In summary

The first-in-the-nation California reparations commission votes to limit payments largely to descendants of slaves.

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Because I can’t resist working Russian literature titles into the newsletter: Tuesday was a day of war and peace in Sacramento, with some political battles heating up and others fizzling out.

After more than six hours of intense debate, California’s first-in-the-nation reparations task force voted 5-4 to recommend limiting eligibility for potential state benefits to Black Californians who can prove they’re directly descended from an enslaved person or from a free Black person living in the U.S. before the end of the 19th century, CalMatters’ Lil Kalish reports.

  • That means only some of the 2.6 million African Americans living in California will be eligible for reparations, which would have to be approved by the state Legislature and could include cash payments as a form of compensation for slavery’s enduring legacy.
  • Task force member Cheryl Grills, a clinical psychologist at Loyola Marymount University, said excluding some Black Californians was tantamount to “another win for white supremacy.” But Kamilah Moore, the committee chairperson, said that foregoing a lineage-based approach would “aggrieve the victims of slavery,” Lil reports.

Also contentious: a legislative hearing about protecting kids online, CalMatters’ Grace Gedye reports. Republican Assemblymember Jordan Cunningham of San Luis Obispo, who’s co-authoring a bill that would allow California parents to sue social media companies for harms caused by hooking their kids on addictive algorithms, slammed the tech industry for its “bordering on disingenuous” argument that it can’t verify internet users’ age.

  • Hany Farid, a UC Berkeley computer science professor: “I don’t think it’s disingenuous for the companies to say they can’t do it, I think it’s just a lie.”
  • Dylan Hoffman, California and Southwest executive director for TechNet, an advocacy group representing tech companies: “I’m not saying that it is impossible. … What I am saying though, right now, is that there are trade-offs and there are challenges” in collecting more data on kids to verify their age.

But other fights cooled down, or were avoided altogether.

  • Today, a key committee had been set to consider a controversial bill that would have forced companies to require workers and independent contractors to be vaccinated against COVID-19. But the bill’s author, Democratic Assemblymember Buffy Wicks of Oakland, announced Tuesday she’s putting it on pause for now: “We’re now in a new & welcome chapter in this pandemic, w/the virus receding for the moment,” she tweeted. “This provides for us the opportunity to work more collaboratively with labor and employers to address concerns raised by the bill.”
  • Also today, another committee had been slated to consider Democratic state Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco’s proposal to mandate health plans and insurers undergo “evidence-based cultural competency training for the purpose of providing trans(gender)-inclusive health care.” Critics had been gearing up to fight it — the conservative California Family Council warned it “seeks to punish and shame medical workers who don’t affirm the gender confusion of their patients or give them treatments that will permanently sterilize them” — but the committee postponed consideration of the bill until April 6.
  • And finally, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration signed a memorandum of understanding — which the Sacramento Bee called a “$2.6 billion environmental peace treaty” — with federal and local water leaders to leave billions of gallons more water in Central Valley rivers to protect endangered fish habitat. But, as the Bee notes, some key water users haven’t signed on — and environmentalists say the additional water is less than half of what’s needed.

Learn more about legislators mentioned in this story

Jordan Cunningham

Jordan Cunningham

Former State Assembly, District 35 (Bakersfield)

Buffy Wicks

Buffy Wicks

State Assembly, District 14 (Oakland)

Buffy Wicks

State Assembly, District 14 (Oakland)

How she voted 2021-2022
Liberal Conservative
District 14 Demographics

Voter Registration

Dem 70%
GOP 6%
No party 20%
Campaign Contributions

Asm. Buffy Wicks has taken at least $804,000 from the Labor sector since she was elected to the legislature. That represents 25% of her total campaign contributions.

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Monday, California had 8,484,309 confirmed cases (+0.01% from previous day) and 87,956 deaths (+0.002% from previous day), according to state data. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.

California has administered 72,627,423 vaccine doses, and 74.4% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.

1. Auditor blasts state oversight of hospice industry

Photo via iStock
Photo via iStock

From CalMatters health reporter Ana B. Ibarra: California’s “weak” oversight of the hospice care industry has “enabled” rampant fraud and abuse that has cost the state and the federal Medicare program millions of dollars while endangering extremely vulnerable patients, according to a scathing Tuesday report from Acting State Auditor Michael Tilden. The audit found that over the past 11 years, California saw a staggering 400% increase in hospice providers — which generally serve very sick patients with a life expectancy of six months or less — even though the need for such care only increased 40%. Los Angeles County notched a 1,600% boom in hospice care providers, with more than 150 licensed businesses registered in a single Van Nuys building — a number beyond its physical capacity.

Other key takeaways:

  • 94% of California’s 2,836 hospice care providers are for-profit — the highest percentage in the country and a stark change from 2007, when nonprofits ran the vast majority of the state’s hospice care.
  • Hospice patients have been discharged at “abnormally high rates,” meaning providers may be enrolling ineligible patients to make money. Los Angeles County providers in 2019 likely overbilled Medicare by an estimated $105 million and Medi-Cal — the state’s health care program for the poor — by at least $3.1 million.
  • The state Department of Public Health’s “perfunctory” licensing process “does little to verify that personnel are qualified or prevent fraud.” Indeed, investigators found evidence that some providers appeared to use “stolen identities” of medical personnel to obtain licenses. (The Department of Public Health has also been blasted for lackluster oversight of nursing home licensing, as CalMatters’ Jocelyn Wiener has reported.)
  • State Sen. Ben Allen, a Santa Monica Democrat who called for the audit, told Ana that lawmakers should extend a moratorium, set to expire in a year, on licenses for new hospice care businesses unless they can demonstrate a significant need for such services in their area.
  • The public health department told Ana that it “has already begun to operationalize several of the recommendations made in the audit,” though it said many other reforms will require legislative action.

2. California hobbled by teacher shortage

Pre-kindergarten students work on their school work at West Orange Elementary School in Orange on March 18, 2021. Photo by Jae C. Hong, AP Photo
Pre-kindergarten students at West Orange Elementary School in Orange on March 18, 2021. Photo by Jae C. Hong, AP Photo

California has an ambitious plan to expand public school to all 4-year-olds within the next four years — but will it have enough teachers to achieve that goal? Districts are already facing a labor shortage so dire that schools would have needed to hire 300,000 teachers per year starting in 2018 to catch up — and now they need to find another estimated 11,000 teachers and 25,000 teacher assistants to expand the state’s transitional kindergarten program, CalMatters’ Elizabeth Aguilera reports.

Staff shortages are one of the main drivers behind the ongoing employee strike at Sacramento City Unified School District, where campuses serving 40,000 kids have remained closed since last Wednesday. About 3,000 students — predominantly at schools serving low-income communities — went without a teacher every day in January and February as the district struggled to find substitutes, according to data obtained by the Sacramento Bee. The district is hoping an offer of one-time bonuses, funded by federal and state pandemic relief dollars, will help end the impasse with unions.

3. Bonta puts Fresno County on notice

Rob Bonta speaks at a press conference on Jan. 6, 2020. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters
Then-Assemblymember Rob Bonta speaks at a press conference on Jan. 6, 2020. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

In the latest example of state officials cracking down on local housing plans, Attorney General Rob Bonta warned Fresno County in a Tuesday letter that its draft general plan — which informs future housing, land use and development decisions — appears to violate state housing and environmental justice laws and raises civil rights concerns. Bonta slammed the county’s proposal to “locate new industrial sites in two of the state’s most disadvantaged, pollution-burdened communities, both of which are disproportionately Hispanic.” The plan, he wrote, “appears inconsistent with race discrimination in housing laws,” the county’s duty to “affirmatively further fair housing,” and the air district’s “community emissions reduction plan.”

  • Sonja Dosti, Fresno County public information officer, told the Fresno Bee: “We welcome Attorney General Rob Bonta’s comments and will continue working with his office and the community to assure that the final, adopted general plan is in full compliance with all applicable laws and provides a viable long-term framework for future growth in Fresno County.”
  • Earlier this month, the Fresno County Board of Supervisors unanimously rejected a proposal to execute a $175,000 state grant to assess the impact of climate change on vulnerable communities, particularly those in rural areas, the Fresno Bee reported.
  • Don’t miss this beautifully written 2020 story from CalMatters’ Manuela Tobias on the racial, economic, and environmental divides separating west Fresno from the rest of the city.

CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Although California’s economy is improving, it’s not roaring back as Newsom would have us believe.

Why California’s community college enrollment is dropping: Many people don’t know how to live and go to school or work at the same time — partly due to the discontinuation of home economics classes, argues Sandra Ericson, former chair of City College of San Francisco’s Consumer Arts and Science Department.

Building a workforce to address youth mental health: California currently has just over 1,000 child and adolescent psychiatrists in a state with more than 8 million youths, writes Karen Larsen, CEO of the Steinberg Institute.

Other things worth your time

Man shot by Placer County deputies believed to have killed parents — California lobbyists — in Loomis home, officials say. // KCRA

1st Latina justice takes seat on California Supreme Court. // Associated Press

Breaking down California’s mystery gas prices. // Wall Street Journal

California tax relief plans spurred by unique 1970s law. // Bloomberg

One-on-one with Silicon Valley’s Enemy No. 1. //

A Bay Area sheriff defended a convicted deputy. Now some are calling for his resignation. // San Francisco Chronicle

Lawsuit: Alameda County is indifferent about Santa Rita Jail inmates. // Mercury News

Marin ruling upheld against alleged Newsom stalker. // Marin Independent Journal

Garcetti Senate vote likely delayed a month amid GOP probe. // Los Angeles Times

California eyes predatory car sales safeguard for military. // Associated Press

‘If I were 25, I wouldn’t come to San Francisco’: Yet, after thieves took $100,000 of bikes, store owner says he’s staying. // San Francisco Chronicle

Here’s how London Breed Pitched S.F. to European travelers. // San Francisco Standard

Opinion: The slums of California. // New York Times

Palm Springs funds development of transgender income program. // Los Angeles Times

Orange County creates suicide data dashboard to help raise awareness. // Orange County Register

Editorial: California’s community colleges are hiding fake financial aid applications. // Los Angeles Times

Where are California’s union hotbeds? // Mercury News

Uber close to deal for partnership with San Francisco taxi outfit. // New York Times

California oil hub Kern County working with Biden energy agency on transition to green industry. // Sacramento Bee

State serves warrant on Allenco oil facility in South L.A. // Los Angeles Times

State bill calls for Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility to close in 2027. // Daily News

Report: NRC didn’t properly inspect Diablo Canyon pipes. // San Luis Obispo Tribune

California grapples with regulation of known carcinogen ethylene oxide. // Capital & Main

California wildfire smoke may rise to practically unbearable levels in next decades. // San Francisco Chronicle

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...