Concealed carry fiasco hangs over Capitol
A dispatch from me and CalMatters political reporter Ben Christopher: Legislative Republicans called Tuesday for an independent state audit to find out “what in the world happened” when the California Department of Justice briefly published the personal identifying information of more than 240,000 concealed carry weapon license applicants late last month.
- Assemblymember Jim Patterson, a Fresno Republican: “There is no more private information that the Department of Justice and the Attorney General has in their possession than information about people who thought themselves at serious enough risk that they were able to demonstrate an outright need for (a concealed carry gun permit).”
The state Department of Justice on June 27 published an online web tool designed to show aggregate gun-related statistics, but that also allowed users to download a database containing the names, home addresses and other personal data of more than 240,000 concealed carry license applicants — including at least 140 current and former judges.
The dashboard was taken down within 24 hours of being published and remains offline three weeks later, along with other public data maintained by the department. The agency is directly contacting those affected and offering them free credit monitoring.
Democratic Attorney General Rob Bonta called the data release “unacceptable” and announced an internal investigation. Last week, he pledged that he would “be holding folks accountable, appropriately.”
Few details of the internal investigation have been made public. However, the department in a July 8 newsletter — a product on which Bonta’s office spent nearly $205,000 in taxpayer funds to reach millions of voters ahead of last month’s primary election, according to a Sacramento Bee investigation — said Bonta on July 6 had secured outside counsel Morrison & Foerster LLP.
According to a web page linked in the newsletter, the team, composed of former state and federal prosecutors, will “investigate how this exposure occurred; supervise an outside forensic cyber expert to examine the data and what happened from a digital perspective; review DOJ policies and practices; and offer recommendations on mitigation, remedial steps, and other appropriate measures.”
Outside groups have already gone to court to find out more. On July 1, the National Association for Gun Rights — a rival advocacy group to the National Rifle Association — filed a class-action lawsuit against Bonta. On Monday, an Inland Empire attorney filed his own lawsuit, in part “to get discovery about how the leak happened,” the Press-Enterprise reported.
Patterson, a member of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, said he wants “an independent set of eyes” to investigate. But first he’ll need the buy-in of two Democrats who lead the committee, Assemblymember Rudy Salas of Bakersfield and state Sen. John Laird of Monterey.
Under the rules of the committee, any member can submit an audit request during the Legislature’s summer recess, as long as the audit itself costs less than $190,000. But there are plenty of ways to kill the effort: First, the chairperson and vice-chairperson have to sign off. Then, before the request is sent to the state auditor’s office, every committee member is given five days to offer their veto, which they can do secretly.
Neither Salas nor Laird responded to CalMatters’ requests for comment.
The audit request comes at a particularly politically sensitive time for both Bonta, who’s running for reelection a little more than a year after he was appointed to the position by Gov. Gavin Newsom, and for Salas, a moderate Democrat hoping to unseat GOP Rep. David Valadao in one of California’s most competitive congressional districts.
Valadao — the only member of California’s Republican House delegation who voted to impeach former President Donald Trump — was among six Golden State GOP representatives who voted Tuesday to establish federal protections for gay marriage.
The coronavirus bottom line: As of Monday, California had 9,752,509 confirmed cases (+0.8% from previous day) and 92,292 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.
Other Stories You Should Know
1 Covered California to see largest rate increase in years
Premiums for health insurance plans sold through the state’s marketplace will increase by an average of 6% next year — the largest rate hike since 2019, Covered California officials announced Tuesday. The uptick is mostly due to people resuming doctor visits and procedures postponed during the pandemic; rising inflation rates; and the potential loss of federal subsidies set to expire at the end of the year, CalMatters’ Ana B. Ibarra reports. Covered California has estimated that if the federal government doesn’t renew those subsidies, approximately 1 million of the 1.7 million Californians who buy their coverage through the state marketplace will see their premiums double and 220,000 would likely drop their coverage — pushing premiums up even more. The state will spend $304 million to reduce Covered California premiums if Congress doesn’t renew the aid, but that won’t come close to replacing the $1.7 billion in annual federal subsidies, said Jessica Altman, Covered California’s executive director.
The news comes as California seeks to simultaneously expand access to health care while driving down costs.
- The state on July 1 increased the asset limit that had previously restricted some older and disabled Californians from qualifying for Medi-Cal, the state’s health insurance program for the poor. Previously, residents couldn’t have more than $2,000 in the bank. The maximum for an individual is now $130,000, plus an additional $65,000 for each household member; the asset limit is set to be eliminated entirely on Jan. 1, 2024.
- It’s expanding Medi-Cal access to all income-eligible residents, regardless of immigration status.
- It’s launching a new Office of Health Care Affordability to slow the rate of growth of health care costs.
- It’s working to develop its own low-cost insulin.
2 State weighs tough pesticide restrictions
What in the world are neonicotinoids? It turns out they’re a relatively new class of pesticides — inspired by the toxicity of nicotine — used in the agricultural industry to kill plant-damaging pests like aphids. But they also harm bees, birds and other creatures, and California’s pesticide agency is proposing to restrict their use with what would be among the nation’s most extensive regulations, CalMatters’ Rachel Becker reports. Although the proposed rules have been applauded by some environmental advocates — even as they say tighter measures are needed to address the chemicals’ risks — growers warn the restrictions could hamstring their power to protect crops and cause even worse outcomes for bees. Meanwhile, the state agriculture department expects costs will rise due to the price of replacement pesticides.
Separately, state lawmakers are weighing a bill to restrict the non-agricultural use of neonicotinoids, including in gardens and commercial landscapes like golf courses — which accounts for 15 to 20% of the pesticides’ known use in California. Other states have already banned the chemicals in households and neighborhoods, according to Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan, the San Ramon Democrat who authored the bill.
- Bauer-Kahan: “We’re not leading the way. We’ve got to get our act together!”
3 A win for YIGBYs
Among the stack of bills Newsom signed into law Tuesday was a win for the “Yes in God’s Backyard” movement, which has been pushing state lawmakers to allow churches and other religious institutions to build affordable housing on their land in an attempt to mitigate California’s housing crisis. The bill from Democratic Assemblymember Buffy Wicks of Oakland permits developers of new churches to slash the number of required parking spaces in half if they also build housing. “Excited to see the new homes they build! #YIGBY,” Wicks tweeted.
However, another YIGBY bill from Democratic state Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco, which would have made it easier for religious organizations to build housing by removing local zoning restrictions, appears to have stalled for the year. Wiener shelved a similar bill in 2020 amid opposition from the state’s powerful union of construction workers, which argued it didn’t contain enough job protections. Wiener is expected to reintroduce the bill in December, ahead of the start of the next legislative session.
CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Was Gavin Newsom running for president last week?
California wants to help you buy your first home: The state is shelling out seed money for an ambitious new program to help first-time homebuyers afford a place to live, writes California State Treasurer Fiona Ma and Micah Weinberg, CEO of California Forward.
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