In summary

California’s possible COVID-19 vaccine mandate for students was significantly scaled back and then postponed until at least July 2023.

From CalMatters Membership Manager Sonya Quick: When news breaks, the newsletter has to adapt — and that’s what Emily did Thursday night when California’s student vaccine mandate changed twice in a matter of hours. CalMatters works around the clock to bring you nonpartisan news you can trust. Support our work today.

Within the space of a few hours on Thursday, California’s possible COVID-19 vaccine mandates for students were significantly scaled back and then postponed for at least a year — underscoring the political risk Gov. Gavin Newsom and state lawmakers might have taken on by ordering thousands of unvaccinated kids into distance learning in the middle of an election year.

First, Democratic state Sen. Richard Pan of Sacramento 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. Support for the proposal had been wavering for weeks, CalMatters’ Elizabeth Aguilera reports.

That move defaulted the state back to Newsom’s vaccine mandate, which is much looser than Pan’s — among other things, it allows for personal belief exemptions and wouldn’t require kids to get vaccinated until the semester after federal regulators fully approve the shot for their age group.

But then the California Department of Public Health — part of Newsom’s administration — announced plans to delay the governor’s mandate until July 1, 2023, at the earliest “to ensure sufficient time for successful implementation of new vaccine requirements.”

  • Postponing the mandate could prompt some public health officials and parents to accuse Newsom of putting students’ and teachers’ health at risk and endangering vulnerable communities.
  • But keeping the mandate in place — when just 33.9% of children ages 5-11 and 66.4% of kids 12-17 are fully vaccinated, according to state data — could be tantamount to blocking tens of thousands of students from attending campus and forcing them back into online learning. Black and Latino kids, who have lower vaccination rates than white and Asian children, would be disproportionately impacted.
  • Pan: “Until children’s access to COVID vaccination is greatly improved, I believe that a statewide policy to require COVID vaccination in schools is not the immediate priority, although it is an appropriate safety policy for many school districts in communities with good vaccine access.”

Pan’s decision to hold his bill is also the most concrete indication yet that Democratic lawmakers’ aggressive slate of vaccine proposals is facing an increasingly uphill battle in a state that just last week announced it no longer recommends quarantine for asymptomatic people exposed to COVID.

  • Also tabled: Democratic Assemblymember Buffy Wicks’ contentious bill that would have required employers to mandate COVID vaccinations for their workers and independent contractors.
  • Last week, Pan postponed for the second time a critical hearing on his proposal to withhold state funding from law enforcement agencies that oppose public health orders.
  • Three other vaccine bills have not yet been scheduled for a hearing.
  • Meanwhile, next Tuesday, a key committee is slated to consider a contentious proposal that would reclassify the sharing of COVID-19 “misinformation” by doctors and surgeons as unprofessional conduct that would result in disciplinary action.

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Wednesday, California had 8,529,333 confirmed cases (+0.2% from previous day) and 88,748 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 73,669,038 vaccine doses, and 74.9% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.

1. Prison system confronts tech issues

Inmates pass a correctional officer as they leave an exercise yard at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville on June 20, 2018. In 30 of the state's 35 prison facilities, less than half of employees have accepted the state's offer to provide vaccination against COVID-19. Photo by Rich Pedroncelli, AP Photo
Inmates pass a correctional officer at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville on June 20, 2018. Photo by Rich Pedroncelli, AP Photo

Flushing toilets, persistent coughing, warbling cartoons, strains of music, random interjections, jackhammers, loud echoes and ringing phones were just some of the most memorable onomatopoeia in a Thursday public hearing hosted by the state prison system. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation was gathering comments on its plan to make permanent emergency rules adopted during the pandemic to increase good conduct credit earning rates for inmates not sentenced to death or life without parole — but was apparently unable to mute the more than 130 conference call participants who weren’t speaking at any given moment. The result: Many callers’ testimonies were interrupted by sneezes, laughter, other participants screaming “MUTE YOUR PHONE!”, or McDonald’s commercials playing in the background.

  • One caller admonished the state prison system: “The fact you guys can’t even run a teleconference call speaks volumes about what you’re doing for public safety.”
  • A Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokesperson told FOX40’s Ashley Zavala: “We apologize for any inconvenience, but appreciate the public’s patience with this process, and can assure that people were heard, all comments were recorded, and will be included in the next steps in the rulemaking process.” The spokesperson said the department had received more than 3,300 comments on the proposed rules, including those submitted by mail or email.
  • Senate Republican Leader Scott Wilk of Santa Clarita: “CDCR is considering releasing violent and dangerous felons early and they can’t even run a conference call? This is like something you’d see in an SNL skit, it’s unbelievable.”

In other criminal justice news: 23% of California voters consider crime and public safety to be among the most important issues for the state to address, topped only by homelessness (29%) and housing affordability (31%), according to a Thursday poll from UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies and the Los Angeles Times. The price of gas was close behind at 21%. And, in a concerning sign for officials facing reelection, a little more than half of Democrats and 93% of Republicans said California is headed in the wrong direction.

2. Auditor slams State Bar

Image via iStock
Image via iStock

The State Bar of California, which oversees the state’s 250,000 lawyers, has a “weak” disciplinary process that has resulted in some attorneys “repeatedly violating professional standards” and putting the public at risk, according to a scathing Thursday report from Acting State Auditor Michael Tilden. Lawmakers last year ordered an audit of the State Bar after a Los Angeles Times investigation found that Tom Girardi — a prominent Democratic Party donor who appeared alongside his third wife, Erika, on the “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” — remained in good standing despite misappropriating $2 million from the families of people killed in an Indonesian plane crash and racking up hundreds of other complaints and lawsuits. 

  • The Bar is also investigating whether Orange County attorney John Eastman violated ethics laws in advising former President Donald Trump on how to challenge the 2020 election results, the Orange County Register reports. In the meantime, his license remains in good standing.

Other key takeaways from the audit: 

  • The Bar prematurely closed some cases that warranted further investigation and potential discipline. For example, although one attorney was the subject of 165 complaints over seven years, the Bar has yet to impose any discipline and resolved many of the complaints through private letters. 
  • The Bar failed to adequately investigate some attorneys. In one case, it closed 87 complaints against an attorney who was later federally convicted of money laundering. 
  • The Bar doesn’t address conflicts of interest between its staff and the attorneys they investigate. In fact, it failed to do so in more than one-third of the cases reviewed by auditors.
  • Ruben Duran, board chair for the State Bar: “Strengthening the discipline system is our number one priority, and we are committed to incorporating the audit findings into our ongoing efforts.”

3. Workplace harassment unit at crossroads

#metoo sexual harassment
Photo via Pixabay

The State Bar isn’t the only entity under scrutiny. State lawmakers are evaluating possible changes to the Workplace Conduct Unit, which was formed in the wake of the #MeToo movement to create a new, independent process for legislative employees to file and resolve harassment complaints. But the new unit has been plagued with problems, according to a San Francisco Chronicle investigation: Some people who reported harassment said they were then investigated themselves, while others said their reports to supervisors didn’t result in investigations at all. Meanwhile, some investigations have dragged on for years. And concerns have cropped up that the unit isn’t truly independent, as legislative leaders have the final say over an investigation’s outcome.

CalMatters commentary

‘Housing First’ policy needs an adjustment: A Sacramento homeless shelter for mothers and their children is ineligible for millions of dollars in state homeless funds because it requires its residents to stay clean and sober. Assembly Bill 2623 could change that, writes Julie Hirota, CEO of Saint John’s Program for Real Change.

Other things worth your time

Sonoma State president’s husband disputes sexual harassment claims that triggered $600,000 settlement. // Santa Rosa Press Democrat

Colleagues worry Dianne Feinstein is now mentally unfit to serve, citing recent interactions. // San Francisco Chronicle

Katie Valenzuela served with new council recall notice just after Sacramento mass shooting. // Sacramento Bee

How far left will Sacramento go? Election puts homeless activist against neighborhood advocate. // Sacramento Bee

California Dem candidate appears to mock Rep. Steel’s accent: ‘You kind of need an interpreter.’ // Fox News

San Dieguito superintendent’s comments about Asian students draw backlash, apology. // San Diego Union-Tribune

Elon Musk offers to buy Twitter for $43 billion in cash. // Axios

S.F. redistricting fiasco: Panel risks lawsuit after rejecting controversial map, blowing through deadline. // San Francisco Chronicle

Subsidized housing for cops? S.F. supes weigh incentives to combat police staffing shortage. // San Francisco Chronicle

Villanueva threatens to pull deputies from Metro security. // Los Angeles Times

Local police agencies will no longer investigate their own officer-involved shootings or in-custody deaths. // San Diego Union-Tribune

27 LAPD employees have long COVID, chief says. // Daily News

Over 400 VTA employees are unvaccinated ahead of an April 29 deadline. // Mercury News

‘Burnt out and tired’: Nurses at leading California hospitals prepare to strike. // The Guardian

Laguna Honda Hospital has 30 days to avoid a shutdown after feds freeze funding. // San Francisco Chronicle

Where are all of California’s school librarians? // EdSource

Garcetti vows ‘safer city’ in final State of the City speech. // Los Angeles Times

Someone attacked a California mail worker. Then the mail stopped. // New York Times

Yorba Linda is Orange County’s first city to adopt state-mandated housing plan. // Orange County Register

Airport tarmac and tiny homes: How California cities have tried to clear homeless camps. // Sacramento Bee

A new effort in San Francisco aims to debate rent at the bargaining table. // Capital & Main

East Bay ducklings rescued from a storm drain with the help of a mini drone. // San Francisco Chronicle

CalMatters staffers earn exclusive fellowships in innovation, health and politics. // CalMatters

See you Monday.

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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...