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Gov. Gavin Newsom wants to put money in Californians’ pockets to help them pay for the skyrocketing price of gas.

That was the main takeaway from his State of the State speech Tuesday night, which came on the heels of President Joe Biden announcing a U.S. ban on imports of Russian oil and the Golden State’s average gas price hurtling to a new record of $5.44 per gallon — a whopping 10-cent increase over the previous high set just one day before.

Details about the proposed rebate — the only new policy proposal in the governor’s 18-minute speech — were scarce Tuesday night, though Newsom administration officials said relief would likely total in the billions of dollars and be available to California drivers with cars registered in the state, including undocumented immigrants.

However, Newsom’s proposal is unlikely to eliminate conflict in the state Legislature over competing ideas to help Californians hurting at the pump.

  • Although the Democratic leaders of the state Assembly and Senate issued a statement supporting Newsom’s tax rebate plan, they reiterated that they aren’t wild about his proposal to suspend an increase to California’s gas tax set to take effect in July. (Newsom is still pursuing that proposal, a spokesperson for the governor told me.)
  • Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon: “The Legislature will put the state’s robust revenue growth to work by returning substantial tax relief to families and small businesses as fast as possible. Gas, food, and other prices are up, so our focus cannot be a small cut to the gas tax that might not get passed on to consumers.”
  • Meanwhile, Republicans want to go further and eliminate the gas tax altogether.
  • GOP Assembly Leader James Gallagher of Yuba City: “A gas tax rebate in July will do exactly nothing for drivers who are currently struggling with the highest gas prices in history, being forced to choose between driving their kids to school or putting food on the table.”

Another possible source of contention illuminated by Newsom’s State of the State speech: California’s oil and gas policies.

  • Newsom: “One thing we cannot do is repeat the mistakes of the past by embracing polluters. Drilling even more oil, which only leads to even more extreme weather, more extreme drought, more wildfire.”
  • Yet a bipartisan group of state lawmakers urged Newsom in a letter obtained by the Sacramento Bee to help “Californians to take advantage of the abundant inland natural resources available in our state that will help ensure we are not dependent on foreign energy sources.”
  • And the California Democratic Party is facing internal pushback from labor groups over phasing out oil and gas, as evidenced by last weekend’s party convention and recent legislative hearings.

Other key takeaways from Newsom’s State of the State:

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Monday, California had 8,414,669 confirmed cases (+0.03% from previous day) and 85,854 deaths (+0.01% from previous day), according to state data. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.

California has administered 71,969,579 vaccine doses, and 74% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.

1. Lawmakers debate Prop. 47

The windows of the Valentino store in Union Square in San Francisco were boarded up on Nov. 25, 2021. Videos on social media showed masked people running with goods from several high-end retailers in the storied shopping area. Photo by Samuel Rigelhaupt / Sipa USA
The windows of San Francisco’s Valentino store were boarded up on Nov. 25, 2021 after smash-and-grab robberies. Photo by Samuel Rigelhaupt, Sipa USA

Although Newsom largely avoided discussing rising crime rates in his State of the State speech, it was a big topic for state lawmakers and local elected officials on Tuesday:

  • A bill to repeal central elements of Prop. 47 — a voter-approved measure that, among other things, downgraded certain theft offenses from felonies to misdemeanors — failed to pass a key Assembly committee. “Our government is beyond broken,” tweeted the bill’s author, GOP Assemblymember Kevin Kiley of Rocklin, citing a recent poll that showed voter support for amending Prop. 47.
  • Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer, a Los Angeles Democrat and leader of the Assembly Public Safety Committee, who voted against the bill: “We’re arguing about public safety from both ends, but in the middle, the public is hurting. This quick fix of felonies, just locking them up and throwing away the key, that doesn’t work.”
  • The debate isn’t over: As CalMatters’ Nigel Duara reports, Kiley could still reintroduce his bill, and lawmakers are set to consider other reforms to Prop. 47 — including one proposed by a Democrat — in the next several weeks.
  • In other criminal justice news: Assemblymember Jim Patterson, a Fresno Republican, unveiled a bill to crack down on catalytic converter theft — adding to at least 12 other proposals on the same topic.
  • And San Francisco supervisors, hoping to limit the amount of stolen goods sold on city streets, unanimously approved an ordinance to impose new regulations on street vendors.

2. Money for mental health staff

California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond speaks outside of Enrique S. Camarena Elementary School in Chula Vista on July 21, 2021. AP Photo/Denis Poroy
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond speaks outside of Enrique S. Camarena Elementary School in Chula Vista on July 21, 2021. Photo by Denis Poroy, AP Photo

Aspiring mental health clinicians who commit to working for at least two years in high-need school districts or youth-serving community organizations would receive state-funded grants of $25,000 to help them pursue professional degrees under a bill unveiled Tuesday by state Sen. Mike McGuire, a Healdsburg Democrat. Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, said it could help California reach his goal of filling 10,000 new school counselor positions as campuses and students continue to grapple with the effects of the pandemic.

  • Thurmond: “During this pandemic, our students have experienced extreme levels of depression, we’ve seen a doubling in the percentage of Black students who have expressed suicidal feelings, and we know there’s an increase in hospitalizations for young people and adults.”
  • Before COVID, the state’s mental health professionals could meet just 30% of need, and that gap has only grown amid the pandemic, Thurmond said.

But that isn’t the only challenge facing California schools: Many are also confronting steep declines in student enrollment, prompting fears of a “colossal” loss of dollars and campus closures. Oakland Unified School District recently approved plans to close or shrink more than a dozen schools in the next two years, and Los Angeles Unified — which has seen a 40% drop in students in the last 20 years — is also contemplating closing or merging an unspecified number of campuses, the Los Angeles Times reports.

CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Newsom’s new mental health proposal should be fully vetted before enactment, not just stuffed into a budget trailer bill in the dead of night.

Restore salmon runs before it’s too late: State regulators must do everything they can to make rivers downstream of Central Valley dams cold enough for salmon to survive, argues John McManus, president of the Golden State Salmon Association.

Transforming the Sepulveda Basin: A new study radically reimagines the San Fernando Valley basin as a park with the flow and feel of New York’s Central Park, writes Diana Weynand, chair of the San Fernando Valley Climate Reality Chapter.

Other things worth your time

California union files for restraining order to remove suspended president from headquarters. // Sacramento Bee

President of California state attorney, judge union resigns. // Sacramento Bee

Sheriff candidate alleges Villanueva’s radio show violates election rules. // Los Angeles Times

Police Commissioner John Hamasaki, a fierce critic of law enforcement, will step down next month. // San Francisco Chronicle

Brother of slain Sacramento officer to run for Placer sheriff. // Sacramento Bee

‘Our office is in crisis’: Public defenders pen plea to reduce workload. // LAist

Santa Clara County relaxes controversial booster mandate for high-risk workers. // Mercury News

California lawmakers call for controlling court construction. // Courthouse News

By carving out projects from California environmental law, the state has created ‘Swiss cheese CEQA.’ // San Francisco Chronicle

Death and dysfunction in Vallejo’s COVID housing for the homeless. // Vallejo Sun

San Francisco’s first tiny home village for homeless people opens. At $15,000 a pop, city says it’s cost-effective. // San Francisco Chronicle

Is an international crime operation targeting the Bay Area’s wealthiest cities with ‘burglary tourism’? // San Francisco Chronicle

San Francisco police officer found not guilty of assault and battery charges in landmark use-of-force trial. // San Francisco Chronicle

Four sheriff’s deputies faulted in San Diego County jail death. // San Diego Union-Tribune

Detainees with severe mental health conditions claim mistreatment by Otay Mesa psychologist. // San Diego Union-Tribune

Amazon partners with Northern California colleges to provide employees free tuition. // ABC 10

To make bitcoin legal tender in California, bitcoiners may have to rewrite Constitution. // Blockworks

Los Angeles sues Monsanto over toxic PCBs in waterways. // Los Angeles Times

Legacy of pollution still haunts Dominguez Channel. // Los Angeles Times

Someday soon a car could power your California home, say PG&E and General Motors. // San Francisco Chronicle

‘It’s more than tacos’: Inside LA’s first Mexican food museum. // The Guardian

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...