California’s Catholic bishops want the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a state sex abuse law, setting up another conflict with the high court.
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Could California find itself in another conflict with the U.S. Supreme Court?
Nine California Catholic dioceses and archdioceses have asked the nation’s highest court to review their case against a 2019 law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, which created a three-year window for survivors of childhood sexual abuse to file legal claims against alleged perpetrators at school, church or elsewhere, regardless of when the alleged abuse occurred. The law also allowed defendants to be sued for a new offense: “cover up” activity.
In the April 15 petition, which was first reported last week by the Catholic News Agency, lawyers for the Catholic bishops assert the law is unconstitutional because California already gave victims a chance to sue in 2002 — when it opened a one-year portal for sex abuse survivors to file claims with no time limit attached — and because it retroactively adds new liabilities.
- The lawyers wrote: “Review is critical now, before the Catholic Church in the largest State in the union is forced to litigate hundreds or thousands of cases seeking potentially billions of dollars in retroactive punitive damages under an unconstitutional double-revival regime.”
- They added that their clients have already paid more than $1.2 billion to resolve claims filed during the original one-year window, and “to finance these settlements, they expended significant resources, sold vast swaths of Church property, and in some cases exhausted or relinquished insurance coverage for past and future abuse claims.”
- The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests slammed the bishops’ petition: “The 2002 window lasted one year, barely enough time for victims to find their courage or their voices. Many only heard about the window or found their courage too late. This new three-year window is allowing survivors in a huge state the time to speak out, get help, and come forward. We believe it is that bravery that is scaring California’s Catholic bishops.”
Newsom’s office declined to comment: “We have nothing to add at this time,” Daniel Lopez, Newsom’s deputy communications director, told me in an email.
But the petition, which came came less than a month before Politico published a draft U.S. Supreme Court majority opinion showing justices are poised to overturn the federal constitutional right to an abortion, could spark the latest standoff between California and the high court.
- The court repeatedly sided with churches over California during the pandemic, prompting the state to allow houses of worship to reopen indoors at full capacity two weeks before other businesses.
- In December, Newsom sought to counteract the court’s decision to let stand Texas’ six-week abortion ban by proposing a bill to permit private Californians to sue anyone who manufactures, distributes or sells assault weapons or ghost guns.
- And in response to the draft majority opinion, Newsom and Democratic legislative leaders have vowed to put a constitutional amendment on the November ballot to enshrine abortion rights in California.
In other reproductive justice news: Attorney General Rob Bonta announced Monday that Kings County District Attorney Keith Fagundes dropped criminal charges against Adora Perez, whom he had previously charged with manslaughter after she delivered a stillborn baby while high on methamphetamine. “California law is clear: We do not criminalize people for the loss of a pregnancy,” Bonta said.
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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Thursday, California had 8,654,420 confirmed cases (+0.3% from previous day) and 89,851 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. California election updates
Early voting for California’s June 7 primary election is now underway, with Monday marking the last day for counties to begin sending mail-in ballots to every registered voter. Here’s a rundown of the latest election updates:
- The controller’s race just keeps heating up: Democratic candidates Malia Cohen and Steve Glazer and GOP contender Lanhee Chen critiqued Democratic incumbent Betty Yee for helping a politically connected company land a lucrative — and ultimately failed — deal to provide the state with millions of face masks early in the pandemic. (Following revelations of Yee’s role, some lawmakers are also calling for additional hearings into the botched deal, the Los Angeles Times reports.) Glazer’s rebuke of Yee — her actions “were clearly wrong” — dovetails with a point he emphasized in an interview with CalMatters. As Sameea Kamal reports, Glazer says he’s the best candidate because he isn’t afraid to speak out against his own party. “I want to be clear that I owe no favor and have no fear about accountability for everyone,” he said. Meanwhile, another Democratic candidate, Ron Galperin, unveiled an action plan for addressing homelessness and housing affordability.
- Slim margins in the U.S. House of Representatives: Democrats’ ability to retain control of the House could partly depend on whether the party can flip four GOP-held seats in California districts where President Joe Biden garnered more votes than Donald Trump in 2020, Politico reports. Some of those seats represent swaths of Orange County, where political experts say pro-choice women angered by the U.S. Supreme Court’s draft majority opinion to overturn federal abortion rights could help swing races in Democrats’ favor.
- San Francisco gets a new supervisor: Mayor London Breed chose Matt Dorsey, who leads strategic communications for the San Francisco Police Department, to replace Matt Haney, who recently won a special election runoff for a state Assembly seat. Breed’s appointment sends a clear political message — District Attorney Chesa Boudin, who’s facing a recall election on June 7, said it would help the police department — and lays the groundwork for a heated battle in November, when Haney’s preferred replacement, his former chief of staff Honey Mahogany, will likely face off against Dorsey.
- Online gambling: Just two sports betting measures are now in play for California’s November ballot after proponents of one initiative said Monday they no longer plan to submit signatures and another failed to qualify.
Your guide to the 2022 general election in California
2. Will CA require pay data to be public?
Imagine a future in which job postings resemble nutrition facts labels on food — but instead of measuring calories and sugar, the numbers represent the job’s pay range and benefits, as well as the company’s average pay broken down by gender and race, turnover rate and ratio of contractors to full-time employees. All of those metrics — and more — would become public knowledge under two workplace transparency bills that have cleared their first hurdles in the state Legislature despite fierce opposition from business groups who say they would lead to unfair comparisons and expensive lawsuits, CalMatters’ Grace Gedye reports.
- Ashley Hoffman, a lobbyist for the California Chamber of Commerce: “Our concern largely lies with: What does this data actually show versus how is it going to be used?”
- State Sen. Monique Limón, the Santa Barbara Democrat who introduced the pay range disclosure bill: “I know the opposition likes to say that this is a bill that’s going to shame. We do not believe that the act of making accurate information public is an act of shaming.”
But, if history is any guide, the two bills face an uphill battle — even in the Democrat-dominated Legislature. The Chamber of Commerce labeled both as “job killers” — a designation that often serves as the kiss of death. The latest casualty: a bill that would have forced employers to provide more transparency about their workplace surveillance and tracking tactics, though lawmakers are rushing to cobble together another worker privacy proposal.
3. Get ready for next stage of solar battle
Remember state regulators’ controversial proposal to reform a wildly successful rooftop solar incentive program — one to which Newsom in January said “changes need to be made”? The California Public Utilities Commission had been slated to vote as early as Jan. 27 on its proposal to reduce the payments that homeowners receive for selling excess solar power back to utilities — and charge those homeowners an average monthly fee of $57. But after blowback from figures as high-ranking as Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the commission postponed its decision — and on Monday announced that it will be accepting comment from involved groups through June 10. The commission must respond to those comments by June 24. Members of the public can submit comments at any time here.
- Bernadette Del Chiaro, executive director of the California Solar & Storage Association: We’re glad the commission “recognized just how far out of step the first proposed decision was with California’s clean energy goals and equity values. … At the same time, we know utility special interests have a lot of power and a significant profit motive in stopping competition from rooftop solar.”
- The commission’s original plan is backed by the state’s three largest investor-owned utilities: PG&E, Southern California Edison and Sempra Energy.
- Recently released lobbyist disclosure reports illuminate the battle’s high stakes: Sempra Energy spent nearly $2 million lobbying the Capitol from Jan. 1 to March 31, more than any other lobbyist employer, according to a Capitol Morning Report analysis of Secretary of State records. In third place was PG&E at $1.25 million, followed closely by the California Solar & Storage Association at $1.1 million.
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CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: The conflict between California state government and many cities over housing quotas continues while construction lags behind need.
State leaders must pass a budget that boosts homeownership: Contact Newsom and your representatives to demand they earmark $600 million to develop deed-restricted ownership housing and bolster down-payment assistance programs, argues Otto Catrina, president of the California Association of Realtors.
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