handled impeachment will leave a mark on history, exceeding nearly all contemporaries.”—Greg Miller, Washington Post national security reporter, via tweet, regarding the Burbank Democrat’s role as the House’s lead impeachment manager.

Disaster days legislation

Sen. Bill Dodd helps volunteers carry boxes of donated food in 2019.

As climate-fueled natural disasters have eroded the school year in California, a lawmaker representing wildfire country is proposing “disaster relief” summer schools, CalMatters’ Ricardo Cano reports.

Sen. Bill Dodd’s Senate Bill 884 would give schools that have lost five or more days to disaster-related emergencies the money to make up those days after the end of the school year.

The Napa Democrat’s legislation follows reporting last year by CalMatters that detailed the toll from climate-driven fires, and power shutoffs aimed at preventing them. 

The bill seeks to require make-up instruction if a public school demonstrates it lost five days in one school year or 10 cumulative days within a three-year span. 

Dodd, on the importance of CalMatters’ statewide data: 

  • “We’re always willing to run local bills that protect people in our district, but knowing and understanding the gravity of the situation and how these problems were statewide, that really drove our discussion and interest of it in our office.” 

More than 360 schools closed for five school days or longer during the fall of the current school year, with some students in Sonoma County losing as many as 15 instructional days due to mandatory wildfire evacuations and power shutoffs.

To read Cano’s report, please click here.

New effort to control health costs

doctor holds hand of patient
Image via iStock

No fewer than 213 hospitals, doctors groups, chambers of commerce and others banded together in 2018 to kill Assemblyman Ash Kahlra’s legislation to create a Health Care Cost, Quality and Equity Commission.

The commission would have set amounts that could be charged by health care providers. 

  • Californians spend $400 billion a year, the legislative staff estimated in 2018.

Organized labor was its main backer. 

The California Hospital Association warned that the bill would cost hospitals $18 billion and force many hospitals to close. 

  • Given the opposition, the bill flamed out. 
  • Few ideas truly die in Sacramento.

As part of his budget, Gov. Gavin Newsom proposes to establish an Office of Health Care Affordability. Newsom’s budget describes the goal as increasing transparency, developing cost targets, and imposing consequences on entities that fail to meet these targets. 

The California Labor Federation once again is taking up the cause. With the governor embracing the concept, and changes to come, its chance of passage is heightened. But it’s still not a certainty.

  • Labor Fed spokesman Steve Smith: “We need to broaden the coalition.”

TBD: Which legislators will author the legislation and what exactly the language will be.

Legislative graveyard

Death Watch bill killer
Several bills stalled, but they will rise again.

Several bills stalled likely for the year on Thursday, as Assembly and Senate appropriations committees took final action on dozens of measures.

Exactly why they died in the appropriations committees is never exactly clear, as CalMatters’ Laurel Rosenhall wrote in this piece.

Perishing on Thursday were measures to make election day a state holiday, allow cannabis companies to hand out free samples to retailers, and bar landlords from asking about a potential tenant’s criminal record during an initial rental application.

Probably the most far-reaching measure that stalled was one by Assemblywoman Autumn Burke, a Los Angeles-area Democrat, to create a legal “right to housing” for children and families.

Republican Assemblyman Frank Bigelow, an appropriations committee member, told newly seated committee member Megan Dahle, also a Republican:

  • “Have fun trying to figure out what happens here.”

One lesson: Few bills ever truly die.

In California, labor gains

Bucking a national trend, organized labor gained members in California in 2019, 139,000 to be exact,  the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics report shows.

California’s 2.72 million union workers amounted to 16.5% of the state’s labor force, compared with 15.8% in 2018. It’s still below the 2010 level of 18.6%.

The L.A. Times’ Margot Roosevelt reports

  • “The growth has been enabled by a labor-friendly Legislature enacting measures to crack down on wage theft and retaliation against union organizers.”

The uptick follows intense outreach by union leaders to members comes after the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2018 ruling in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees.

Union opponents hoped that decision would have restricted the ability of public employee unions to retain workers. There seems to be no clear impact from that decision, yet.

By the numbers: 

  • Hawaii’s workforce was the most organized, at 25.5%, followed by New York at 22.7%.

States with the smallest share of union workers were:

  • South Carolina, 2.7%, North Carolina, 3.4%, Georgia, 5%, and Virginia and Texas, 5.2%.

We’re a long way from Iowa

a photo illustration of Bernie Sanders at a rally in San Francisco.
Photo illustration. Photography by Yichuan Cao, Sipa USA via AP Images

Now that California’s presidential primary might actually matter, Democratic presidential candidates face a challenge: how to compete in the country’s largest state?

CalMatters’ Ben Christopher spoke to experts on California politics to get their views on how the business of politics differs out here and how whichever candidates remain in the race should approach California’s March 3 primary. 

Long story short: California is not Iowa, or New Hampshire, or Nevada, and certainly not South Carolina.

To read Christopher’s take, please click here.

Expect a climate change bond

Guerneville residents paddle through the flooded streets of their Russian River town, Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2019
Guerneville residents paddle through the flooded streets in 2019. (Photo by Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

The Assembly, Senate and the governor all are offering plans for “climate resiliency” bonds on the November ballot to fund efforts to combat climate change, CalMatters’ Julie Cart writes.

The exact size of the bond is to be determined. But with both houses and the governor supporting the concept, expect to vote on it in November.

What’s climate resiliency?

  • With the world unable to put the brakes on greenhouse gas emissions, the current approach focuses on ‘resilience,’ devising strategies for coping with an unpredictable and dangerous new climate.
  • Resilience projects are aimed not so much at preventing sea level rise, wildfires, droughts and extreme heatwaves, but helping people and communities survive. 

It’s not free money. The Legislative Analyst last November estimated that the state’s annual debt service from the general fund will grow from $5.7 billion in 2019 to $6.4 billion in 2023‑24. 

  • The overall budget will be $222.2 billion in 2020-21.

To read Cart’s report, please click here.

Oklahoma fires back

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (Photo by Matt Barnard,Tulsa World via AP File)

Under 2017 legislation, California bans work-related travel by state employees to 11 states that are seen as “supporting or financing discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.”

Now, one of those states, Oklahoma, is answering. 

Gov. Kevin Stitt announced Oklahoma employees will be banned from state-funded travel to California:

  • “If California’s elected officials don’t want public employees traveling to Oklahoma, I am eager to return the gesture on behalf of Oklahoma’s pro-life stance.”

There are exceptions:

  • The Oklahoma Department of Commerce can continue efforts to lure California companies to Oklahoma.
  • Oklahoma sports teams can travel to California for games. 

Stitt clearly knows not to mix politics with Sooner football.

Commentary at CalMatters

Jennifer Haley, Kern Oil & Refining Co.: California champions opportunity for women. The nation looks to us as a trendsetter, so let’s make 2020 California’s year of women who lead boldly and pave the way for future generations.

Dan Walters, CalMatters: California advanced its presidential primary to March in hopes of becoming more relevant, but the complexity of the Democratic delegate process could undercut that hope.


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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.