In summary

California lawmakers are calling for urgent action on gas tax relief and crime, but it may take a while to see meaningful progress.

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California politicians have been calling for urgent action on topics ranging from gas to guns — but it may take a while for residents to see meaningful progress.

The state Legislature started its spring recess Thursday, and lawmakers aren’t due back in Sacramento until April 18. Gov. Gavin Newsom, meanwhile, isn’t set to return from his vacation abroad until Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Californians are continuing to grapple with sky-high gas prices — the state’s average per-gallon cost on Thursday was $5.80 — and the fallout from Sunday morning’s gang shootout in Sacramento that left six dead and 12 injured.

Here’s a look at where things stand in three key areas.

Gas: Despite a flurry of competing proposals to help assuage Californians’ pain at the pump, only one — a plan to offer $400 rebates to every taxpayer — was set to be in print as of Thursday evening, according to ABC 10. Democratic Assemblymember Cottie Petrie-Norris of Costa Mesa, the bill’s author, said it could receive a hearing as soon as April 18.

  • Other legislative proposals haven’t yet been formally introduced as bills. And Newsom’s idea of sending drivers as much as $800 is unlikely to materialize as checks in people’s pockets until July.
  • Meanwhile, Democratic lawmakers on Thursday killed GOP Assemblymember Kevin Kiley of Rocklin’s bill to suspend California’s excise gas tax for six months by striking it from the file. It’s the latest setback for Kiley’s bill, which Democrats recently attempted to gut by proposing amendments — which were never formally adopted — to instead levy a new tax on gas suppliers that charge “abnormally high” prices.

Mental health: As state leaders zero in on mental health reform, lawmakers unveiled a pair of bills Thursday that seek to codify Newsom’s plan to develop a framework for courts to force people with serious mental illnesses and substance use disorders into treatment. The bill language as of Thursday was no more concrete than Newsom’s proposal, but lawmakers said it would be updated within 24 hours.

  • Newsom said in a Thursday press release: “I thank the Legislature for moving with urgency to introduce this legislation. … Passing this legislation in a timely manner is incredibly important to help those in desperate need of services receive the support they deserve.”
  • The governor wants lawmakers to approve CARE Court as part of the state budget, which means it could take effect as early as July. This has alarmed some longtime Capitol observers, including CalMatters columnist Dan Walters, who argued the idea “needs to be fully fleshed out” and “fully vetted before enactment.”

Guns: As Democratic lawmakers eye new gun control legislation and seek funding for violence prevention programs, Republicans on Thursday decried the state’s “culture of lawlessness” and called on Newsom to halt emergency regulations making it easier for inmates to secure good conduct credits and early release from prison. One of the suspects arrested in connection with the Sacramento shooting was released early from a 10-year prison sentence due to an accelerated accumulation of credits.

  • However, California voters authorized the state prison system to implement such regulations — provided they go through a public comment period —when they passed Proposition 57 in 2016.
  • The state prison system is accepting public comment through April 13 on its plan to make those emergency regulations permanent, and will hold a public hearing on April 14.

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Monday, California had 8,503,930 confirmed cases (+0.1% from previous day) and 88,355 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.

California has administered 73,068,231 vaccine doses, and 74.6% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.

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1. Dahle’s campaign contributions raise questions

Republican candidate for Governor Brian Dahle in Sacramento on, Tuesday, May 28, 2019. Photo by Rich Pedroncelli, AP Photo
GOP gubernatorial candidate Brian Dahle in Sacramento on May 28, 2019. Photo by Rich Pedroncelli, AP Photo

From CalMatters political reporter Alexei Koseff: Did Brian Dahle’s most generous supporter violate California campaign finance rules to boost the Republican gubernatorial hopeful?

  • The Dahle campaign has reported three maximum contributions so far — all on March 2 and all from LLCs and corporations registered to Marcos Gomez, who runs a vegetation-clearing business in the tiny El Dorado County community of Lotus.
  • The three donations total $97,200, more than a fifth of the nearly $475,000 that Dahle has reported raising so far. (Another $50,000 was transferred from Dahle’s 2020 state Senate campaign account.)
  • But state law limits any individual donor to $32,400 per gubernatorial candidate per election. That includes businesses or other entities that are owned by, and whose political giving is controlled by, the same people, which are supposed to be counted together unless they can show that they independently decided their contributions.
  • Gomez did not respond to several requests for comment, but Dahle said there was no intention to circumvent campaign finance limits. Gomez and his two brothers share ownership of the businesses, he said, and wanted to support Dahle’s campaign because of their mutual desire to increase forest management in wildfire-prone areas.
  • Dahle: “Because they own a third, a third and a third, they can do three checks. … It’s not totally getting around anything. It’s totally legit.”

But that may not actually be the case.

A spokesperson for the Fair Political Practices Commission, the state’s campaign ethics watchdog, declined to comment on the situation without further investigation, but pointed to a section of the law that states donations should be combined — for purposes of determining whether a donor is over the limit — when “two or more entities make contributions that are directed or controlled by a majority of the same persons.”

2. Cities crack down on encampments

A person crosses the Interstate 80 offramp exit on her way to a homeless encampment at Shellmound Street and Ashby Avenue in Emeryville on Friday, March 18, 2022. Photo by Ray Chavez, Bay Area News Group
A person crosses the Interstate 80 offramp on her way to a homeless encampment in Emeryville on March 18, 2022. Photo by Ray Chavez, Bay Area News Group

The political momentum to crack down on California’s sprawling homeless encampments appears to be growing as the June 7 primary election approaches and voters express discontent with the state’s handling of homelessness. Consider these three Wednesday actions:

  • A federal judge ordered the residents of a homeless encampment alongside an Interstate 80 offramp on the Berkeley-Emeryville border to move out within three weeks so Caltrans, which owns the land, can clean it up, the Mercury News reports. The ruling came about three weeks after Newsom slammed the activist group that filed a lawsuit to delay Caltrans from sweeping the encampment: “Allowing individuals to live in encampments alongside our highways is not only hazardous but inhumane,” the governor said. Newsom also said that “safer alternative housing” had been identified for the encampment residents, a claim disputed by advocates. “There’s nowhere for them to go,” said Ian Cordova Morales, a lead advocate for Where Do We Go Berkeley, the activist group that filed the lawsuit. “They’re just going to go into the streets of Berkeley, I guess.”
  • The Los Angeles City Council voted to lift a moratorium that had blocked the police department from towing RVs and campers used as homes. But that same afternoon, federal courts received a temporary restraining order application to prevent the law from being enforced.
  • And the Sacramento City Council voted to put a business-backed measure on the November ballot that would ban encampments on public property and require the city to create shelter beds for 60% of its homeless population or face lawsuits. Sacramento in December also resumed towing vehicles used as shelter. Today, Democratic Assemblymembers Ken Cooley of Rancho Cordova and Kevin McCarty of Sacramento are set to unveil a bill that would, among other things, authorize the removal of illegal campsites in parklands at heightened risk of environmental damage.

3. California health care updates

Boxes of the insulin on January 9, 2020. Photo by George Frey, REUTERS
Boxes of insulin on Jan. 9, 2020. Photo by George Frey, Reuters

Here’s a whirlwind wrap-up of California health care headlines:

  • The Newsom administration announced this week that it’s moving forward with a first-in-the-nation plan to manufacture and distribute more affordable versions of insulin under the state’s generic label, Cal Rx. But will the plan actually materialize? And if so, when? CalMatters’ Ana B. Ibarra has the deets.
  • Meanwhile, state officials have launched an investigation into Centene, one of the largest insurers of Medi-Cal, the state’s health insurance program for the poor. California Healthline explains why
  • San Francisco turned down thousands of doses of antiviral pills offered by the state, because eligible COVID-positive patients didn’t know the treatment was available, the San Francisco Chronicle reports
  • And the federal Drug Enforcement Administration warned law enforcement agencies of a nationwide spike in “fentanyl-related mass-overdose events,” when three or more overdoses from the powerful synthetic opioid occur in rapid succession in the same location. The announcement came as two Buena Park men were arrested in what prosecutors are calling the largest Orange County drug bust in nearly two decades: The men were found in possession of 20.5 pounds of fentanyl pills, 821 pounds of methamphetamine and nearly 190 pounds of cocaine. 

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CalMatters commentary

COVID vaccine bills are obsolete: State lawmakers are considering five bills that will do nothing to stop the virus and will only widen the vitriolic divide that has resulted from poorly thought-out public health policy and media influence, argue Dr. Eileen S. Natuzzi, formerly of the San Diego Department of Public Health, and Elisa Carbone, a freelance writer and researcher.

Other things worth your time

‘People’s Convoy’ set to roll into downtown L.A. // Daily News

Opinion: California imitates the wrong Texas law when it comes to gun control. // Washington Post

California cities spent huge share of federal relief funds on police. // The Guardian

San Diego City Council OKs Police Department’s continued use of military equipment. // San Diego Union-Tribune

Counselor’s death at L.A. youth home Wayfinder raises alarms. // Los Angeles Times

San Jose: Attorneys to sue city in taqueria police shooting. // Mercury News

Their 2-year-old daughter died in surgery. They had no idea the hospital was warned it couldn’t handle her case. // San Francisco Chronicle

S.F. elections commission may remove redistricting task force members. // San Francisco Standard

Rick Caruso has loaned his L.A. mayor campaign $10 million. It’s upending the race. // Los Angeles Times

Dem moderates get choosy in midterm recruits as GOP headwinds grow. // Politico

Opinion: Republicans are poised for big wins in the 2022 elections. // Sacramento Bee

Recall efforts fizzle in Huntington Beach. // Orange County Register

Santa Clara appoints interim city manager for $214/hour. // Mercury News

After the state rejected L.A.’s plan for new housing, will S.F.’s proposal get the green light? // San Francisco Chronicle

Could California mandate a four-day work week? A state bill is pushing for the change. // San Francisco Chronicle

New Sonoma wine industry group denies workers’ claims of wildfire safety issues. // San Francisco Chronicle

Napa Valley has a problem: It’s running out of prime room for grapes. // Wall Street Journal

What is a ski resort’s true value? New report details economic impact of closed Tahoe ski area. // San Francisco Chronicle

PG&E’s top boss harvests total exec pay that tops $50 million. // Mercury News

California sprints to install batteries but can’t find parts. // E&E News

High diesel prices slam San Diego truckers, movers and charter boat owners. // San Diego Union-Tribune

A bold plan to save California’s endangered winter-run salmon. // Los Angeles Times

Animal rights protester glues hand to table during California hearing. // Associated Press

California library cardholders can check out free passes to state parks. // ABC7 Los Angeles

Ben will see you Monday. I’ll see you Tuesday!

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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...