Vaccine bills, including one to pull state funding from law agencies that oppose public health orders, are facing headwinds.
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This week, California shifted — in a small but significant way — its approach to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Effective Monday, the state Department of Public Health stopped issuing weekday updates on coronavirus data, including test positivity, hospitalizations, deaths and vaccinations. It now publishes those numbers just two days a week, on Tuesdays and Fridays. Some counties have since followed suit with their local dashboards.
- A spokesperson for the state Department of Public Health told me in an email: “We have learned over the course of this pandemic that it is more helpful to look at data trends over time and that public health recommendations should be based on consistent trends rather than day-over-day changes, which are impacted by various testing and reporting patterns over weekends and holidays.”
- Last week, the state also lifted its vaccine mandate for indoor mega-events.
Meanwhile, Democratic state Sen. Richard Pan of Sacramento on Wednesday postponed for the second time a key hearing on his controversial bill that would, among other things, withhold state funding from law enforcement agencies that oppose public health orders — a not-so-veiled warning for sheriff’s departments that refuse to enforce COVID mandates.
- The bill is one of a handful introduced by a vaccine work group of Democratic legislators that, if enacted, would form the most aggressive state approach to vaccines in the nation.
- Edwin Kirby, Pan’s communications director, told me in an email: “It is not unusual for members of the Legislature to reschedule hearings on their bills in order to continue to work with stakeholders. … The vaccine work group is working to advance legislation to protect Californians so that we can continue to have some of the lowest death and hospitalization rates per capita in the U.S. Polling shows Californians continue to support common sense requirements to protect public health and save lives.”
- But last week, Democratic Assemblymember Buffy Wicks of Oakland tabled her proposal to force companies to require workers and independent contractors to be vaccinated against COVID, citing a “new and welcome chapter in the pandemic” and pushback from public safety unions.
- Indeed, the vaccine bills — contentious in the best of times — could be even more difficult to push through the Legislature as California’s COVID picture improves. Four of the vaccine working group’s eight bills have yet to receive a hearing date. (A tracker maintained by GOP Assemblymember Kevin Kiley of Rocklin, who opposes the proposals, pegs that total at five, but one of those bills is actually scheduled for an April 19 hearing.)
Learn more about legislators mentioned in this story
Former State Senate, District 6 (Roseville)
Former State Assembly, District 6 (Sacramento)
But California’s COVID picture is far from static. Although the state on Monday reported a record-low 231 patients with COVID in the ICU, cases are beginning to rise again in Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco counties, likely fueled by the contagious omicron subvariant BA.2.
- And while some counties are relaxing their COVID policies — San Diego has stopped requiring new hires to submit proof of vaccination — others are tightening them. Los Angeles County supervisors voted Tuesday to empower the county personnel director to fire workers who don’t comply with vaccine mandates — a move critics said was targeted at Sheriff Alex Villanueva and his department’s low inoculation rate.
- Further obscuring the clarity of California’s COVID situation, some counties, including Los Angeles, are scaling back free testing sites as a result of the Biden administration winding down federal reimbursement programs for uninsured patients.
Note: This item was updated to correct the number of vaccine bills that haven’t yet received a hearing date.
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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.
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Other stories you should know
1. Gun violence debate escalates
As new details emerge about Sacramento’s Sunday morning massacre that left six dead and 12 wounded — police said Wednesday that the shooting involved at least five gunmen and appeared to be gang-related — Democratic and Republican officials continue to propose different methods for tamping down gun violence. Today, GOP assemblymembers are set to join law enforcement officers and crime victim advocates to call for “the restoration of gang and gun enhancements, higher penalties for felons in possession of firearms” and an end to “California’s early release policy that puts criminals back on the street after serving just a fraction of their sentence.”
- The three men arrested so far in connection with the shooting were all charged with possessing a firearm despite being prohibited from having one, and one suspect — Smiley Martin — in February won early release from a 10-year prison sentence for domestic violence and assault with great bodily injury.
- Sacramento County District Attorney and attorney general candidate Anne Marie Schubert, whose office vehemently opposed Martin’s early release, noted Wednesday that Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration will next week hold a public hearing on proposed regulations that could result in the early release of thousands of violent offenders.
Meanwhile, Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg joined Democratic lawmakers and the advocacy group Californians for Safety and Justice on Tuesday to urge the Newsom administration to funnel $3 billion into violence prevention programs, including grants to help connect former inmates to jobs and housing. Steinberg also said the city plans to use $8.1 million in federal funding on safety measures including improved lighting and youth outreach workers.
- State Sen. Maria Elena Durazo, a Los Angeles Democrat: “Over-reliance on incarceration only worsens the conditions that create violence and does nothing to actually prevent crime in the first place. We know what works, and we know what doesn’t work to protect our communities from harm.”
2. Not-so-good water news
California’s bad drought news just got worse: Urban residents slashed their water use by just 0.5% in February compared to the same month in 2020, according to new data from the State Water Resources Control Board. That translates to cumulative statewide savings of just 5.8% from July 2021 through February — compared to the same period in 2020 — down from the 6.5% reduction achieved as of last month, the Los Angeles Times reports.
- That pushes the state even further away from Newsom’s goal of cutting voluntary water use by 15%, raising questions about whether the restrictions the governor announced last month will be enough to mitigate the impacts of a persistent drought that’s caused the Sierra Nevada snowpack to fall to its lowest level in seven years.
- The heat wave that began sweeping much of the state on Wednesday — and is expected to set record-high temperatures in some areas today and Friday before giving way to cooler temperatures and possible showers early next week — will only exacerbate dry conditions: “The recent rate of Sierra Nevada snowmelt is extraordinary,” tweeted UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain. “With upcoming heatwave, it’s starting to seem possible that vast majority of snowpack could be gone by mid-late April.”
- Experts are also concerned the warm, dry weather could spark wildfires: “The combination of winds, low humidity, high temperatures and two straight years of below average rainfall will be like taking a big hair dryer to plants and vegetation, which are starved for moisture even though we had rain about a week ago,” Alex Tardy, a weather service forecaster, told the San Diego Union-Tribune.
- Indeed, Cal Fire, the state’s firefighting agency, is accelerating plans to hire hundreds of seasonal firefighters.
3. Legislative roundup
Here’s a look at how some interesting bills fared Wednesday when they faced critical legislative hearings:
- Democratic state Sen. Dave Cortese of San Jose’s proposal to give no-strings-attached checks to about 15,000 high school seniors who have experienced homelessness advanced out of the Senate Education Committee with little opposition, CalMatters’ Jeanne Kuang reports for the California Divide Project.
- GOP state Sen. Jim Nielsen’s bill to encourage schools to include the contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in social science classes sailed through the Senate Education Committee, though Democratic state Sen. Richard Pan of Sacramento abstained, saying, “Frankly, our community needs more than encouragement. … Just doing something that is a suggestion is not sufficient for our community.” Nielsen offered to accept an amendment that would create a mandate, but Pan said, “I wish that the sponsors of the bill had come and approached our (California Asian & Pacific Islander) caucus … so we could work on something more substantive.” Pan’s comments earned a clapback from Democratic state Sen. Connie Leyva of Chino, the committee chairperson, who said, “With all due respect, Senator Pan, we pass bills all the time in this house that don’t have any teeth in them. … But it is about a movement … and making a statement of our values.”
- Democratic Assemblymember Patrick O’Donnell’s bill to abolish ranked-choice voting died in the Assembly Elections Committee, where it wasn’t even brought up for a vote.
- And Democratic state Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco’s proposal to require health insurers and providers be trained in transgender-inclusive health care easily passed the Senate Health Committee.
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CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: California’s gun restrictions are a failure.
Other things worth your time
Gun homicides are up 50% in Sacramento County. Here’s who is dying. // Sacramento Bee
Can downtown Sacramento recover from the mass shooting? // Sacramento Bee
Ghost guns a growing problem in Monterey County. // Monterey Herald
This Oakland department was created to reduce violent crime. Five years later, has it? // San Francisco Chronicle
Fundraising emails for and against Chesa Boudin push alternate views of city. // San Francisco Chronicle
Backlash against secret streetlight surveillance cameras prompts San Diego to create new privacy board. // San Diego Union-Tribune
State employee and forensic expert’s flawed DNA analysis leads to release of O.C. murder defendant, D.A.’s review. // Los Angeles Times
Ex-City Attorney’s Office lawyer pleads guilty in DWP billing case. // Daily News
County leaders stall push to close juvenile detention site. // Daily News
Judge rules that San Diego County Fair contract was rigged. // San Diego Union-Tribune
Leadership turnover plagues California Community Colleges. // Inside Higher Ed
S.F. teachers are resigning in big numbers. The payroll fiasco likely isn’t helping. // San Francisco Chronicle
As UC, CSU grapple with college admissions, Arizona State steps in. // Los Angeles Times
Critical race theory banned by an Orange County school board. // Los Angeles Times
County takes over redistricting at San Dieguito schools amid alleged state law violations. // San Diego Union-Tribune
California math wars get ugly: Accusations of racism and harassment ignite battle between Stanford and Cal profs. // San Francisco Chronicle
Bay Area home sales dip amid financial uncertainty. // Mercury News
Amazon’s Bay Area expansion faces pushback. // Mercury News
How a tech billionaire’s plan to help the poor boosted the rich. // Los Angeles Times
Fox that bit a Northern California lawmaker tested positive for rabies. // San Francisco Chronicle
California gray wolves-ranchers conflict escalates. // SFGATE
Wildfires destroyed these Napa wineries. Rebuilding has been another nightmare. // San Francisco Chronicle
Vertical farms expand in California as demand for year-round produce grows. // New York Times
Storms batter aging power grid as climate disasters spread. // Associated Press
See you tomorrow.
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