In summary

Two proposed amendments to the California Constitution will appear on the November ballot if approved by lawmakers this week.

Good morning, California. It’s Monday, June 22.

Two measures could reach Nov. ballot

Esteban Núñez meets with legislative aides to advocate for parolee voting rights on March 9. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

This week, lawmakers will consider several measures that have taken on newfound significance amid widespread protests over racism and calls for criminal justice reform. 

One bill requiring Cal State University students to complete an ethnic studies course is already headed to the governor’s desk. And two proposed amendments to the California Constitution will appear on the November ballot if approved by lawmakers this week.

One amendment would grant California parolees the right to vote, while the other would reinstate affirmative action policies in public education, contracting and hiring that voters revoked in 1996. Both measures are top priorities for the Legislative Black Caucus. African Americans make up 26% of California’s parolee population but only 6% of the state’s adults.

  • Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, the Sacramento Democrat who wrote ACA 6, the parole voting measure: “Parolees are many times working, paying taxes, raising their family, doing right. And they can’t vote on policies that affect their lives.”

As CalMatters’ Laurel Rosenhall and Adria Watson report, the parole measure is promoted by 31-year-old Esteban Núñez, son of a former Speaker of the California Assembly, who was convicted for his role in the 2008 killing of 22-year-old college student Luis Santos.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2011 reduced Núñez’s sentence from 16 years to seven, a decision that angered Santos’ parents and others who said Núñez’s political connections allowed him to circumvent justice.

Núñez now works for a criminal justice nonprofit, advocating for bills like ACA 6 to help give the incarcerated a second chance.

  • Núñez: “I think I do have a unique opportunity to use the doors that my father has worked hard to open, for the greater good” and help “other people in the way that I was helped.”
  • Fred Santos, Luis’ father: “I don’t think people that committed violent crimes should be allowed to vote. Because they violated other citizens’ rights, they should not have their rights. … The pain doesn’t go away. We are serving a life sentence.”

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of 9 p.m. Sunday night, California had 173,824 confirmed coronavirus cases and 5,495 deaths from the virus, according to a CalMatters tracker. California’s coronavirus hospitalizations also hit an all-time high over the weekend.

Also: CalMatters regularly updates this pandemic timeline tracking the state’s daily actions. And we’re tracking the state’s coronavirus hospitalizations by county.

Other stories you should know

1. Assemblymember Phil Ting apologizes for affair, denies political motivations

Assemblymember Phil Ting in his Sacramento office in January. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

Assemblymember Phil Ting, a San Francisco Democrat and chair of the powerful Assembly Budget Committee, apologized Saturday for having an extramarital affair, but denied allegations that it influenced the bills he supported as a legislator. According to a Friday report from the conservative news site Communities Digital News, Ting had an affair with Carmel Foster, a domestic worker who testified on behalf of AB 5, a controversial law that reclassified many independent contractors as employees. Ting voted for AB 5 each time it came before the Assembly, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Foster alleges that Ting and several unions used her as a prop to garner support for bills.

  • Ting: “The allegation that my bills or votes were ever driven by any personal consideration is false. I have fought for the rights of working people my entire adult life. But I was not faithful to my marriage vows and for that, I am deeply, deeply sorry.”
  • Foster: “These unions controlled my testimonies, got stories out of me, and then tossed me out. It was payday for them, not to help domestic workers.”
  • Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon: “The allegations in a right-wing blog appear designed to undermine our efforts to bring greater economic justice to working people.”

2. Students push UC to reform, abolish police departments

UC police form a barrier around a group of students at the entrance to UC Santa Cruz on February 12. Photo by Dan Coyro, Santa Cruz Sentinel

University of California students want to reform, and in some cases abolish, campus police departments in the wake of widespread protests against police brutality and racism — and it seems like administrators might be listening, CalMatters’ Felicia Mello and Vanessa Arredondo report. UC Berkeley will now send counselors to students experiencing mental crises rather than police, relocate their headquarters away from the main gate and potentially shift other responsibilities away from officers. But while some students say reforms don’t go far enough, others worry they’ll be less safe without officers on campus. Police, meanwhile, want a say in their future.

  • Ahmad Mahmuod, a UC Berkeley student: “The only time I feel unsafe at Cal is when I’m around police officers.”
  • UC Davis Police Chief Joseph Farrow: “Our community should be part of the structure that helps design what these police departments look like in the future.”

3. For some California teens, school closures led to work in the fields

Sisters Maria (left) and Jennifer Salvador went to work in the farm fields when their high school closed. Photo by Elizabeth Aguilera for CalMatters

As schools shut down amid the pandemic, many students in California’s agricultural communities went to work in the fields — raising concerns that they may fall far enough behind in their studies that they won’t return to school in the fall, CalMatters’ Elizabeth Aguilera reports. Oxnard sisters Maria and Jennifer Salvador, ages 19 and 16, start picking strawberries before dawn, bringing in $3 for each 20-pound box. Currently the sole breadwinners for their family of nine, they’ve been tuning into their online classes when they can via their father’s cell phone.

  • Maria Salvador: “I haven’t learned anything during this time, it’s very sad. It’s very hard to work in the fields. I want a better future.”
  • Summer Prather-Smith of Monterey County’s Migrant Education Program Office: “The longer they are disengaged from (school) the harder it is to ask them to go back. We have to be more enticing than the money they are going to make.”

4. As Trump rolls back environmental protections, CA steps in

A Surf Scoter, a large sea duck, covered in oil after the 2007 Cosco Busan oil spill in San Francisco Bay. Photo by Brocken Inaglory, Creative Commons via NOAA

California’s newest approach to the Trump administration’s rollback of century-old environmental protections is to write its own laws enshrining those protections, CalMatters’ Julie Cart reports. After the federal government weakened laws holding companies accountable for killing birds in oil spills, wind turbines and other projects and loosened regulations for development in wetlands that are home to endangered species, the Golden State took matters into its own hands. While conservationists applaud the moves, industry groups and businesses aren’t too happy with the added state costs they now face.

  • Assemblymember Ash Kalra, a San Jose Democrat who authored the state bird protection law: “At the end of the day, should the cost of protection of our environment always fall on the taxpayers, when there are other responsible actors?”

CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Facing a vicious circle of conflicting demands and priorities, the California Public Employees Retirement System is turning to debt — a risky scheme to borrow billions of dollars in hopes of juicing its investment returns.

What essential workers deserve: My father, a long-haul trucker, would have relished being designated “essential” — but he would have appreciated pay and security commensurate with his skilled labor even more, writes Lisa R. Pruitt, a UC Davis law professor.

Social justice perspective on Delta tunnel project: Opponents never say their position will lead to higher food prices and potential class-based disparities in health outcomes, argues Gary Kremen of the Delta Conveyance Finance Authority.

Other things worth your time

Mysterious deaths of infants, children raise questions about how early the coronavirus hit California. // Los Angeles Times

Five sheriff departments say they won’t enforce Gov. Gavin Newsom’s mask order. // KTLA

California’s vacation industry is open for business. Proceed with caution. // CalMatters

Poorest seniors shut out of California’s coronavirus meal program. // Los Angeles Times

Reflections on 100 days of lockdown in the Bay Area. // San Francisco Chronicle

San Francisco protesters topple statues of St. Junipero Serra, Francis Scott Key and President Ulysses S. Grant. // San Francisco Chronicle

California spent nearly $1 million protecting state buildings amid Black Lives Matter protests. // Sacramento Bee

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Emily Hoeven writes the daily WhatMatters newsletter for CalMatters. Her reporting, essays, and opinion columns have been published in San Francisco Weekly, the Deseret News, the San Francisco Business...