In summary

By the time you read this, Gov. Gavin Newsom and his family will have started their spring break in Central and South America.

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By the time you read this, Gov. Gavin Newsom and his family will have started their spring break in Central and South America.

Late Wednesday night, the governor’s press office announced that Newsom had left California and would return to the state on April 12.

The family vacation, confirmed by a spokesperson for the governor’s office, marks Newsom’s first international trip since November, when he and his family spent Thanksgiving in Mexico. The spokesperson declined to provide additional details, citing security concerns.

Newsom’s trip comes at a busy time in the Capitol: Today, state lawmakers are expected to pass a last-minute bill to extend eviction protections — which are set to expire at midnight — until June 30 for Californians applying for funds from the state’s backlogged COVID rent relief program.

  • That means it will fall to Eleni Kounalakis, the state’s first female elected lieutenant governor who will serve as acting governor in Newsom’s absence, to sign the bill into law. She would be the first woman in state history to do so, according to the governor’s office spokesperson.
  • The spokesperson said Newsom had promised his kids they would take a family trip this year for spring break after two years of having vacations deferred by the pandemic, fires and the recall election. The spokesperson said Newsom will keep in regular contact with staff and legislative leaders and will be back in California before the Legislature returns from spring recess, which runs from April 7-18.

2022 Election

Your guide to the 2022 general election in California

Today is also César Chávez Day, and United Farm Workers, the union Chávez founded, has repeatedly called on Newsom to recognize the state holiday by granting a meeting to discuss a controversial bill that would give farmworkers the option to vote by mail in union elections.

  • Newsom vetoed a similar measure last year, prompting furious union members to march from the Central Valley to the French Laundry, the ritzy Napa Valley restaurant where the governor infamously dined maskless at the beginning of the pandemic.
  • Today, union members are set to hold rallies in 13 cities across the state to urge Newsom to meet with them.
  • Teresa Romero, president of United Farm Workers: “César Chávez’s life was all about helping farmworkers win respect and be treated as important human beings. It is disappointing that Gavin Newsom won’t show them the same respect by meeting with elected farmworker leaders on César Chávez’s birthday.”

The timing of Newsom’s trip also suggests that he isn’t too worried about the quickly approaching June 7 primary election, given his resounding defeat of last year’s recall and the lack of big-name candidates in this year’s gubernatorial race.

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Tuesday, California had 8,487,070 confirmed cases (+0.03% from previous day) and 88,043 deaths (+0.1% from previous day), according to state data. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.

California has administered 72,725,111 vaccine doses, and 74.5% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.

1. Surge in prohibited gun owners

Glock semi-automatic pistols are displayed for sale at a gun store in Oceanside on April 12, 2021. REUTERS/Bing Guan
Glock semi-automatic pistols are displayed at a gun store in Oceanside on April 12, 2021. Photo by Bing Guan, Reuters

When a man legally barred from owning a gun due to a domestic violence restraining order shot and killed his three daughters, a chaperone and himself at a Sacramento church in late February, it underscored the central takeaway of a stunning investigation from CalMatters’ Robert Lewis: California often struggles to recover illegally owned firearms, despite having some of the strictest gun control laws in the country. That finding was reinforced Wednesday, when Attorney General Rob Bonta released a report on a state database that tracks people who possess registered guns despite being banned from owning them due to a criminal conviction, mental health issue or other court order.

Robert identified some key takeaways:

  • California is adding people to the system faster than agents are able to get people out by removing guns. At the start of 2022, California had a record 24,509 prohibited people in the database — up from 23,598 at the same time last year. Of those, 21% were blocked from owning a gun due to a restraining order.
  • Meanwhile, the number of known firearm owners in California continues to rise: The state had about 3.2 million at the start of this year, compared to 3 million at the start of 2021 and less than 2 million at the start of 2016.
  • The Department of Justice is struggling to hire and retain agents who confiscate the guns. A whopping 23 of 76 authorized positions were vacant at the start of this year, compared to 25 out of 75 last year.
  • Finally, the database has a big caveat: It doesn’t track unregistered guns. Yet “ghost” guns — firearms that don’t have serial numbers and can’t be traced — are rapidly proliferating in California. San Jose Police Chief Anthony Mata on Tuesday announced plans to offer cash rewards for information leading to the seizure of ghost guns.

In other Wednesday gun news: A key legislative committee rejected a bill that would require parents to tell school districts if they keep guns at home — but its author, Democratic state Sen. Anthony Portantino of Glendale, can bring it back later for another vote.

2. Fentanyl bills a tough sell

A man living on the streets displays what he claims to be the synthetic drug fentanyl in the Tenderloin section of San Francisco on Feb. 27, 2020. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
A man living on the streets of San Francisco displays synthetic fentanyl on Feb. 27, 2020. Photo by Shannon Stapleton, Reuters

Also facing an uphill battle in the Legislature: a series of proposals that aim to address California’s fentanyl epidemic by strengthening punishment for dealers. The extremely addictive and powerful synthetic opioid caused an estimated 64% of California’s record-high 10,000 fatal drug overdoses in the yearlong period that ended April 2021, according to recent estimates from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But cracking down on fentanyl dealers could prove to be a tough sell in the supermajority-Democratic Legislature, which generally favors rehabilitation programs over adding penalties that could result in longer sentences.

  • Democratic Assemblymember Cottie Petrie-Norris of Laguna Beach on Tuesday unveiled a bill that would, among other things, allow prosecutors to pursue a sentence of 20 years to life against defendants who distribute fentanyl resulting in a fatal overdose, establish as a felony the possession of two grams or more of fentanyl, and add enhancements for selling fentanyl in areas near kids or on social media. “Despite the fact that this is a common sense proposal, we are facing an uphill battle to move this through the Legislature,” she told the Los Angeles Times.
  • Indeed, the same day Petrie-Norris announced her bill, a similar proposal from Republican Assemblymember Janet Nguyen of Garden Grove failed to pass the Assembly Public Safety Committee. However, Nguyen can bring it back later for another vote.
  • To help drum up support for her bill, Petrie-Norris launched a petition to urge lawmakers “to increase penalties to deter traffickers from poisoning kids with fentanyl.”

Learn more about legislators mentioned in this story

Cottie Petrie-Norris

Cottie Petrie-Norris

State Assembly, District 73 (Irvine)

Cottie Petrie-Norris

State Assembly, District 73 (Irvine)

How she voted 2021-2022
Liberal Conservative
District 73 Demographics

Voter Registration

Dem 40%
GOP 27%
No party 28%
Campaign Contributions

Asm. Cottie Petrie-Norris has taken at least $2 million from the Party sector since she was elected to the legislature. That represents 29% of her total campaign contributions.

Janet Nguyen

Janet Nguyen

State Senate, District 36 (Huntington Beach)

Janet Nguyen

State Senate, District 36 (Huntington Beach)

How she voted 2021-2022
Liberal Conservative
District 36 Demographics

Voter Registration

Dem 35%
GOP 36%
No party 23%
Campaign Contributions

Sen. Janet Nguyen has taken at least $3.7 million from the Party sector since she was elected to the legislature. That represents 35% of her total campaign contributions.

Meanwhile, state Sen. Richard Pan, a Sacramento Democrat, is set today to join youth advocates and substance abuse groups to promote a bill that would, among other things, require many cannabis products and advertisements to have larger warning messages and mandate retailers to give first-time buyers a brochure about safe cannabis use and health risks.

3. What’s next for CSU admissions?

Students walk across campus at Fresno State on Feb. 8, 2022. Photo by Larry Valenzuela for CalMatters
Students walk across campus at Fresno State on Feb. 8, 2022. Photo by Larry Valenzuela for CalMatters

Goodbye to all that: The California State University system bid adieu to the SAT and ACT last week, a move the University of California made last year. But a big question is now facing CSU: How will it decide which students to admit? Unlike the UC, it doesn’t ask students to provide essays or extended written responses. So, for the first time since 1965, the 23-campus system serving 477,000 students is changing its eligibility criteria. CalMatters’ Mikhail Zinshteyn has the deets.

CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: The California Chamber of Commerce’s “job killer” list will test the Capitol’s ideological bent.

How California might better live with oil: Communities living near oil and gas wells should be involved in lease decision-making and trained to identify leaks and spills, argue Jalal Awan and Aaron-Clark Ginsberg of RAND.

California must invest in urban Native communities: Although the majority of Native people live in cities, the limited resources that exist for our relatives on reservations don’t exist for us, writes Abby Abinanti, a member of the Yurok Tribe and the first Native woman to be admitted to the California Bar.

Other things worth your time

Slight drop in California average gas prices could signal relief in the weeks ahead, experts say. // Mercury News

Sacramento teachers swarm district office as strike continues. // Sacramento Bee

L.A. City council votes to end indoor vaccine mandate. // LAist

Tutoring, a key learning recovery strategy, reaches fewer than 1 in 10 L.A. students. // Los Angeles Times

Unions prepare to fight as California state departments order employees back to offices. // Sacramento Bee

Supreme Court weighs challenge to California labor law. // Los Angeles Times

Laguna Honda Hospital faces potential closure after patient overdoses trigger state review. // San Francisco Chronicle

California bail agents dealt drugs, committed fraud and drove drunk — but they’ve kept their licenses. // Desert Sun

Newsom rejects parole for Manson family member. // Associated Press

After Times report, Sheriff Villanueva denies role in cover-up, replaces top aide. // Los Angeles Times

Man who killed California lobbyist parents faced felony charges, carried replica handgun. // Sacramento Bee

California’s ‘Holy Grail’ of gambling could break American sports betting wide open. // Politico

California Rep. Ro Khanna talks Gavin Newsom, Eric Garcetti, and SoCal’s Silicon Valley invasion. // Vanity Fair

How San Francisco D.A. Chesa Boudin ended up facing a recall. // Los Angeles Times

San Francisco leaders worry over deteriorating conditions in the Mission: ‘Neighborhood in chaos.’ // San Francisco Chronicle

L.A.’s homelessness crisis boils over after voucher rumor. // Los Angeles Times

Waymo to send driverless cars through San Francisco. // Wall Street Journal

Report: Nearly 1 in 5 Airbnb listings in L.A. violate law. // Los Angeles Times

STDs in Shasta County on the rise during pandemic. // Redding Record Searchlight

City of McFarland seeks to convert library into police station. // Bakersfield Californian

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...