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That appears to be Gov. Gavin Newsom’s strategy for counteracting the U.S. Supreme Court’s Friday decision to let stand Texas’ ban on abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy. “I am outraged,” the governor said in a Saturday night statement, announcing that he plans to work with state lawmakers and Attorney General Rob Bonta — whom he appointed to the office — to introduce a bill that would allow private citizens to sue anyone who manufactures, distributes or sells assault weapons or ghost guns.
The idea rips a page out of the playbook Texas used to craft its unusually structured abortion law, which essentially transfers enforcement authority from the state to individual people by allowing them to sue abortion clinics and anyone who “aids or abets” the procedure. That, in turn, limits abortion clinics’ ability to challenge the law in federal court.
- Newsom: “If states can now shield their laws from review by the federal courts that compare assault weapons to Swiss Army knives, then California will use that authority to protect people’s lives, where Texas used it to put women in harm’s way.”
The governor’s statement settles scores on multiple fronts. First: a dig at U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez, who declared California’s assault weapon ban unconstitutional in a controversial June ruling that likened an AR-15 rifle to a Swiss Army knife. (Newsom scored another win against Benitez this month, when a federal appeals court overturned his ruling deeming California’s ban on high-capacity magazines illegal.)
Second: a dig at Texas, a state that Newsom regularly excoriates in press conferences for failed COVID-19 policies and high rates of violent crime. In recent weeks, Newsom has sought to frame California as a “sanctuary” for Texas women seeking abortions — perhaps an implicit attempt to reverse the narrative that Californians are fleeing to the Lone Star State in search of lower taxes and more affordable homes.
Third: a way to elevate his national profile after handily defeating a recall attempt, embarking on a bicoastal book tour and offering aid to tornado-slammed Kentucky. State Sen. Brian Dahle, a Bieber Republican, accused Newsom of using the abortion case “as an opportunity to grandstand”; legal experts doubt whether the governor’s proposed legislation would pass muster in court.
Still, Bonta, the state’s top prosecutor, seems to be on board: “As always, we look forward to working with the Governor and the Legislature to use all tools available to us to save lives, lift up our people, and promote our values,” he tweeted Sunday.
However, California hasn’t always succeeded at enforcing the gun laws it already has on the books. An ongoing CalMatters investigation, “Outgunned,” found the state has struggled to recover firearms from people legally banned from owning them due to a criminal conviction, mental health issue or domestic violence restraining order.
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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Saturday, California had 4,867,604 confirmed cases (+0.1% from previous day) and 74,509 deaths (+0.1% from previous day), according to state data. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.
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Other stories you should know
1. School vaccine mandates: Expect delays
Faced with the prospect of tens of thousands of students being pushed into remote learning for not complying with school vaccine mandates, many districts are delaying deadlines — or scrapping them altogether. On Tuesday, the Los Angeles Unified Board of Education will consider moving its inoculation deadline from Jan. 10 to fall 2022 — a move that comes not long after Newsom strongly suggested it “work to accommodate” the 34,000 unvaccinated students at risk of being forced into online learning. West Contra Costa Unified has also proposed delaying its Jan. 3 vaccination deadline to July 2022, Oakland Unified recently extended its deadline from Jan. 1 to Jan. 31, and Culver City Unified removed its mandate after 17% of students failed to meet the Nov. 19 inoculation deadline. And although Newsom’s statewide COVID-19 vaccine mandate isn’t set to go into effect until July 2022 for the first batch of students — and also allows medical, religious and personal belief exemptions — some rural schools are warning it could result in 50% of students fleeing the district or opting for online learning.
Meanwhile, the San Diego high school student who secured a short-lived ban on the district’s vaccine mandate asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday to issue an emergency freeze that would block it from going into effect; Justice Elena Kagan directed San Diego Unified to respond by Dec. 16. Also Friday, the city of Beverly Hills and Los Angeles County were hit with a lawsuit from two Beverly Hills firefighters who argue the county’s first responder vaccine mandate violates their constitutional rights.
2. Thurmond hire called into question
While the pandemic widened California’s educational achievement gap, the man charged with helping close it — Daniel Lee, the state’s first superintendent of equity — was more than 2,500 miles away in Philadelphia, where he lives and has a separate job, according to a bombshell Politico investigation. It’s the latest report to cast scrutiny on Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, the state’s schools chief who hired Lee — his friend of more than two decades — for one of the education department’s highest-paid positions without publicly posting the job and despite Lee’s lack of experience in California or relationships with school districts. Thurmond, who faces reelection next year, is also under fire for allegedly creating such a hostile and toxic work environment that nearly two dozen top officials have fled the state Department of Education since 2019. He also faced criticism earlier in the pandemic for largely remaining silent during the state’s debate over school reopening.
- Thurmond: “The fact that we have known each other for 30 years … if he’s doing great quality work, what difference does it make how long we’ve known each other?”
The news comes as California schools continue to face severe challenges, including a disturbing uptick in students threatening violence and a staff shortage so dire that some kids are just wandering around campus without supervision, as KQED reports. The transition to in-person learning after months of virtual classes has also been tough for many college students, as exemplified by this lovely series of Humans of New York-style profiles from CalMatters’ College Journalism Network.
3. Tesla, DMV in legislative hot seat
Tesla may drive state lawmakers to strip the California Department of Motor Vehicles of its authority to regulate self-driving cars — and return that power to themselves, the Los Angeles Times reports. State Sen. Lena Gonzalez, a Long Beach Democrat and leader of the Senate Transportation Committee, asked DMV Director Steve Gordon in a letter last week for information about Tesla’s driverless car test program, citing videos “where it appears that serious driving errors were made and collisions were avoided only because of swift action by the driver.” Unlike other companies, Tesla doesn’t follow test-reporting requirements — meaning the DMV may have little to no data about its program’s safety — and allows its own customers, not just trained test drivers, to use the autonomous technology on public roads.
- Assemblymember Ash Kalra, a San Jose Democrat: Driverless car developers “need to provide data on crashes and other issues. If Tesla is not, we need to know why they are not or why the DMV feels like they don’t need to.”
- State Sen. Ben Allen, a Santa Monica Democrat: “If Tesla really is operating within the boundaries of state law with this technology, then we likely need to change the law to protect public safety.”
CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Although California’s educational achievement gap remains wide, some local school systems are seeing success.
Prioritizing youth mental health: California is building an ecosystem where all residents ages 0 to 25 are routinely screened, supported and provided services for emerging and existing mental health needs, write Dr. Mark Ghaly, secretary of the California Health and Human Services Agency, and Linda Darling-Hammond, president of the California State Board of Education.
Eliminate the cannabis cultivation tax: By perpetuating wrong-headed tax policies, California is costing jobs and strengthening the illicit market, argue Tiffany Devitt of CannaCraft and Jim Araby of UCFW Local 5.
Other things worth your time
Will new bacon law begin? California grocers seek delay. // Associated Press
California won’t just let outdoor dining be. // The Atlantic
Proposed state law seeks to ban freeway expansions in underserved communities. // Los Angeles Times
Does Pasadena’s Rose Parade disenfranchise voters? // Los Angeles Times
What San Diegans should know about the new $160B plan for transit and road charges. // San Diego Union-Tribune
In Bakersfield, many find a California they can afford. // New York Times
San Diego Unified schools are leaving millions on the table. // Voice of San Diego
Robberies, drought, tent camps: Los Angeles’ next mayor faces a litany of crises. // New York Times
San Francisco’s vaunted tolerance dims amid brazen crimes. // Associated Press
Sacramento names first woman to lead police department. // Sacramento Bee
‘I just wonder who’s next’: Six California teens on living amid rising gun violence. // The Guardian
Could this Oakland father’s murder have been prevented? // Mercury News
ACLU: Tulare County jail is denying prenatal care to inmates. // Fresno Bee
Experts say San Diego case likely first to use conspiracy charges against antifa. // San Diego Union-Tribune
Cabrillo vice president is charged with embezzlement, misappropriation of funds from former job. // Lookout Santa Cruz
Richmond gets restraining order to silence its mayor. // San Francisco Chronicle
‘Catastrophic wildfires shall stop.’ Inside PG&E’s fire risk command center. // Sacramento Bee
Merced Irrigation District suing California over Bay-Delta water plan. // Merced Sun-Star
What weather is needed to end the drought in California. // Sacramento Bee
One year in, Kamala Harris says she won’t be distracted by ‘ridiculous’ headlines. // San Francisco Chronicle
See you tomorrow.
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