A legislative deal will keep a malpractice measure off the November California election ballot, but another issue is headed for voters.
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With big money comes big battles — though one may have been avoided Wednesday when California lawmakers, interest groups and advocates struck a deal that could obviate a November ballot measure to raise the cap on the amount of money patients can win from medical malpractice lawsuits.
If Gov. Gavin Newsom signs into law the agreement between legislators, health care providers, lawyers and patient advocates — inserted into a bill originally dealing with false information on social media platforms — proponents of the already qualified initiative said they will remove it from the ballot, CalMatters’ Ana B. Ibarra and Kristen Hwang report.
- That could spare voters from a deluge of ads and other campaigning: Groups supporting and opposing the measure had already raised $23.2 million.
- Some voters may see the deal as a cause for celebration: No more worrying about taking a stance on a wonky, complex and likely unfamiliar policy!
- But some officials have denounced recent reforms allowing these fights to be shifted from ballot measures to the Legislature as “legal extortion.”
Supporters say the alternative is costly, confusing and often repetitive battles at the ballot box. For example, Wednesday marked the deadline for the influential SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West union to submit signatures for their proposed ballot measure to overhaul regulations for kidney dialysis clinics.
- It’s the union’s third such effort in four years: After a more than $110 million campaign in 2020, California voters sided with the dialysis industry in rejecting Proposition 23, which would have strengthened oversight of dialysis clinics. Voters also rejected Prop. 8 in 2018.
In other money-related election news, here’s a dispatch from CalMatters political reporter Ben Christopher: Raising the specter of Russian oligarchs and Saudi royals buying their way into California’s halls of power, Democratic Assemblymember Alex Lee of San Jose pushed forward a new bill to ban campaign contributions and independent political spending from “foreign-influenced” publicly traded for-profit companies.
- The bill cleared its first major legislative hurdle Wednesday over the opposition of the powerful California Chamber of Commerce, which said it would block “98% of S&P 500 companies from participating in the political process” and raises “constitutional questions.”
- That didn’t impress Amar Shergill, who leads the California Democratic Party’s progressive caucus: “I didn’t hear any discussion of an amendment to the bill, just wholesale support for continued foreign influence of our democracy,” he tweeted. “Just wow.”
- The Assembly Elections Committee also passed two bills to change the recall process: One would hike the number of signatures required to initiate a recall, require a recall petition to include the election’s estimated cost and push any recall to the next regularly scheduled election; another would restrict recalls solely to asking voters whether a candidate should be removed from office, leaving their replacement to a future election or appointment.
Money may be everywhere in California elections, but so far former President Donald Trump’s name has been nearly absent: Some major Republican candidates for statewide office have even refused to say whether they voted for him. CalMatters’ Alexei Koseff analyzes what that says about the California GOP’s strategy for gaining ground in a deep-blue state.
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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Monday, California had 8,587,792 confirmed cases (+0.2% from previous day) and 89,391 deaths (+0.2% from previous day), according to state data now updated just twice a week on Tuesdays and Fridays. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.
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Other stories you should know
1. The state of California’s schools
Californians have complex and at times contradictory beliefs about the quality of the state’s public schools, according to a Public Policy Institute of California poll released late Wednesday night. For example, although 42% of adults say the quality of K-12 public education has gotten worse in the past few years, 60% approve of Newsom’s handling of the school system and 57% say it’s going in the right direction. And while 73% of public school parents approve of Newsom and 70% say the school system is going in the right direction, almost half say they would send their child to a private or religious school if cost and location weren’t an issue.
Other key takeaways:
- 74% of public school parents approve of the state’s decision to end the school mask mandate — but 66% say the COVID vaccine should be required for students once fully authorized by federal regulators. California is backing away from COVID student vaccine mandates, but state lawmakers this week advanced a bill to require schools to create COVID testing plans consistent with state public health guidelines, and another to allow schools in a public health emergency to check students’ inoculation status in the state’s confidential immunization database.
- African Americans are most likely across racial groups to say schools don’t provide enough resources for lower-income students (65%) or special education students (58%). And just 36% of African Americans would give their neighborhood public school an A or B grade, a far smaller percentage than other racial groups. On Wednesday, hundreds of educators, students and faith leaders rallied at the state Capitol in support of a bill to direct $400 million annually in additional school funding to the academically lowest performing ethnic group, which according to a legislative analysis is African Americans.
- Stark partisan divides persist. While 77% of Democrats believe California’s school system is heading in the right direction, 79% of Republicans say it’s going in the wrong direction. That gap was showcased Wednesday, when Democrats shot down a GOP-led bill to increase parental oversight of school curriculum.
- But, in the latest indication that Dolly Parton can bridge all divides, the Senate Education committee unanimously passed a bipartisan bill to create California’s first Statewide Imagination Library Program in partnership with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.
2. The cost of environmental policy
California air-quality officials have endorsed a revised plan for battling climate change — choosing from four proposed pathways the one least costly to the state’s economy, CalMatters’ new environment reporter Nadia Lopez reports in this exclusive story. The strategy, which staff plan to formally recommend to the state Air Resources Board in May, would still require California to make a massive shift away from fossil fuels and reach carbon neutrality by 2045. But environmental justice advocates aren’t happy — and neither is the oil and gas industry. For more, check out Nadia’s report.
In related news:
- California lawmakers this week advanced a bill to shut down three offshore oil rigs along the Orange County coast following last year’s oil spill — but the effort could be hobbled due to concerns over the eventual cost to taxpayers, the Los Angeles Times reports.
- From CalMatters environment reporter Julie Cart: U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla and Newsom administration officials on Wednesday outlined California’s plan to permanently seal “orphan wells,” or oil and gas rigs that are no longer operating and have no responsible party to bill. The state has an estimated 5,540 orphan wells, though approximately 18,000 more are undocumented and another 70,000 could become orphaned in the future. Newsom’s proposed budget includes $200 million to plug the wells, and another $165 million is coming from the feds. But a 2020 report from the California Council on Science & Technology estimated it would cost more than $974 million just to plug California’s known orphan wells, with the cost of plugging all active and idle wells rising to $9 billion.
- And new figures from the California Public Utilities Commission show that more than 3.6 million residential customers had $1.64 billion in overdue utility bills as of February, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports.
3. An end to ‘work first’ welfare?
Should Californians be required to work in order to receive cash assistance from the state? For a quarter of a century, the federal government’s “work first” welfare model has defined the Golden State’s cash assistance program, known as CalWorks. But advocates for the poor and some policy experts have criticized those rules as counterproductive, punitive and grounded in racist tropes about single Black mothers abusing welfare programs, CalMatters’ Jeanne Kuang reports. California is trying to loosen those work restrictions — but in so doing, risks running afoul of federal law and incurring financial penalties at both the state and county level.
- Esi Hutchful, policy analyst at the California Budget and Policy Center, which advocates for low-income residents: “A lot of people are experiencing mental health crises or domestic violence or substance use, and are not really in a position to … come to a program for assistance and be told, ‘In the next 30 days you need to go get a job, never mind what your actual life situation is like.'”
- Cathy Senderling-McDonald, director of the County Welfare Directors Association: “While the penalty is hanging out there, it’s difficult if not impossible to go all in” on changing CalWorks.
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CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Newsom’s commission on remaking California’s health care system just published a vague report without a clear pathway to change.
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