In summary

A California gas tax bill dies, but state lawmakers pass another to allow UC Berkeley to avoid a court order to slash its fall enrollment.

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Monday was a day of stark contrasts in the California Legislature.

State lawmakers unanimously sent to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk a bill they say will allow UC Berkeley to avoid a court order to slash its in-person fall enrollment by 2,600 students — while also making it impossible to use student population as the sole basis for challenging a public college’s growth plans under California’s landmark environmental protection law.

Hours later, Newsom signed the bill into law.

But, as CalMatters’ Mikhail Zinshteyn reports, the UC Berkeley saga likely won’t end with Newsom’s signature: The university is still facing a host of possible headwinds, including forthcoming legal challenges from the Berkeley neighborhood group that secured the court-ordered enrollment cap.

And despite overwhelming support for the bill, some lawmakers noted that it had been introduced just three days prior — cutting short the Legislature’s typical deliberative process and limiting public input.

  • Assemblymember Luz Rivas, a San Fernando Democrat: “Mistakes were made by UC Berkeley, and that’s why … we’re rushing this through, because we don’t want to affect students. But unfortunately, we’re not going through the full policy process and public review that something like this should.”

Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers slammed Democrats for fast-tracking certain bills while blocking proposals deemed critical by the GOP. On Monday, the Assembly declined to consider a bill from Republican Assemblymember Kevin Kiley of Rocklin that would have suspended California’s gas excise tax for six months.

At a press conference at a Sacramento gas station held hours before the vote, Assembly Republican Leader James Gallagher of Yuba City accused Democrats of hypocrisy.

  • Gallagher: “Today the Legislature is fast-tracking … a fix for the UC Berkeley housing problem. … We’re fast-tracking that bill, as we should, because that’s an urgent issue. But this is an urgent issue also, to make sure that every Californian gets 50 cents a gallon off of their gas right now.”
  • With the average price of a gallon of gas reaching $5.74 in California on Monday, the Senate Republican Caucus also sent Newsom a letter imploring him to work with lawmakers to institute a “full moratorium” on the gas excise tax — a proposal that doesn’t seem likely to go very far in the supermajority-Democratic Legislature.

Another measure that will likely be dead on arrival: A Republican-led resolution to end California’s pandemic state of emergency — and terminate Newsom’s emergency powers — which a Senate committee is set to consider today.

In other Capitol news: Newsom announced Monday that his legislative director Angie Wei — his main liaison with the Legislature — is taking a role at the State Compensation Insurance Fund. Replacing Wei is Christy Bouma, the president of lobbying firm Capitol Connection. The change marks Newsom’s third legislative director in less than two years.

The coronavirus bottom line: As of Sunday, California had 8,438,328 confirmed cases (+0.1% from previous day) and 86,794 deaths (+0.5% from previous day), according to state data. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.

California has administered 72,218,906 vaccine doses, and 74.2% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.

1. Lara pushes divestment from Russia

Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Long Beach) in the Senate chambers at the State Capitol in Sacramento on September 10, 2015. Photo by Max Whittaker for CalMatters
Ricardo Lara, pictured here as a state senator, at the State Capitol on Sept. 10, 2015. Photo by Max Whittaker for CalMatters

The latest elected official to urge California to divest from Russian investments in response to that country’s war on Ukraine: Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara. The Democrat on Monday sent a notice to all insurance companies doing business in California, urging them to review their financial holdings and “take immediate steps to identify and divest from any direct investments in Russian assets or property.” Lara warned that if companies don’t follow through, he will explore all options “available under California insurance law” to compel them to do so.

  • Lara: “As the nation’s largest insurance market and the fourth largest insurance market in the world, we must not tolerate California consumers’ insurance premiums funding an authoritarian regime that invades a sovereign government, terrorizes its population, and is an enemy of free expression, speech, assembly, press, and equality for LGBTQ+ people, women, and ethnic and religious minorities.”

Backing Lara’s request: Assemblymember Tom Daly of Anaheim and state Sen. Susan Rubio of Baldwin Park, Democrats who lead their chambers’ respective insurance committees. State lawmakers are also considering legislation that would force California, its agencies and its public pension funds to divest from Russian-based companies and assets.

  • The California Public Employees’ Retirement System, one of several public pension funds also under pressure from Newsom to divest from Russia, told the governor in a March 2 letter that it has ceased all transactions in Russian publicly traded equity and stopped the flow of new investments into the country — though current sanctions “have placed significant constraints on CalPERS’ ability to liquidate its holdings” in Russia.

2. California’s math wars, round two

Students at Piner High School complete a class assignment on August 14, 2019. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters
Students at Piner High School complete an assignment on Aug. 14, 2019. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

Some called it “woke math,” while others argued California’s controversial proposal to overhaul its math framework for 6.1 million K-12 public school students could spark student interest and close the achievement gap for Black and Latino kids. On Monday, the California Department of Education published a new draft of the math framework — one that retains its original goals but also emphasizes that it won’t hold students back from taking calculus or meeting college prerequisites, CalMatters’ Joe Hong reports. The public has 60 days to submit comments on the new framework, which is a non-binding series of recommendations that local districts can choose to follow — or not.

In other K-12 education news:

  • Monday marked the first day in nearly two years that most school districts permitted kids to forgo masks — a landmark change met with both joy and trepidation. In many Bay Area school districts, lots of kids kept their face coverings on: “They don’t know anything but masks,” Jackie Murillo, a kindergarten teacher at Acty Elementary in Berkeley, told the San Francisco Chronicle. “It’s such a hard habit to break.”
  • Some West Contra Costa Unified teachers offered treats, such as donuts, to students who kept their masks on — a move discouraged by district officials.
  • Meanwhile, officials in the Los Angeles County Office of Education said they’re beginning to hear reports of students being bullied for keeping their masks on, and others being made to feel guilty for taking them off.
  • And some kids appear to be wearing masks out of self-consciousness: “As long as they’re my friends, I’d be comfortable showing my face, but if it’s other people, it just feels uncomfortable,” Efrain Balbuena, a high school senior, told the Los Angeles Daily News. “And the fear of being judged all the time, which most students, I think, are afraid of.”

3. Doula benefit delayed

A pregnant woman with her doula. Photo via iStock

Pregnant women enrolled in Medi-Cal, the state’s health care insurance program for the poor, were supposed to gain access on Jan. 1 to a benefit covering doulas — non-medical workers who help guide parents through the pregnancy process. But the benefit has been delayed until Jan. 1, 2023, as the state and doulas wrangle over wages, California Healthline reports.

  • California has proposed a flat rate of $450 per birth, lower than most other states that offer the doula benefit.
  • Chantel Runnels, a doula in Riverside County: “We’re talking six to nine months of face time, screen time, texting time, research, resources and dollars. $450? … It feels … like there is no value on our time.”

It’s the latest example of a bold California health care proposal that hasn’t quite achieved its stated goals. A recent investigation from Kaiser Health News found some of Newsom’s “ambitious ideas — such as requiring California to make its own insulin and forging drug partnerships across state lines — have failed to get off the ground or haven’t produced the hefty savings he promised.” And California’s new Medi-Cal prescription drug program has also had a rocky start, at one point leaving thousands of patients unable to access their medications, according to California Healthline.

  • Meanwhile, Newsom and some Democratic lawmakers are forging ahead with a plan to create an Office of Health Care Affordability, which they say could help lower the cost of health care for Californians, the Associated Press reports.

CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: How will Newsom’s gas price relief promise work?

It’s time to reform CEQA: California is overdue for CEQA reform that goes beyond exemptions for sports stadiums, luxury offices, prisons and pet projects of the politically powerful, argue Tracy Hernandez of the Los Angeles County Business Federation; Lucy Dunn, formerly of the Orange County Business Council; and Jennifer Hernandez of Holland & Knight’s West Coast Land Use and Environmental Group.

Every California city needs to do its part to build more housing: That requires state oversight – and consequences – for jurisdictions that block housing, writes Courtney Welch, an Emeryville city councilmember.

Other things worth your time

Newsom invites Disney to relocate employees to California from Florida. // Los Angeles Blade

Ex-lawmaker Lorena Gonzalez rises to lead California labor. // Los Angeles Times

See the Californians on this list of influential people at the intersection of race, politics and policy. // Politico

Can Mayor Breed sell the city to foreign tourists? She’s going to try on 10-day trip to Europe. // San Francisco Chronicle

Breed is not extending the Tenderloin emergency for S.F. drug crisis. // San Francisco Chronicle

San Francisco is now boycotting most of the United States. // Mission Local

Editorial: Racist relic blocks affordable housing in California. // Los Angeles Times

Hollywood hotels scrutinized for financing under visa program. // Los Angeles Times

Contra Costa County Sheriff shows disdain for judge’s 6-year sentence of ex-deputy. // KTVU FOX 2

Sacramento cops, firefighters got six figures while on paid leave. // Sacramento Bee

OCDA candidate Peter Hardin was warned about being seen as ‘womanizer’ while a prosecutor. // Orange County Register

Report finds schools in Los Angeles County’s youth justice system lacking. // EdSource

Lodi Unified superintendent’s pay at $291K after latest increase. // Lodi News

Fentanyl test strips are in demand at Bay Area bars and restaurants: ‘People come in just for the strips.’ // San Francisco Chronicle

Santa Barbara could declare Chick-fil-A drive-thru a public nuisance. // Los Angeles Times

California’s first genetically modified mosquitoes may take flight. // Mercury News

San Clemente gets $570,000 state grant to study shrinking sand. // Orange County Register

California hasn’t seen drought conditions like this since 1984. // Bloomberg Video

Frustrated with utilities, some Californians are leaving the grid. // New York Times

See you tomorrow.

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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...