Good morning, California. It’s Wednesday, March 24.

Microstamping debate returns

As national debates over gun control reignite in the wake of a Monday mass shooting in Colorado and mass shootings last week in Georgia, California is revisiting some of its own decades-old battles to regulate firearms.

Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel on Tuesday introduced a bill that would require law enforcement to use guns manufactured with microstamping technology, which imprints a unique mark on bullet casings linking them to a specific firearm. The Woodland Hills Democrat’s bill comes 14 years after California became the first and only state to require all new semiautomatic pistols be made with microstamping technology — but manufacturers have effectively rendered the law toothless by not introducing new handgun models in the state since 2007. Gun-rights advocates also question whether microstamping technology is effective.

No state has enacted more gun regulations than California, and although its gun violence rate is much lower than the national average, it’s difficult to parse how much of that is due to stricter laws.

Last week, then-Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s office signed a settlement in federal court admitting its gun-registration website was so riddled with flaws that potentially thousands of Californians weren’t able to register their assault weapons, putting them at risk of being wrongly charged with a misdemeanor or felony. The same federal judge also said last year that California’s ammunition background check website was so glitchy that it prevented tens of thousands of legal gun owners from buying ammunition in a violation of their Second Amendment rights.

And even as the attorney general’s office is embroiled in multiple lawsuits over California’s gun control measures, it was found earlier this month to be withholding gun violence data from a research center created by the state Legislature — data that could, ironically, help make the case for the very laws it’s defending.

For more on gun control in California, check out this comprehensive explainer from CalMatters’ Ben Christopher.

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Tuesday, California had 3,549,101 confirmed cases (+0.1% from previous day) and 56,596 deaths (+0.1% from previous day), according to a CalMatters tracker.

California has administered 15,152,884 vaccine doses.

Plus: CalMatters regularly updates this pandemic timeline tracking the state’s daily actions. We’re also tracking the state’s coronavirus hospitalizations by county and lawsuits against COVID-19 restrictions.


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1. Big reopening shifts

Visitors walk through the lobby of SF MOMA on March 7, 2021. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters

Nine more counties moved into less restrictive reopening tiers on Tuesday, leaving just eight counties containing around 6% of California’s population in the most restrictive purple tier. Six counties — including Marin, San Francisco and Santa Clara — moved into the orange tier, which increases the capacity at which restaurants, gyms and movie theaters can operate indoors while also clearing the way for offices to reopen. It’s an especially promising development for San Francisco, whose downtown is reeling amid a prolonged — and for some companies, permanent — shift to remote work.

  • Twilio CEO Jeff Lawson: “It’s so exciting to be entering the orange tier because it’s an opportunity to start rebuilding and come together. … San Francisco is our home.”

Smatterings of hope are elsewhere, too. Three counties — Solano, Contra Costa and San Luis Obispo — have opened vaccine eligibility to those 50 and older. The state recently permitted nursing homes and long-term care facilities to hold indoor family visits. And last week, it allowed hospitals in the vast majority of counties to welcome up to two visitors for most patients, CalMatters’ Rachel Becker reports. One patient recovering from COVID-19 finally started eating after a family member was allowed to bring home-cooked meals into a Fresno hospital.

2. Budget surplus = hard choices

Illustration by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters; iStock

By now you know that a lot of money is flowing into California — and a significant amount comes with very few strings attached, raising questions about how it will be spent and who will make those decisions. If lawmakers approve Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposed budget, there would be “no reasonable checks and balances on the governor’s COVID-19 spending authority,” and he would also have virtually unlimited control over billions of dollars in federal stimulus, according to a recent report from the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office. As lawmakers debate these provisions, financial requests from lobbyists and activists are pouring into the Capitol, CalMatters’ Ben Christopher reports. Among them:

  • A coalition of county governments, hospitals and nonprofits wants $8 billion for broadband internet.
  • The California Cable and Telecommunications Association wants $1 billion for a high-speed internet development program.
  • The California Chamber of Commerce wants the state to pay down its staggering unemployment insurance debt.
  • The California Medical Association wants to expand health care coverage.
  • State employees want their salary cuts to be reversed.

3. A decimated child care industry

Cynthia Bassett in her backyard in San Bernardino on March 16, 2021. Cynthia has been running a daycare at her house for 22 years. Photo by Shae Hammond, CalMatters

A staggering 8,500 licensed child care sites have shut down in California since the onset of the pandemic, slashing tens of thousands of slots in an industry already straining to meet high levels of demand, CalMatters’ Elizabeth Aguilera reports. Among the dire impacts the closures will likely have on California:

  • Children unable to access licensed child care could suffer educationally and miss the stability of a safe, familiar provider.
  • Unemployed or underemployed parents — particularly mothers — may not be able to return to work as quickly, delaying California’s economic recovery and chipping away at women’s gains in the workplace.
  • Thousands of women of color, who make up the majority of the child care workforce, no longer have a job.

The new federal stimulus package will inject billions of dollars into California’s child care industry and expand a child tax credit that experts say could cut the Golden State’s child poverty rate in half. But it’s unlikely to be a permanent solution.

4. Disruptions to state nursing workforce

Nursing student Erin Abille practices skills on a stuffed animal at Mulberry Park in Chula Vista on Jan. 23, 2021. Photo by Arlene Banuelos for CalMatters

For nearly a year, California nursing students have been practicing their skills on mannequins, virtual patients and stuffed animals instead of working directly with patients in hospitals — causing some students and advocates to fear they won’t be ready to enter the workplace post-pandemic, CalMatters’ Shehreen Karim reports. The pandemic has also shrunk the number of available spots in colleges’ nursing programs — some of which didn’t admit any new students this year and suspended admissions for next year — and accelerated both older nurses’ retirement and younger nurses’ decision to leave the field entirely. None of these trends bode well for California, which is projected to have a shortage of 44,500 full-time registered nurses by 2030.


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CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Newsom has continued to do and say things that reinforce the recall campaign’s theme that he is an arrogant elitist oblivious to the concerns of ordinary citizens.

Supporting student wellness: Amid an uptick in youth suicide ideation and attempts, California must provide support for school-based mental health services, writes Tracy Mendez of the California School-Based Health Alliance.

An equitable strategy for all-electric: State leaders and policymakers must develop a systematic strategy to phase out natural gas use in buildings, argue Ethan Elkind and Ted Lamm of UC Berkeley’s Center for Law, Energy and the Environment.


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Other things worth your time

Prince Harry takes an executive job at a Silicon Valley startup. // Wall Street Journal

Tom Steyer polls the Newsom recall — offering himself as an alternative. // Politico

Jewish lawmakers condemn Newsom recall campaign’s use of Holocaust imagery. // Sacramento Bee

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg told he will not be named California attorney general. // Politico

California community colleges to offer limited expansion of fall in-person classes. // EdSource

California school official searches his district for hundreds of students the pandemic left behind. // Washington Post

San Diego Convention Center to shelter children seeking asylum. // Los Angeles Times

Oakland launches one of the largest guaranteed income programs in the country. // San Francisco Chronicle

These Bay Area cities have the most ‘untethered’ workers in the U.S. // Mercury News

Southern California home prices hit all-time high in February. // Los Angeles Times

To escape COVID-19, Californians resettle in Taiwan. // Los Angeles Times

California, U.S. issue grim warnings on summer water supplies. // Sacramento Bee

PG&E power line started deadly Zogg Fire, state fire authorities say. // Sacramento Bee


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...