In California, the calm before the legislative storm

Your guide to California policy and politics
Emily Hoeven BY Emily Hoeven August 24, 2022
Presented by UCLA Latino Policy & Politics Institute, Western States Petroleum Association, FIX PAGA: A Better, Fairer Way for Workers and Climate-Smart Agricultural Partnership

In California, the calm before the legislative storm

Hurry up, and wait / So close, but so far away.

The opening lines from Jordin Sparks’ motivational song “One Step At A Time” also describe the buildup heading into the final stretch of the legislative session, which ends one week from today: Although state lawmakers are holding daily floor votes as they work their way through a stack of nearly 1,000 bills, many of the most controversial proposals either have yet to come up or are facing possibly substantial revisions — heightening anticipation for and raising the stakes of their final outcomes.

Do-or-die decisions could literally come down to the last minute: In 2020, amid a frenzy of fraying tempers and COVID complications, the state Assembly ran out of time to vote on some of the session’s highest-profile housing and criminal justice bills — and the state Senate bickered over whether the last proposal it approved had actually beaten the buzzer.

While we wait in the (relative) calm before this year’s storm, here’s a look at a few of the contentious issues burbling on the stove:

Climate. As Gov. Gavin Newsom and Democratic state lawmakers tussle over competing proposals to shore up California’s energy grid and how to spend $13 billion in climate and energy funding, some of Newsom’s last-minute climate asks have cleared their first legislative hurdles. Bill language was published Tuesday to accelerate greenhouse gas emissions cuts, a previously dead bill to codify California’s goal of achieving carbon neutrality no later than 2045 was revived, and negotiations over finding legislative vehicles for the governor’s other proposals are ongoing. While some environmental advocacy groups rallied outside the state Capitol Tuesday in support of the proposed climate action, a coalition of business groups pushed back: “Rushing policies that will impact every aspect of California’s trillion-dollar economy through the Legislature at the end of session and without time for a thorough debate addressing reliability, affordability and equity is the wrong approach,” the coalition, which includes the California Business Roundtable and California Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement.

Farmworker unionization. Lawmakers have amended a contentious bill — a version of which Newsom vetoed last year — that would allow farmworkers to vote remotely in union elections, CalMatters’ Jeanne Kuang reports. The bill, which is awaiting a vote in the Senate, now gives agricultural employers the option of a union election — during which workers could choose to vote by mail — or a simpler process known as a “card check,” in which a majority of workers sign up indicating they want union representation. If growers choose the election, they must agree to maintain neutrality, and workers would no longer be able to hand in their ballots to a union representative — a response to employers’ complaints that the bill would give unions undue influence. The bill also now includes a provision to sunset the new rules after five years. Elizabeth Strater, a spokesperson for the United Farm Workers union, said the amendments reflect “a workable compromise” after meetings between the union, Newsom’s office and Assemblymember Mark Stone, the Santa Cruz Democrat authoring the bill. The union is on its third week of a 355-mile march from Delano to Sacramento to demand Newsom sign the bill, and is expected to arrive at the state Capitol on Friday.

Nursing workforce. The Board of Registered Nursing, which oversees the licensing of registered nurses in California, is seeking to extend its authority over nursing school class sizes as part of a bill granting the board its regulatory power for the next five years. But opponents of the measure — primarily private nursing school programs — are lobbying for a last-minute amendment to strip the board of this power, CalMatters health reporter Kristen Hwang writes.

  • The bill currently gives the board the authority to require nursing schools to get board approval to increase class sizes by just one student. Most (but not all) board members say this is necessary to ensure schools produce quality graduates and expansion doesn’t displace existing students or strain the hospital staff who train them.
  • But opponents say that schools — not appointed board members — are the best judge of enrollment capacity and argue the proposed regulations would hamper their ability to meet student and workforce demands.
  • California faces a shortage of nearly 41,000 nurses over the next five years, according to a UCSF study based on the nursing board’s own data. Workforce shortages have only worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic, with some facilities reporting 20% turnover among all health care staff.
  • And the board’s own study indicates that although the number of nursing school applicants has increased substantially in the past decade, class sizes have largely remained unchanged. During the 2020-21 school year, 74% of qualified applications were denied.

The coronavirus bottom line: As of Monday, California had 10,211,889 confirmed cases (+0.4% from previous day) and 93,843 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 79,368,117 vaccine doses, and 71.9% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.


1 Secretive health care deal collapses

Members of the SEIU strike outside of the Department of Social Services in San Jose, on Oct. 2, 2019. Photo by Randy Vazquez, Bay Area News Group
SEIU members strike outside of the Department of Social Services in San Jose on Oct. 2, 2019. Photo by Randy Vazquez, Bay Area News Group

Well, that fizzled out quickly: A backroom deal to delay costly, legally mandated seismic upgrades to hospital facilities while raising the minimum wage for some health care employees to as much as $25 per hour met its doom Tuesday, not long after it was made public. The secretive proposal — the fruit of an unlikely alliance between the powerful California Hospital Association and Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West, an influential union of health care workers — had been met with fierce opposition from other labor groups, who said it amounted to “trading wages for patient safety.”

In a Tuesday statement announcing the deal’s collapse, SEIU-UHW accused the hospital association of demanding “a loophole that would have allowed hospitals to evade the new minimum wage by outsourcing or moving work to other facilities” and said it had “refused to commit to using properly trained construction workers to ensure safety in seismic upgrades of their facilities.” The union said it would continue to push lawmakers to approve a statewide minimum wage for health care workers — or put the issue before voters with a statewide ballot measure, a political tactic of which it seems particularly fond.

  • Jan Emerson-Shea, vice president of external affairs for the California Hospital Association, told CalMatters health reporter Ana B. Ibarra in a statement: “Proposed legislation to address two critical issues — reform of the 2030 hospital seismic mandate and a thoughtful approach to increasing wages for health care workers — was unable to make it over the finish line. These are both big, important issues that must be addressed — but with the end of the legislative session only a week away — we just simply ran out of time this year.”

2 Voters give Newsom good marks

Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks in front of the site where City of Antioch Brakish Water Desalination Project is being built in Antioch on Aug. 11, 2022. Photo by Martin do Nascimento
Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks in front of the City of Antioch Brakish Water Desalination Project build site on Aug. 11, 2022. Photo by Martin do Nascimento, CalMatters

More than half of California’s registered voters, 52%, say the state is heading in the wrong direction — ironically, the same percentage who say they would prefer to see Newsom reelected as governor over his Republican challenger, state Sen. Brian Dahle of Bieber, according to a Tuesday poll from UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies and the Los Angeles Times. Indeed, despite their overall pessimism about California’s path, 53% of voters said they approve of Newsom’s job performance, compared to 42% who disapprove. That’s a significant improvement from February 2021, when just 46% of surveyed voters said they approved of Newsom’s job performance, compared to 48% who disapproved.

The survey comes on the heels of another from the Institute of Governmental Studies that found 25% of California’s Democratic primary voters would name Newsom as either their first or second choice for the party’s presidential nominee should President Joe Biden not seek reelection in 2024 — putting him ahead of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Vice President Kamala Harris, both of whom received 18%.

  • Although the survey is in many ways speculative — Biden has repeatedly said he plans to seek reelection in 2024, while Newsom has denied interest in the Oval Office even as he continues to build his national profile — it underscores that the majority of Californians are unimpressed with the status quo: 61% of registered voters, including 46% of Democrats, oppose Biden running for a second term.

And, although 71% of California voters oppose former President Donald Trump launching another presidential bid, 66% of the state’s registered Republicans said they would support such a move. California GOP voters also showed strong support for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis: 27% said he was their top pick for the party’s 2024 presidential nominee, trailing only Trump at 38%. But, if Trump is removed from the candidate list, support for DeSantis rises to 53%. The Florida governor is set to visit California next month for a high-profile, high-dollar fundraiser for his reelection campaign, the Los Angeles Times reports.


CalMatters Commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Newsom just dropped his strongest hint yet that he may be considering a presidential run.

San Diego County and its 18 cities support CARE Court: Newsom’s proposal represents a new opportunity to help a small but highly visible segment of our homeless population — people who do not have the support they need to properly manage their mental health and get on a better path, write Todd Gloria, mayor of San Diego, and Nathan Fletcher, chairperson of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors.


Other things worth your time

Some stories may require a subscription to read

California to protect health benefits for young undocumented immigrants. // Associated Press

Tesla must face California’s ‘rampant’ workplace racism suit. // Bloomberg

Employers couldn’t fire workers for off-site cannabis use under California bill. // San Francisco Chronicle

California rap lyrics bill heads to Newsom for signature. // Billboard

Frustration after bilingual education bill dies in state Assembly. // EdSource

Why is SFUSD spending nearly $100 million to build a new school despite families fleeing the district? // San Francisco Chronicle

Did California Democrat’s campaign ads give Proud Boy school board candidate a boost? // Sacramento Bee

They can’t run for Oakland mayor after all — and say city officials are to blame. // Oaklandside

Paul Pelosi gets 5 days in jail, 3 years of probation in DUI. // Associated Press

In wake of FBI corruption probe, Angels baseball owner says he might sell team. // Voice of OC

Yolo County DA: 70% of those released on $0 bail re-arrested. // Sacramento Bee

Controversial half-billion dollar jail contract in Santa Clara County on the chopping block. // Mercury News

Mayor says 8 Antioch police officers on leave in investigation of alleged ‘crimes of moral turpitude.’ // Mercury News

Brink’s driver was asleep inside truck during multimillion-dollar jewelry heist. // Los Angeles Times

Sheriff’s computer crash leaves defendants who should have been released stuck in L.A. County jail. // Los Angeles Times

The surprising reason why this posh Beverly Hills boutique says it banned COVID masks: Crime. // Los Angeles Times

This power line could save California — and forever change the American West. // Los Angeles Times

California’s water from Colorado River could be crippled by a big earthquake. // Los Angeles Times

This city manager wants California to prepare for a megastorm before it’s too late. // KQED

To fight wildfire, California gets a surprising solution: a new windmill. // Bloomberg

California’s timber industry is calling on the military to help control fires. // Washington Post

Lawsuit: Electrical equipment sparked deadly California fire. // Associated Press

Toyota quits fight against California car emission rules. // Los Angeles Times

Most Texans pay more in taxes than Californians, data suggests. // Houston Chronicle

CalMatters’ newest staff members work across operations, development, audio and youth journalism. // CalMatters

See you tomorrow


Tips, insight or feedback? Email emily@calmatters.org.

Follow me on Twitter: @emily_hoeven

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