Abortion rights and COVID-related bills advance in the California Legislature despite loud protests in opposition.
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Hundreds of protesters descended on the state Capitol on Tuesday for two separate rallies to oppose abortion- and COVID-related bills facing key votes in the Legislature — underscoring the extent to which some California voters are dissatisfied with the policy proposals emanating out of Sacramento.
First up: Abortion. One of the rallies — which featured what appeared to be a Christian band and dancers waving colorful banners, along with protesters holding signs with slogans such as “Babies’ Lives Matter” — was in opposition to a bill by Democratic Assemblymember Buffy Wicks of Oakland to abolish California’s requirement that coroners investigate stillbirths.
- Supporters say the bill, which passed the Assembly Health Committee on a 11-3 vote, would prevent women from being held civilly or criminally liable for their pregnancy outcomes — such as in the case of two Kings County women who were charged with murder and imprisoned after delivering stillbirths and testing positive for methamphetamine.
- But opponents say the bill — which also prevents liability if an infant dies during the perinatal period “due to a pregnancy-related cause” — would essentially legalize the killing of newborn babies, CalMatters’ Nigel Duara reports. Some anti-abortion groups define the perinatal period as a month or more after delivery; the National Center on Health Statistics defines it as between 28 weeks of gestation and seven days after birth.
- Susan Arnall, vice president of legal affairs for the Right to Life League: “A mother, her boyfriend or, for that matter, the babysitter, can starve or beat or shake a three-week-old baby to death and no one can investigate because under (the bill) it is a ‘perinatal death.'”
- Wicks: “These same groups that are trying to ban abortion across this country and imprison people for stillbirths have manufactured a disinformation campaign using disturbing and violent imagery that is not grounded in medical science or the actual text of the bill.”
Also Tuesday, lawmakers advanced a bill that would allow some California nurse practitioners to perform first-trimester abortions without a doctor’s supervision — part of a larger package of bills to expand abortion access to Californians and out-of-state residents.
On to COVID: The People’s Convoy — a trucker caravan crisscrossing the country in opposition to vaccine mandates and COVID restrictions — gathered for their second straight day of protests at the Capitol. Their backdrop: a large poster of Democratic Sen. Richard Pan of Sacramento emblazoned with the word “LIAR.”
- Pan last week tabled his controversial bill that would have required all children ages 0 to 17 to be vaccinated against COVID to attend school or child care in person.
- And although a key committee was slated today to consider another contentious Pan bill to withhold state funding from law enforcement agencies that oppose public health orders, a legislative database showed late Tuesday night that the “final hearing was canceled at the request of the author” after having already been postponed twice. Pan’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
- Meanwhile, lawmakers on Tuesday advanced another bill to reclassify the sharing of COVID-19 “misinformation” by doctors and surgeons as unprofessional conduct that could result in disciplinary action — but only after significantly watering it down.
- According to the bill’s amendments, medical professionals would only face discipline for sharing COVID misinformation directly with their patients — and not, say, on a social media post or in a YouTube video.
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1. Update on key criminal justice bills
Tuesday was also a big day for high-profile criminal justice bills facing key votes in legislative committees. Here’s what you need to know:
- Lawmakers advanced four bills to tighten California’s strict gun control laws, three of which are part of a package of legislation co-sponsored by Gov. Gavin Newsom and Attorney General Rob Bonta. One proposal would permit individuals and the attorney general to sue firearm manufacturers and sellers for harm caused by their products; another would tighten restrictions on untraceable “ghost guns”; and a third would ban the marketing of some weapons to children. The fourth bill would require licensed firearm dealers to install video surveillance systems in their stores — San Jose approved a similar measure after experiencing a mass shooting last May.
- However, lawmakers rejected a bill to amend Proposition 47 — a 2014 ballot measure that reclassified some drug and theft felonies as misdemeanors — by allowing prosecutors to charge people with a felony for knowingly buying or receiving a stolen firearm, regardless of its value.
- Legislators also rejected a measure to increase oversight of high-risk parolees — those convicted of violent crimes, required to register as sex offenders, or who are homeless. Assemblymember Jim Cooper, an Elk Grove Democrat running for Sacramento County Sheriff, named the bill after Kate Tibbitts, a 61-year-old Sacramento woman who prosecutors allege was brutally assaulted and murdered last year by transient parolee Troy Davis. “Sadly, five of the members of the Assembly Public Safety Committee think that it’s okay to not hold high-risk parolees accountable,” Cooper said.
- Meanwhile, lawmakers approved a bill to eliminate the November 2022 deadline for people convicted of certain low-level, nonviolent drug or theft felonies before Prop. 47 went into effect to petition a court to reclassify those offenses as misdemeanors.
But in other contexts, the phrase “nonviolent offender” can be misleading, Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert said in a Tuesday interview with CalMatters. Schubert, who’s running for attorney general, pointed out that California penal code defines offenses such as human trafficking and domestic violence as “nonviolent” — a factor that contributed to Smiley Martin, a suspect in the April 3 Sacramento gang shootout, spending just four years in prison despite a 10-year sentence.
- Schubert: “Maybe it’s because I’m a woman, maybe it’s because I’m a career prosecutor, but the fact that we do not call domestic violence and human trafficking and felons in possession of guns and raping and drugging a woman or assault with a deadly weapon — the fact that we do not call those crimes violent crimes … I find that despicable.”
2. Bonta secures prison guards’ support
In other criminal justice news, California’s powerful prison guards’ union on Tuesday endorsed Bonta for attorney general, saying he “has prioritized public safety and fought to ensure officers have the resources they need to do their job safely and effectively.” The California Correctional Peace Officers Association is an influential player in state politics: Not only did it donate $1.75 million to the campaign opposing Newsom’s recall last year, but it also secured the support of the governor’s administration in fighting a federal judge’s order that all prison workers get vaccinated against COVID.
- The endorsement is sure to intensify an already heated attorney general’s race: Schubert, who’s also secured endorsements from powerful law enforcement groups, has received the lion’s share of cop cash so far.
In other election news: San Francisco Supervisor Matt Haney was declared the winner Tuesday night of the state Assembly seat vacated by David Chiu when he was appointed San Francisco city attorney. Unofficial results showed Haney leading former supervisor David Campos 63% to 37% in the special election runoff. The San Francisco Standard has more on what Californians can expect from their newest Assemblymember.
3. Hospitals grapple with COVID costs
From CalMatters health reporter Ana B. Ibarra: The pandemic continues to wreak a devastating financial toll on California hospitals, which lost about $3.7 billion in 2021 — even after accounting for federal relief — on top of the estimated $8.4 billion they lost in 2020, according to a Tuesday analysis of 79 hospitals commissioned by the California Hospital Association. About 50% of hospitals are now operating in the red, compared to about 40% pre-pandemic, the report found.
- Meanwhile, hospitals’ expenses increased by 15% compared to pre-pandemic levels due to labor shortages and supply chain challenges, the report found.
- However, a 2021 California Health Care Foundation report found that while hospitals did see a “substantial decrease” in net income in 2020, net income remained positive.
- Roger Sharma, CEO of Emanate Health, a nonprofit hospital and clinic system in the Covina area, said that at a time when hospitals should be expanding services, his system is being forced to consider reducing them — including mental health services, which are already in scarce supply across the state.
- The California Hospital Association said it is working with the Newsom administration on two budget proposals that could provide some relief: a workforce development initiative and a boost in reimbursements for public hospitals that serve patients covered by Medi-Cal, the state’s health insurance program for the poor.
In other budget requests: The trust responsible for paying PG&E wildfire victims is lobbying Newsom and state lawmakers for a $1.5 billion loan, warning that without the state’s help, it likely won’t have enough money to fully compensate the nearly 70,000 survivors, the Sacramento Bee reports.
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CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: As COVID-19 recedes, Californians have new worries.
How California can become carbon neutral: Meeting climate goals while maintaining a reliable electric grid will require a range of strategies, abundant resources for research and development, and political willpower, write Caroline Winn, CEO of San Diego Gas & Electric, and David G. Victor, a UC San Diego professor.
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