Good morning, California. It’s Thursday, August 27.

Deadlines fast approaching

The clock is ticking for lawmakers to chart a recovery path for the world’s fifth-largest economy, keep millions of Californians from being evicted and respond to fires of historic proportions.

They have until Friday to introduce new bills. The legislative session ends Monday, and lawmakers will likely cast votes late into the night.

Further reducing the limited time left, the Senate cancelled its Wednesday floor session after learning state Sen. Brian Jones, a San Diego Republican, and a California Highway Patrol officer in the Capitol this week had tested positive for COVID-19.

  • Senate Pro Tem Toni Atkins, a San Diego Democrat: “The Senate will be prepared to continue our work when we have completed public health protocols to ensure that the risk of exposure has been eliminated.”

Details of how lawmakers hope to revitalize the economy are slowly emerging, with at least two pieces culled from an ambitious $100 billion stimulus plan top Democrats unveiled in July: a bill that would free up $500 million to train new firefighters and set aside $2.5 billion to handle wildfires and climate change; and a bill to improve highways and roads. We’re keeping an eye on whether other parts of the proposal make it through, including expanding broadband services.

  • Gov. Gavin Newsom on Aug. 12: “One of the most important things we could do … is accelerating state-funded infrastructure investment. … We have a lot of work we want to do on wildfires and green infrastructure investment, hardening our energy grid … Workforce training is foundational.”

But the wildfire bill involves extending existing taxes — a tough call for lawmakers facing reelection — and requires a two-thirds vote to pass.

So would an eviction deal, which is tentatively taking shape. Under a recent iteration of the plan, renters would be obligated to pay 25% of their rent between Sept. 1, 2020 and Jan. 31, 2021. Landlords wouldn’t be compensated for missed rent, but could pursue the remaining 75% in small claims court. They would be able to evict renters for missed payments starting Feb. 1, 2021.

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of 9 p.m. Wednesday night, California had 679,099 confirmed coronavirus cases and 12,407 deaths from the virus, according to a CalMatters tracker.

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


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Other stories you should know

1. California to double testing capacity

A nursing student does patient check-in at Cal Expo in Sacramento. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

California will soon more than double its coronavirus testing capacity while significantly cutting test costs and turnaround times under a partnership Newsom unveiled Wednesday, days before he is slated to release new reopening guidelines. California’s $1.4 billion contract with Massachusetts-based diagnostics company PerkinElmer will allow the state to conduct and process an additional 150,000 tests daily, with results guaranteed in 24 to 48 hours. The plan takes the opposite approach of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which this week changed its guidelines to recommend that people who come in contact with an infected person don’t get tested unless they have symptoms or are otherwise vulnerable.

  • Newsom: “I don’t agree with the new CDC guidance. Period. Full stop. We will not be influenced by that change.”

2. State auditor to monitor California’s use of federal funds

California State Auditor Elaine Howle gives a press briefing in Sacramento. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

California agencies are at “high risk” of mismanaging nearly $72 billion in federal coronavirus funds due to histories of mismanagement and outdated tech programs — so their use of the money will be monitored and tracked, according to a report State Auditor Elaine Howle released Tuesday. The auditor will track 18 agencies, including the beleaguered unemployment department — which is receiving $40 billion in aid — the Department of Health Care Services, the Department of Finance, the Department of Education and the Department of Social Services. The news comes just days after the approval of California’s application for $4.5 billion in federal funds to supplement weekly unemployment payments.

  • Howle: Mismanagement of funds “could leave people without medical care or money to pay for housing and food for themselves and their families.”

3. Wildfires derail online learning plans

Residents bring attention to the Santa Cruz Mountain community of Bonny Doon. Photo by Kevin Painchaud, Santa Cruz Sentinel

Online learning for more than 70,000 California students has ground to a halt amid blackouts and raging wildfires that led to damaged internet infrastructure, poor air quality and mass evacuations, CalMatters’ Ricardo Cano reports. Wildfires have never affected California schools to this extent so early in the academic year, and teachers — some of whom lost their homes in their fire — are scrambling to check in with displaced students and families and replace computers and hotspots. It’s unclear when some schools will be able to resume distance learning, adding yet another wrinkle to an already challenging school year.

  • James Buescher, an assistant principal at a Vacaville high school: “If you would’ve told me a year ago what this year would have looked like, I would have just laughed.”
  • Mike Heffner, Bonny Doon principal: “We’re going to come back stronger, but I don’t think it’s going to happen as quickly as any of us hope.”
  • Holiday Smith, a Bonny Doon teacher: “It’s unconscionable what we’ve done to the young. It’s not their fault, and we’re destroying their planet.”

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CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: The California Legislature’s budget “trailer bills” have morphed into vehicles to semi-secretly make major policy decrees outside of the usual legislative process.

Vaccine emergency hearing needed: Legislators must encourage the early adoption of any successfully developed COVID-19 vaccine and promote widespread use of the flu vaccine, write Kelly Danielpour, founder of VaxTeen, and Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, a UCLA professor.

Harms of flavored tobacco ban: We need to address the rise in youth vaping, but banning flavored tobacco will hurt small businesses and convenience-store owners, argues Julian Canete of the California Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Support Assembly Bill 841: It would fix poor ventilation in classrooms, create new job opportunities and help to slow the spread of COVID-19 when children and teachers return, write Barbara Sattler of the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments and Rico Tamayo of the California Federation of Teachers’ Early Childhood-K-12 Council.

CSU Long Beach should protect tribal land: Wouldn’t you think that a university would relish the opportunity to protect tribal land and teach students and the community about native cultures? asks Stephanie Hessen, a Yucca Valley resident.


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Other things worth your time

Some of the most startling images of the wildfires racing through Northern California. // Los Angeles Times

California condor facility burns in Big Sur, fate of some endangered birds unknown. // Mercury News

A lesson from the blackouts: California may be too reliant on out-of-state energy imports. // San Diego Union-Tribune

San Joaquin communities are testing out an electric energy future as climate change worsens. // Fresno Bee

She’s ‘breaking the law’ to help Fresno’s homeless. Will the government stop her? // Fresno Bee/CalMatters

LAUSD votes to make ethnic studies a graduation requirement. // Los Angeles Daily News

Los Angeles school officials have three weeks to devise emergency child-care plan, board orders. // Los Angeles Times


See you tomorrow.

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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...