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Hundreds of thousands of women seeking abortions could soon flood into California, and the state should maximize access for both in-state and out-of-state patients by helping cover the cost of the procedure as well as transportation, lodging, child care, food and lost wages.

Those were among the recommendations in a Wednesday report from the California Future of Abortion Council, which Gov. Gavin Newsom convened in September, shortly after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed one of the nation’s most restrictive abortion laws forbidding the procedure after about six weeks of pregnancy.

And with the U.S. Supreme Court poised to issue a ruling this summer that advocates say could result in 26 states immediately banning or severely limiting abortions, California would become the closest no-ban state within driving distance for 1.4 million women — a nearly 3,000% increase from current levels, according to an estimate from the pro-abortion rights Guttmacher Institute. The Golden State has already seen an uptick in patients from Texas since its abortion ban went into effect, according to Jodi Hicks, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California.

  • The council: “It is imperative that California take the lead, live up to its proclamation as a ‘Reproductive Freedom State,’ and be ready to serve anyone who seeks abortion services in the state.”

Armed with an estimated $31 billion budget surplus, both Newsom and top Democratic state lawmakers seem prepared to make good on that promise. Senate Democrats on Wednesday outlined the budget proposal they’ll release in full next year, emphasizing that California has both the wealth and the political wherewithal to protect reproductive rights, while Newsom told the Associated Press that he sees California as a “sanctuary” for out-of-state patients seeking abortions. 

Meanwhile, California centers that counsel pregnant women against abortion are making their own preparations and increasing staffing levels ahead of the expected influx of patients, said Jonathan Keller, president and CEO of the California Family Council.   

Among the other recommendations from the governor’s panel:

  • Eliminate cost-sharing for abortion and abortion-related services for all insurance plans, and improve reimbursement rates for Medi-Cal, the state’s health care program for the poor.
  • Create a California Reproductive Scholarships Corps to strengthen abortion access in underserved areas, including regions primarily served by health systems with religious affiliations.
  • Explore ways to offer medication abortion services to out-of-state patients via telehealth.
  • Remove existing barriers to abortions later in pregnancy.
  • Enact legal protections for abortion patients and providers, including those who serve out-of-state patients.
  • Combat abortion misinformation and disinformation while ensuring schools and community-based organizations offer medically accurate, culturally relevant and inclusive abortion education.
  • Collect data, including on the effectiveness of public schools’ sexual health programs and the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on abortion services.

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Tuesday, California had 4,856,101 confirmed cases (+0.1% from previous day) and 74,351 deaths (+0.2% from previous day), according to state data. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.

California has administered 60,197,935 vaccine doses, and 69% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.

1. Many students unvaccinated

Matthew Yip, 8, waits in line to receive a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in San Jose on Nov. 3, 2021. AP Photo/Noah Berger
Matthew Yip, 8, waits in line to receive a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in San Jose on Nov. 3, 2021. Photo by Noah Berger, AP Photo

COVID continues to pose massive logistical and financial challenges for California school districts. Here’s a look at some key updates:

  • Tens of thousands of students — including about 34,000 at Los Angeles Unified School District, 12,000 in Sacramento City Unified and 6,000 in Oakland Unified — haven’t complied with district COVID-19 vaccine mandates. That means, as early as next month, they could be forced into remote learning programs or out of the district’s public schools entirely.
  • Despite a dire staff shortage, Los Angeles Unified on Tuesday fired 500 employees — most of whom didn’t have teaching credentials — for failing to comply with the district’s vaccine mandate.
  • Meanwhile, a federal appeals court on Wednesday announced that it plans to reconsider a case that went before some of its judges in July, when they ruled that California violated parents’ rights by keeping private schools closed during the pandemic. The full court will now hear the case and issue a new decision.
  • And the state warned San Francisco Unified that if approves a plan put forth by one of its school board members to plug a $125 million budget shortfall, the state Department of Education will likely take over budget decisions.

In other COVID news, health officials confirmed Wednesday that the omicron cases detected in Alameda County last week were in fully vaccinated and boosted employees of Kaiser Permanente’s Oakland Medical Center who had attended a late November wedding in Wisconsin. And Kristina Lawson, the president of California’s medical board, said in a Wednesday Twitter thread that she was on Monday “ambushed in a dark parking garage” by a “group that peddles medical disinformation” and “fake COVID-19 treatments.” She said she contacted law enforcement and warned Californians to “remain vigilant against new variants and against those that peddle fake, dangerous misinformation.”

2. State cracks down on eviction, housing production

San Mateo County Legal Aid provides a weekly housing clinic for San Mateo County residents at the Colma Civic Center. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters
San Mateo County Legal Aid provides a weekly housing clinic at the Colma Civic Center. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

From CalMatters housing reporter Manuela Tobias: On Wednesday, a month after Attorney General Rob Bonta formed a housing strike force to enforce tenant protection and housing production laws, he announced its first big punitive measure for a corporate landlord: a $3.5 million judgment against Wedgewood, Inc., still subject to court approval. The Redondo Beach real estate firm, which bought at least $152.6 million worth of California properties during the pandemic, is probably best known for owning a vacant West Oakland home that was occupied by and ultimately turned over to a group of homeless Black mothers. Bonta’s office alleges that Wedgewood harmed “hundreds if not thousands of California tenants and their families – mainly in low income and minority communities” by regularly conducting illegal evictions in the properties they flipped, including during the pandemic. Today, tenant advocates led by the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment are set to protest rent hikes and living conditions in Los Angeles and San Diego housing units run by corporate landlords such as Blackstone. 

In other housing news, the state Department of Housing and Community Development on Wednesday warned the city of Anaheim that its 2019 sale of Angel Stadium violated state law by not prioritizing, among other things, the development of low- and moderate-income housing. Anaheim could face a $96 million fine if it doesn’t address the state’s concerns within 60 days.

Also Wednesday, Bonta launched an independent review of the Torrance Police Department at the request of its chief. The move follows an explosive Los Angeles Times investigation that found a dozen Torrance police officers are under investigation for sharing racist and homophobic texts — potentially jeopardizing hundreds of criminal cases in which they testified or made arrests.

3. UC recognizes researchers’ union

At UCLA, demonstrators walk through campus demanding fair wages for University of California faculty on Oct. 13, 2021. Photo by Zaydee Sanchez for CalMatters
Demonstrators walk through UCLA demanding fair wages for UC faculty on Oct. 13, 2021. Photo by Zaydee Sanchez for CalMatters

From CalMatters higher education reporter Mikhail Zinshteyn: Another University of California strike was averted Wednesday, when the UC recognized a union of 17,000 student researchers and staved off a labor disruption that would have significantly imperiled $5 billion in research funding. The Student Researchers United – United Automobile Workers will soon meet with UC to iron out a contract, which could lead to another round of strike threats if talks go poorly. And other walkouts are still possible: A large union of academic researchers approved their own strike vote last month. But the UC has recently managed to avoid the possibility of major labor disruptions: Last month, the system struck a deal with its lecturers union, bringing an end to a years-long labor impasse that could have cancelled classes for a third of undergraduate students.

  • Gwen Chodur, a student researcher and doctoral candidate at UC Davis: “This is finals week, and it’s a really great way to end the quarter. We’re looking forward to bargaining with the university in good faith and ensuring that the UC remains a leader in research innovation.”

CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: California’s “tort wars” over the rules governing personal injury lawsuits are heating up again, with dueling initiatives that could land on the 2022 ballot.

Farms need water, too: If you’ve bought into the argument that only using water for domestic and environmental purposes solves our problems, or the fantasy that what California grows can simply be grown elsewhere, I’ve got a bridge to sell you, argues Mike Wade, executive director of the California Farm Water Coalition.

A more holistic approach to flood risks: By focusing solely on storm surge, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers leaves millions exposed to chronic flooding from sea level rise, tides and extreme rainfall, write Natalie Snider of the Environmental Defense Fund and David Lewis of Save The Bay.

Other things worth your time

Oakland backtracks, votes to add police as crimes surge. // Associated Press

Wilmington shooting leaves a boy dead, a neighborhood shaken. // Los Angeles Times

Judge rejects Gascón’s agreement to vacate killer’s death sentence. // Daily News

Scott Peterson resentenced to life term in wife’s 2002 death. // Associated Press

California prisons change rules for inmate firefighter releases. // Sacramento Bee

California aims to fix ‘broken’ discipline system for prison guards. // Associated Press

It’s one of California’s most YIMBY city councils — and one of the few surpassing housing goals. // San Francisco Chronicle

Inspectors hit restaurants with ‘confusing’ parklet violations despite mayor’s promise to delay enforcement. // San Francisco Chronicle

Contra Costa Health told to keep issuing COVID vaccine fines. // Mercury News

Gloria wants public restrooms within five-minute walk of anywhere downtown. // Voice of San Diego

Biden nominates Meg Whitman to be ambassador to Kenya. // CNBC

Senate hearing for Garcetti India ambassador post is scheduled. // Los Angeles Times

Former Berkeley mayoral candidate convicted of stealing newborn baby goat. // Berkeleyside

Californians cut water use 13% in October; still behind goal. // Associated Press

Column: Desalination firm wants a $1.1 billion handout from state. // Los Angeles Times

After long delay, California lawmakers hold wildfire oversight hearing. // CapRadio

Father and son arrested on suspicion of starting the Caldor Fire near Lake Tahoe. // New York Times

See you tomorrow.

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For the record: This newsletter was updated on Dec. 14 to clarify that the first quote in the main article came from the California Future of Abortion Council, not a specific person.

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