Your guide to California policy and politics
BY Ben Christopher May 26, 2022
Presented by California Cattle Council, NextGen Policy, and California Water Service

After Texas shooting: A call to ‘advance our resolve’

KEEP TABS ON THE LATEST CALIFORNIA POLICY AND POLITICS NEWS

Note: This is CalMatters political reporter Ben Christopher filling in for Emily Hoeven while she enjoys a well-deserved vacation. 

Buffalo. Boulder. Aurora. Las Vegas. Orlando. San Bernardino. Sutherland Springs. Poway. Parkland. Sandy Hook.

At a press conference on Wednesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom rattled off a list of towns that have become tragic metonyms of our nation’s epidemic of gun violence. “That’s just a short list,” Newsom said. On Tuesday, when a gunman stormed a southwest Texas elementary school and killed 19 children and two teachers, another place joined that macabre roster: Uvalde, Texas.

The press conference at the state Capitol was the first joint appearance in at least a year by the governor and the Legislature’s top Democrats, Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins of San Diego and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon of Lakewood. The stated purpose, according to Newson, was “not to add to the rhetoric but to advance our resolve.” 

But given that the state Legislature is already considering a raft of new gun proposals, Congress is beset by gridlock and the federal judiciary appears primed to slap down some of California’s existing gun laws, there wasn’t much to advance.

The news, such that it was: Newsom, Atkins and Rendon vowed to “expedite” the gun control bills currently moving through the Legislature. That includes a proposal making it easier to hold gun makers and distributors legally liable for injury and death committed with their products, a ban on the advertising of certain firearms to kids, and a bit of Texas-inspired legislation to give Californians the ability to sue anyone who manufactures, distributes or sells designated “assault weapons” or ghost guns.

California already bans so-called assault weapons, of the kind used in the Texas school massacre, and already has the nation’s strictest gun laws.

Newsom said he looks forward to “enthusiastically” signing this latest crop of bills by the end of next month, months ahead of the Aug. 31 legislative deadline.

But even if they do become law, these bills would likely face legal challenges. And the judiciary has not been a friendly place for California gun laws recently. Earlier this month, a Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals panel struck down a California law barring adults under the age of 21 from purchasing a rifle, an age limit that still applies to handguns. A spokesperson from Attorney General Rob Bonta’s office said they are considering whether to petition for a rehearing. 

Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule later this year on the right to carry concealed firearms. California has among the strictest concealed carry licensing schemes in the country.

State Sen. Anthony Portantino, a Democrat from Glendale, authored the invalidated age limit law. At the press conference, he spoke to my colleague, Alexei Koseff, noting that the shooters in both Buffalo, New York and Uvalde were 18-year-olds who legally acquired their AR-15 style semi-automatic rifles

  • Portantino: “The judge brought his own agenda into the conversation. That’s why we have to elect a president who appoints judges that don’t bring such a conservative perspective to something that kills people.”

Learn more about legislators mentioned in this story

D

Anthony Portantino

State Senate, District 25 (Glendale)

State Senate, District 25 (Glendale)

How he voted 2019-2020
Liberal Conservative
District 25 Demographics

Race/Ethnicity

Latino 28%
White 49%
Asian 15%
Black 4%
Multi-race 3%

Voter Registration

Dem 45%
GOP 25%
No party 25%
Other 6%
Campaign Contributions

Sen. Anthony Portantino has taken at least $2 million from the Party sector since he was elected to the legislature. That represents 22% of his total campaign contributions.

Newsom also called out the author of that opinion, Judge Ryan Nelson, an appointee of then-President Trump, by name: “Ask Judge Nelson how he’s feeling…I wonder how proud he is of that opinion he wrote.”

But for supporters of more restrictive gun laws in California, the courts are not the only obstacle. 

In a press release Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California urged Congress to raise the federal age to purchase semi-automatic rifles and certain magazines from 18 to 21. But there’s little indication that Congress will be passing any new gun laws anytime soon.

And while President Biden has implored Congress to act, he’s not been willing to take up the plans floated by his 2020 running mate, Vice President Kamala Harris, the San Francisco Chronicle reported on Wednesday.

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Tuesday, California had 8,853,498 confirmed cases (+%0.6% from previous day) and 90,488 deaths (+0.1% 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 75,916,321 vaccine doses, and 83.5% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.

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1 Still no gas tax holiday

The cost of gas at an ARCO gas station in Oakland on May 25, 2022. Photo by Martin do Nascimento, CalMatters

Assembly Republicans, and more than a few Democrats, tried once again to temporarily scrap the state’s gas tax amid record-high prices at the pump

It failed. Predictably.

The GOP has been relentlessly pushing a gas tax “holiday” all spring

Alas, it’s a nonstarter with both Gov. Newsom and the Legislature’s Democratic leaders, who argue that there’s no guarantee the tax cut would be passed along to consumers. Instead, they prefer sending money directly to Californians.

Do they have a point? Probably not, said UC Davis energy economist Erich Muehlegger: When gas taxes are cut, “you tend to see most of those benefits — not necessarily all of those benefits, but most — going back to consumers in the form of lower retail prices.”

Undiscouraged by the GOP’s earlier failure, a bipartisan group of self-proclaimed “problem solvers” in the Legislature got on board with the idea last month. They also added a provision that would make gas retailers who don’t cut their prices sufficiently after a tax cut legally liable. 

Though Democratic leaders prefer a direct payment approach, they’re divided over exactly who ought to get the money and how much. In his budget proposal earlier this month, Newsom stuck with his plan to cut checks to registered drivers. Senate Pro Tem Atkins and Assembly Speaker Rendon prefer giving smaller amounts to all Californian families — drivers or not — who make under a certain income. 

But the failed vote Wednesday wasn’t all for nothing. Legislators in competitive elections later this year have a fresh talking point:

  • Republican Assemblymember Suzette Valladares, one of the Legislature’s most vulnerable incumbents: “It’s not partisan, and California can afford it.”

Others who voted for the futile measure include Democratic Assemblymember Adam Gray, who is running for Congress in Merced.

A handful of progressive Assemblymembers, including Reggie Jones-Sawyer from Los Angeles, Matt Haney from San Francisco, and Cristina Garcia from Downey who is now running for Congress, also initially voted for the proposal. Hours later, they, along with five other Democrats, changed their votes to “No.”

After session, 30 Assembly members — including 10 Democrats and all the Republicans — wrote Rendon a letter urging him to put the bill up for a floor vote before the Friday deadline.

Rising prices are indeed top of mind for many voters. In a new poll from the Public Policy Institute of California, roughly a quarter of likely voters said jobs, the economy and overall inflation were the most important issues facing the state. Another 13% named the cost of housing. 

But for all the legislative sturm and drang about the price at the pump, only 6% of respondents specified the cost of gasoline.

For the record: This item has been updated to remove an incorrect reference to Sen. Melissa Hurtado voting on the Assembly gas tax bill.

2 Bills go marching on

Lawmakers on the Assembly floor on Jan. 31, 2022. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters

It wasn’t all for naught in the Capitol on Wednesday. Hardly. Friday marks the deadline for bills to make it out of their house of origin. Busy lawmakers sent hundreds of bills on their merry way. 

Some will be dispatched by less-friendly legislators in the other chamber. Others will make it to the governor’s desk. Many will even become law.

Here are are few notable bills that lived to see another day on Wednesday:

3 Uninsurable despite ‘absolutely everything’

Ashley Raveche stands in her front yard thinking about wildfire danger for her neighborhood in Mill Valley on May 20, 2022. Photo by Nina Riggio for CalMatters

Ashley Raveche says she did “absolutely everything” she possibly could to harden her single-family home in fire-prone Mill Valley. Installing new windows and cutting down four trees were among the investments she and her husband made, coming with a price tag of more than $10,000.

Even so, last February their insurance company sent them a letter informing them that they would be ending their home insurance policy citing an “unacceptable” risk.

As CalMatters economy reporter Grace Gedye explains, amid a warming climate and deepening drought, hundreds of thousands of California families are getting similar notices in the mail. 

That includes a former state insurance commissioner. No, really. Read the story to find out who.

Though the California Department of Insurance is preparing to step in with new regulations that would require insurance companies to take fire-hardening measures into account when setting prices and to be more transparent about their decision-making, some consumer advocates say that doesn’t go far enough. 

  • Consumer Watchdog executive director Carmen Balber: A homeowner could literally rebuild their home in concrete, in the middle of a concrete field, and still be non-renewed by an insurance company

If the title “Insurance Commissioner” sounds familiar to you, it might be because you spotted it on your ballot. This year, Californians will decide on whether or not to rehire incumbent Democrat Ricardo Lara. His chief competitor, Democratic Assemblymember Marc Levine from San Rafael, has made non-renewals amid worsening wildfires his top campaign issue.

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CalMatters Commentary


CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Don’t be fooled by the big budget surplus. Fiscal troubles could be here sooner than you think.

Other things worth your time


Some stories may require a subscription to read

Kamala Harris had a plan for executive action on guns. Biden hasn’t adopted it // San Francisco Chronicle 

With Angel stadium deal on hold amid corruption probe, Long Beach makes its move  // OC Register

Speaking of SoCal corruption: A brief history // LAist

Here we go again. Is it time to mask up again? // Los Angeles Times

Terrific. California’s rattlesnake population is booming // SFGate

Another abuse allegation leveled against former Sacramento Christian school teacher // Sacramento Bee

A.G. Bonta shutters Orange County gambling dens // Associated Press

Gustavo Arellano: “When it’s one of your own killing their own kind, then what?” // Los Angeles Times

Tribal communities ask state to protect the Delta // Fox40

The daring rescue of two marooned donkeys by a former NASCAR driver // Fresno Bee

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