The more things change, the more things stay the same.
California is set to fully reopen its economy and end its mask mandate on June 15 — but it appears many of us could still be wearing masks well past that date. That’s because the state’s workplace safety agency on Thursday night passed rules that require employees to wear masks unless everyone in the room is fully vaccinated — something almost impossible to ascertain for many businesses, as the state is not creating a vaccine passport system.
However, the Cal/OSHA standards board also emphasized it will consider further loosening restrictions. It initially voted to reject the rules it eventually adopted, but that would have kept even stricter emergency regulations in place. The about-face occurred after a heated debate that lasted more than nine hours and drew about 800 participants.
Business groups said the loosened rules — which still have to be reviewed by the state Office of Administrative Law — strained credulity.
- Katie Hansen, the California Restaurant Association’s senior legislative director: “A fully vaccinated server could work a lunch shift at a restaurant … and then go out to dinner with their family or friends at the same restaurant in the evening and not be required to wear a mask, even though they had to wear a mask earlier in the day while at work.”
Industry groups also pushed back on a requirement that employers provide N95 masks for unvaccinated workers. Labor groups, meanwhile, said heightened safety standards are necessary to protect workers.
- Michael Young, a lobbyist of the California Federation of Teachers: There’s a “difference between members of the public willfully going to a restaurant or gym or other businesses, versus workers required to be physically present at a worksite.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom, who could overturn the rules via executive order, declined to take a stance on the issue Thursday. But he extended through the end of the year two other temporary pandemic measures: the ability for restaurants to offer to-go alcoholic drinks and expanded outdoor dining.
- Newsom: “I’ve been up and down the state, and parklets have taken off everywhere. All I can say is, ‘Eat your heart out, Paris.'”
Another thing that’s stayed the same: California’s vaccination rate, which has continued to fall despite Newsom’s $116.5 million vaccine incentive program. But the governor’s administration is optimistic it will start ticking up today, when the state unveils the first 15 winners of a $50,000 cash prize. The next 15 winners will be announced June 11, and 10 Californians will win $1.5 million each on June 15, the date of the state’s grand reopening. You can find more information about the program here.
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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Thursday, California had 3,686,689 confirmed cases (+0.02% from previous day) and 62,092 deaths (+0.1% from previous day), according to a CalMatters tracker.
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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Other stories you should know
1. Big bills meet their doom
California’s Legislature may have a supermajority of Democrats, but that doesn’t mean they agree on everything. Case in point: a group of proposals that died in marathon floor sessions Thursday ahead of a Friday deadline for bills to pass out of the house in which they originated. Here’s a look at some of the most controversial or otherwise noteworthy proposals that didn’t make it:
- A bill that would have taxed guns and ammunition to fund gun violence prevention programs. (The author pleaded with Newsom to help spur its passage after last month’s mass shooting in San Jose.)
- A bill that would have banned single-use plastic packaging for online sales.
- A bill that would have given health care workers $7 billion in bonus “hero pay.” (Nevertheless, major unions asked Newsom and legislative leaders Thursday to give $8 billion in bonuses to essential workers.)
- A bill that would have strengthened workers compensation protections for health care workers.
- A bill that would have changed the state’s solar panel subsidy program.
- A bill that would have heightened labor standards at fast food joints.
- A bill that would have levied a tax on international corporations’ income earned abroad to fund local efforts to combat homelessness.
2. Unemployment situation worsens — again
The closer California gets to reopening, the worse its unemployment numbers look. Nearly 75,000 residents filed new jobless claims for the week ending May 29, according to federal data released Thursday — the state’s highest total since April 24. California now accounts for nearly 18% of the nation’s jobless claims, despite making up only 11% of its workforce, the Mercury News reports. The disappointing numbers highlight the paradox of California’s post-pandemic economy: Although experts predict the Golden State will recover more quickly than the rest of the nation, its unemployment rate is expected to remain higher.
Meanwhile, numbers at the Employment Development Department continued heading in the wrong direction for the seventh straight week. EDD reported Thursday that more than 229,000 unemployment claims had been backlogged for more than 21 days as of May 29 — up from 226,000 the week before. Things also worsened at the call center, where jobless claimants had to call an average of 12.8 times to get through, up from 12.1 times the week before. Many Californians, desperate to bypass EDD’s jammed phone lines, are paying private companies to robo-call the department and secure them a place in the queue.
3. Following big-money donations
When Newsom announced his first gubernatorial bid in 2015, donations to his wife’s nonprofit jumped 30%. Since then, First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom’s nonprofit The Representation Project has received more than $800,000 from a dozen corporations that regularly lobby the state Legislature — many of which have also donated to Newsom’s own political committees and given money to other charities at Newsom’s behest, a Sacramento Bee investigation found. Some of the companies, including Kaiser Permanente, have received prominent no-bid state contracts amid the pandemic. Although the corporations say their donations to Siebel Newsom’s nonprofit are separate from their lobbying efforts, the practice has come under fire from ethics experts and other watchdogs — especially since it appears to be increasingly common.
As CalMatters’ Laurel Rosenhall reported last year, Attorney General Rob Bonta — who Newsom recently appointed to the role — solicited more than $560,000 from companies that lobby the Legislature and redirected it to groups that employ his wife. Mia Bonta, who is now running for her husband’s vacant Assembly seat, is receiving thousands of dollars from gaming interests — which may have something to do with the fact that her husband is in charge of writing the title and summary for a recently qualified ballot measure that would allow tribal casinos and horse-racing tracks to conduct sports betting.
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CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Native American tribes that already have a monopoly on casino gambling in California now want to expand into sports betting.
Zoning changes could hinder Black homeownership: California lawmakers’ trickle-down housing agenda could turn people of color into permanent renters and strip us of our ability to build wealth, argues Madalyn Barber of Housing Is A Human Right.
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Other things worth your time
California mandated masks. Florida opened its restaurants. Did any of it matter? // Vox
Largest California state worker union will give $1 million to support Newsom against recall. // Sacramento Bee
How COVID shutdowns led San Luis Obispo to boost Newsom recall. // Los Angeles Times
California prison costs climb even as inmate population shrinks. // Sacramento Bee
Budget proposal would ease testing requirements for California teachers. // EdSource
Caltrain electrification delayed to 2024, cost rising too. // Mercury News
Sacramento will require many buildings to run entirely on electricity. Here’s who it will impact. // Sacramento Bee
Riverside County community choice energy program becomes first in California to file for bankruptcy. // San Diego Union-Tribune
Drought saps California reservoirs as hot, dry summer looms. // Associated Press
See you Monday.
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