Good morning, California. It’s Thursday, October 7.
Big decisions await
T-minus three days.
That’s how much time Gov. Gavin Newsom has left to decide the fate of the remaining bills on his desk — and as the deadline draws nearer, the buildup for big-ticket and contentious proposals is getting more intense.
The direct impact of Newsom’s decisions was particularly apparent Wednesday, when he signed a stack of higher education bills — including one that makes it easier for community college students to transfer to a CSU or UC campus — while onstage at CSU Northridge, surrounded by lawmakers and pom pom-waving cheerleaders. “Eat your heart out, Texas! Eat your heart out, Florida!” Newsom yelled — referring to California’s $47.1 billion higher education budget — as the audience cheered. “Eat your heart out, Tennessee! Eat your heart out, fill-in-the-damn-blank!”
Conspicuously absent from the package, however, was a bill that would usher in the most consequential reforms to California’s financial aid system in a generation.
Also Wednesday, Newsom launched the Governor’s Council on Holocaust and Genocide Education, which has as one of its stated goals providing “young people with the tools necessary to recognize and respond to on-campus instances of anti-Semitism and bigotry.” The move comes as some Holocaust survivors urge Newsom to veto a bill that would make ethnic studies a high school graduation requirement. Citing anti-Semitic content, Jewish groups were some of the most vocal critics of early drafts of California’s ethnic studies model curriculum — which the state Board of Education approved in March after taking into account more than 100,000 public comments.
Here’s a look at other noteworthy bills Newsom signed or vetoed in the past few days.
Signed into law:
- Reforms to the state’s beleaguered unemployment department. The Employment Development Department, which admitted it may have paid as much as $31 billion in fraudulent claims — including $1 billion to jail and prison inmates — must now set up a new office to coordinate anti-fraud efforts and cross-check prison rosters against jobless claimants.
- Legal protections for groups that set prescribed burns.
- An end to mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug crimes. The controversial proposal was recommended by an obscure but influential committee examining California’s penal code.
- An end to using California’s environmental impact law to block free needle exchange programs.
- A streamlined process for terminally ill patients to use California’s assisted death law.
- Restrictions on what kinds of plastic products can be labeled recyclable.
- An end to restaurants providing single-use plastic utensils or condiment packets — unless specifically requested by the customer.
- Establishing visitation as a civil right for people who are incarcerated.
- A ban on paying people who gather signatures for recall, referendum and initiative petitions by the signature.
- A requirement that businesses selling certain products to the state prove they aren’t contributing to tropical deforestation.
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Other stories you should know
1. Get your vax proof ready
With California’s COVID-19 hospitalizations dropping by half from the summer peak, some parts of the state are doubling down on pandemic safety measures while others are considering loosening them. On Wednesday, the Los Angeles City Council approved one of the nation’s strictest ordinances: Starting Nov. 4, residents must show proof of vaccination to enter almost any indoor establishment, including gyms, coffee shops, malls, movie theaters, hair and nail salons, and bowling alleys — while businesses that violate the rules could face fines of up to $5,000 starting Nov. 29. Meanwhile, Bay Area health officials are today scheduled to unveil criteria for when the region can end its indoor mask mandate. San Francisco Mayor London Breed, who was recently photographed dancing and singing maskless at a nightclub in violation of city rules, said “some adjustments” to indoor masking rules are “overdue.”
San Diego County on Tuesday night voted to require proof of vaccination for all new hires. San Francisco’s employee vaccine requirement seems to have improved inoculation rates in certain sectors, but the director of the city’s public transit system warned Wednesday that low vaccination rates among its workforce could lead to reduced services right before the city is set to host a giant music festival. Kaiser Permanente, which employs a majority of its workers in California, suspended 2,200 employees nationwide for failing to get vaccinated. Meanwhile, state Sen. Richard Pan, a Sacramento Democrat, told CalMatters’ Joe Hong that he is considering introducing legislation to remove the personal belief exemption from California’s recently announced student vaccine mandate.
- Pan: “The problem with the personal belief exemption is that if there are too many people who use it, we’ll have schools that are unsafe.”
2. Details emerge on Orange County oil spill
As the days go by, more details are emerging about the massive oil spill off the coast of Huntington Beach — and its long-term consequences are becoming clearer. Federal regulators said Wednesday that although the pipeline operator’s parent company received a low-pressure alarm at 2:30 a.m. on Saturday, the pipeline wasn’t shut down until 6 a.m. — apparently contradicting Amplify Energy Corp. CEO Martyn Willsher, who said the company didn’t learn of the leak until 8:09 a.m. on Saturday. Meanwhile, the Coast Guard is investigating a container ship in Oakland as it tries to determine whether the pipeline was punctured and dragged by a ship’s anchor. And as changing weather patterns threaten to push the oil further south, the contaminated water is hampering commercial fishermen and fisherwomen — and the supply chains that depend on them.
- Mike Conroy, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations: “Not only is it the fishermen and fisherwomen on the boats. It’s the (hired) boats themselves, it’s the fuel docks, it’s the live-bait providers, the tackle officers. Then when you start talking about the commercial fishing side of it, it’s the buyers and processors, the shippers that truck fish around, the restaurants who might prefer to buy from local harvesters.”
- Lorraine Aguilar, a former chemical engineer: “It’s all the stuff we can’t see that scares me. This will have impacts for years to come as it works through the food chain.”
3. Car insurance refunds could be coming
If you buy your car insurance from Allstate, Mercury or CSAA, you may soon get a partial refund for premiums paid amid the pandemic. In a series of Tuesday letters ordering the three companies to respond within 30 days or face legal action, California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara said the gap between the amount they should have refunded drivers and the amount they actually returned to drivers was the largest among the state’s auto insurers. In April 2020, with the streets barren of cars due to the stay-at-home order, Lara ordered insurers to refund driver premiums. But in March 2021, Lara noted the state’s largest insurers cut premiums only by 9%, when they should have actually slashed them by 17%. Lara’s Tuesday announcement signifies that Allstate, Mercury and CSAA were the worst offenders.
His tough stance — “on behalf of consumers, I am out of patience” — also suggests that Lara is gearing up for the 2022 election, in which he will face a Democratic challenger: Assemblymember Marc Levine of San Rafael, who’s accused Lara of not doing enough to prevent Californians living in fire-prone areas from losing their home insurance.
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Improving services for seniors: Newsom should sign a bill that would improve community care options for seniors receiving services outside of nursing homes, argues Eileen Kunz of On Lok.
Creating a smoother transfer system: A clearly defined transfer pathway to CSU and UC — particularly for STEM subjects and for people of color — will guide community college students toward meaningful and productive careers, writes Hasan Zillur Rahim, a math professor at San Jose City College.
Other things worth your time
Emergency response team helps California schools navigate wildfires. // EdSource
American Indian Advisory in Shasta County leads the way in statewide education reform for Native students. // Shasta Scout
Santa Clara County employees to get COVID pandemic ‘hero pay’ checks. // Mercury News
Riverside County sheriff paid for year-long membership with Oath Keepers. // Desert Sun
California correctional officer alleged cover-ups in prison killings before his death. // Sacramento Bee
Long Beach school police shooting victim dies. // Los Angeles Times
San Diego defense contractor accused of being compromised by Chinese spy. // San Diego Union-Tribune
Bay Area developer fraud puts public employee, teacher investments at risk. // Mercury News
Criminal investigation into Ash Street lease becomes visible as DA executes multiple search warrants. // San Diego Union-Tribune
California cities want a slice of Amazon sales tax. Here’s why Fresno calls one plan ‘racist.’ // Fresno Bee
Supervisors take stance against placing sexually violent predators in San Diego County. // San Diego Union-Tribune
Supervisors say no to 316 micro-homes in Tenderloin over fear they would become ‘tech dorms.’ // San Francisco Chronicle
Homeless camp cleared in midtown Sacramento. Most campers move just one block away. // Sacramento Bee
San Franciscans agree tent camps aren’t humane. But the city still hasn’t found a good way to deal with them. // San Francisco Chronicle
Fruit quarantine imposed on much of Santa Clara Valley. // Mercury News
‘This is historic’: For at least a week, California’s Eel River stopped flowing. // SFGATE
In dry California, some buy units that make water from air. // Associated Press
See you tomorrow.
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