Buckle up for a busy month in Sacramento
Welcome to the final countdown.
Today, state lawmakers will reconvene in Sacramento after a month-long summer recess — during which some traveled abroad on trips funded by special interest groups that lobby them on various issues — for the final, frenzied month of the legislative session.
Legislators face an Aug. 31 deadline to determine the fate of hundreds of bills. Hanging over the high-intensity process is the Nov. 8 general election, which could affect how some lawmakers — especially those vying for contested seats in the state Assembly and Senate — vote on hot-button proposals.
In a preview of the difficult decisions facing lawmakers, hundreds of fast food workers were set to rally at the state Capitol Sunday night in support of a bill that would permit the state to negotiate wages, hours and work conditions for an industry that employs an estimated 700,000 people. A similar measure failed to pass last year.
The proposal, backed by labor unions and opposed by business and restaurant groups, has divided Democrats, some of whom are wary of broadly extending liability for labor violations from fast food franchise owners to the corporate chains they work with, CalMatters reporter Jeanne Kuang notes.
But that’s just one of the many controversial bills before lawmakers, some of which face votes as soon as today. Here’s a look at some of the key bills CalMatters is watching, broken down by subject area:
- Abortion. With California voters deciding in November whether to enshrine the right to abortion and contraception in the state constitution, lawmakers are considering more than a dozen bills to increase access and strengthen protections. Perhaps the most contentious proposal is Oakland Democratic Assemblymember Buffy Wicks’ to prevent women from being held civilly or criminally liable for their pregnancy outcomes. Opponents have argued the bill would legalize infanticide, which Wicks says is categorically false.
- Guns. Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling dramatically expanding gun rights, Democratic lawmakers countered with a bill they said would comply with the opinion while also making California’s concealed carry law more restrictive. If passed, it’s all but certain to be hit with legal challenges from gun rights groups.
- COVID. Legislators still have to determine the fate of some of the most contentious bills introduced by Democrats’ vaccine working group, including proposals to allow kids 15 and older to get vaccinated without parental consent and another to categorize doctors’ “dissemination of misinformation or disinformation” related to COVID-19 as unprofessional conduct.
- Housing and homelessness. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s contentious proposal to force severely mentally ill Californians into treatment and housing is facing critical votes, as is a bill that aims to increase affordable housing construction but has divided influential labor groups.
- Nursing homes. Lawmakers will consider a bill to reform California’s nursing home licensing system, whose sponsors say it was watered down so severely they can no longer support it. After a CalMatters investigation last year, legislators warned that “people are dying as we wait.”
- Labor and workplace. Legislators have quite a few high-profile labor bills on their hands, including one to allow their own staffers to unionize and another to force companies to publicly disclose more data about pay gaps. They will also decide, after two Newsom vetoes last year, whether to allow farmworkers to vote by mail in union elections and to increase payments from the state’s paid family leave program so more low-wage workers can take time off to care for a newborn child or sick family member.
- Criminal justice. Amid an ongoing debate over criminal justice reform, legislators will consider a proposal to block prisons, jails and private immigration detention centers from holding people in solitary confinement for more than 15 consecutive days. They’ll also decide whether to limit prosecutors’ ability to seek either the death penalty or life without parole for accomplices in certain felony murders who neither killed nor intended to kill.
- Environment. Not long after Newsom signed a law requiring all single-use packaging and foodware to be recyclable, reusable, refillable or compostable by 2030, lawmakers will determine whether to force online retailers to reduce the use of single-use plastics such as bubble wrap and styrofoam peanuts.
- Internet and tech. The Capitol is bracing for a showdown over a pair of bills — both of which are facing intense pushback from the tech industry — to significantly expand kids’ privacy rights online and to allow public prosecutors to hold social media companies civilly liable for intentionally addicting youth. Lawmakers will also decide whether to slap regulations on the cryptocurrency industry. The votes come as some legislators are set to gather with tech lobbyists later this week at a Napa Valley resort for a two-day event billed by organizers as the Technology Policy Summit.
The coronavirus bottom line: As of Thursday, California had 9,922,718 confirmed cases (+0.5% from previous day) and 92,763 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.
Other Stories You Should Know
1 McKinney Fire erupts near Oregon border
California has a new biggest wildfire of the year in town: the McKinney Fire in Siskiyou County, near the California-Oregon border. Since igniting Friday amid record-high triple-digit temperatures and thunderstorm-fueled winds, the blaze has burned through more than 51,000 acres of bone-dry fuel in the Klamath National Forest and remained 0% contained as of Sunday afternoon. The McKinney Fire has already exploded in size past the Oak Fire, which ignited the prior Friday near Yosemite and was at the time California’s largest wildfire of the season. As of Sunday, the Oak Fire had burned more than 19,000 acres and was 64% contained.
Newsom on Saturday declared a state of emergency for Siskiyou County to help accelerate the state and local response to the McKinney Fire, which is threatening hundreds of structures and has prompted evacuation orders for some 3,000 residents. Dozens of hikers were also evacuated from a stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail impacted by the fire.
Weather forecasts show thunderstorms, dry lightning, high temperatures and gusty winds could continue pummeling Siskiyou County through today, potentially fueling the flames. “The whole fire triangle is in effect — heat, fuels and wind,” Caroline Quintanilla, a public information officer for the Klamath National Forest, told the Los Angeles Times. Meanwhile, some light rain sprinkled the Bay Area on Sunday ahead of isolated thunderstorms forecast for today, which could spark fires if accompanied by lightning.
2 A mixed water conservation picture
From CalMatters water reporter Rachel Becker: Newsom met with top officials from water suppliers around California on Friday, two months after admonishing them for paltry conservation amid the state’s ongoing drought.
This time, the tone was decidedly different: The Newsom administration’s recap of the meeting says nothing about mandatory restrictions. Instead, it celebrates a 7.5% drop in water use in June compared to two years ago, based on preliminary reports from water systems serving 95% of the population. That reduction, however, still falls far short of the 15% cuts Newsom asked of Californians last July.
- Newsom: “We are heading in the right direction but we need local water providers to do more to not only save water, but to help the state manage and increase supply as rain and snowfall become less reliable.”
- Adel Hagekhalil, general manager of the massive Metropolitan Water District that serves 19 million people in Southern California: “I think we’re on the right direction. … I’ll leave it up to (Newsom) to decide how he sees it. But I think what he saw was a lot of hard work.”
- Hagekhalil said his agency has seen a 35% reduction in water use compared to projections in regions where its board approved unprecedented restrictions for 6 million people.
But other California water watchers — including 68% of adults, according to a recent Public Policy Institute of California poll — say tougher measures at both the state and local levels are needed.
- Peter Gleick, co-founder of the Pacific Institute, a global water think tank: “The target of a 15% reduction just isn’t being met. More aggressive local actions are needed, as are new statewide actions to deal with the ongoing drought.”
3 State releases monkeypox data for first time
Amid mounting concern over the spread of monkeypox and calls for California to declare a state of emergency, state health officials on Friday released the first public breakdown of the 786 reported probable and confirmed cases so far. Among the key takeaways from the cases for which demographic information is available:
- Men make up more than 98% of cases.
- Gay and lesbian people account for nearly 92% of cases, followed by bisexual people at 5.6% and heterosexual people at 2%.
- White people comprise 44.8% of cases, followed by Hispanic and Latino residents at 35.8%, Black Californians at 8.7% and Asian people at 6.1%.
- Nearly 75% of cases have occurred in Californians between the ages of 25 and 44.
- 11 people have been hospitalized due to monkeypox, and no one has died.
State Public Health Officer Tomás Aragón said in a statement that his team is “committed to fighting stigma against the LGBTQ community. … No single individual or community is to blame for the spread of any virus. Monkeypox can affect anyone and it spreads by skin-to-skin contact, as well as from sharing items like clothing, bedding and towels.”
- The department also said Friday that while it works to obtain more vaccines, more than 30 facilities and providers can now administer an antiviral prescription drug for those who have already contracted monkeypox. The state also now has the capacity to process more than 1,000 monkeypox tests a week, the agency said.
In other virus news: COVID reinfections — when someone who recovered from a previous COVID infection tests positive again — accounted for 1 in 7 of California’s new cases reported through the first three weeks of July, with more than 50,000 documented reinfections, according to California Department of Public Health data shared for the first time with the Mercury News. “It begs for a new research agenda to understand the risk factors” for people who are repeatedly reinfected, said Dr. Robert Wachter, chair of UCSF’s Department of Medicine.
CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: California is pressuring cities to adopt pro-housing policies, including quotas on zoning residential land. But some cities are seeking escape routes.
California should amp up goals for offshore wind: The future of the Golden State’s energy supply and our ability to wean ourselves off fossil-fuel-generated power could hinge on the California Energy Commission’s goal for offshore wind energy production, writes Terry Tamminen, CEO of AltaSea.
Other things worth your time
L.A. Unified estimates tens of thousands of students are missing from back-to-school rosters. // Los Angeles Times
Judge strikes down San Francisco law allowing noncitizen parents to vote in school board elections. // San Francisco Standard
Alameda County sued by anti-affirmative action group over public contracts policy. // Mercury News
UC Berkeley can move forward with $312 million housing plan at People’s Park, judge rules. // San Francisco Chronicle
California cities have millions for affordable housing. The difficulty is spending it. // Courthouse News
You need at least 3 minimum-wage jobs to rent in the Bay Area. // Mercury News
Silicon Valley lurches between deep cuts and bold spending. // Wall Street Journal
California exodus continues: L.A., San Francisco lead the way. // Los Angeles Times
Starbucks scales back in Los Angeles. // New Yorker
Inside Amazon’s plan to combat the Teamsters in California. // Vox
5 patients cost $4 million in ambulance rides: City’s struggling behavioral health system exposed in hearing. // San Francisco Chronicle
Transgender people in California are far more likely to be stopped by police because of ‘reasonable suspicion,’ state report finds. // San Francisco Chronicle
S.F. supes president allegedly used racial slur while berating cadet at City Hall security check. // San Francisco Chronicle
California House Republicans, usually in step, split on same-sex marriage as November nears. // Sacramento Bee
National Republicans aim to help Lanhee Chen break California GOP losing streak. // Washington Examiner
Californians donate big to Republican Trump foe Liz Cheney. // Los Angeles Times
DOJ accuses Russian operative of conspiring with U.S. groups, including in California, to push propaganda. // Politico
White House to give California as much as $631 million to bolster infrastructure against climate change. // Sacramento Bee
Why two California wildfires in the Sierra Nevada had very different outcomes. // Los Angeles Times
California not counting methane leaks from idle wells. // Associated Press
When there’s arsenic in the California water, but ‘we have nowhere to go.’ // New York Times
California banned the sale of kangaroo leather years ago. Lawsuits contest its continued presence. // Los Angeles Times