A plethora of private meetings
Today, California lawmakers are preparing to hold a series of high-stakes meetings — behind closed doors.
The Assembly Legislative Ethics Committee — a bipartisan panel of three Democrats and three Republicans — is scheduled to meet privately to consider a complaint brought against a legislator or other public officer or employee, according to the legal code cited in the meeting notice.
It is the first time the committee has met since June 27, 2019, said Katie Talbot, a spokesperson for Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon.
In order for the committee to hold a hearing, it must first find that the “verified complaint does allege facts … sufficient to constitute a violation of any standard of conduct” and then conduct a preliminary investigation that determines “reasonable cause exists for believing the allegations of the complaint,” according to the Standing Rules of the Assembly.
- Veteran Sacramento lobbyist Chris Micheli told me: “It’s unique because the Legislative Ethics Committee rarely meets. In fact, they haven’t met since 2019. And this is the first time that they are meeting during the current two-year session as the session wraps up in barely three weeks. And the other unique aspect of it is that they are considering a complaint against a public official. We don’t know who that public official or employee is, and that’s why they’re meeting in closed session.”
- Adam Silver, the committee’s chief counsel, wrote in an email: “Information and records related to complaints received by the Ethics Committee are deemed confidential under the Standing Rules of the Assembly.”
- However, some information will eventually become public, according to the Standing Rules: If the committee dismisses the complaint, that’s a public record — and if the committee finds that the respondent violated any standard of conduct, it will submit a report to the Assembly along with a resolution including recommendations for disciplinary action.
The office of Democratic Assemblymember Akilah Weber of San Diego, who is co-chairperson of the committee, did not respond to a request for comment. Republican Assemblymember Jordan Cunningham of San Luis Obispo, the other co-chairperson, declined to comment.
Also today, the Joint Legislative Audit Committee is set to embark on the first of two days of closed meetings to discuss candidates for California’s next state auditor, according to online meeting notices.
Once the committee selects the three final candidates — a process staffers said may or may not happen this week — it will send those names to Gov. Gavin Newsom, who will then appoint the next leader of the independent agency tasked with evaluating the performance of his own administration.
California has been without a permanent state auditor since the beginning of the year following the retirement of Elaine Howle, who stepped down after leading the office for 21 years. The office has continued to churn out blistering reports under Acting State Auditor Michael Tilden, who recently released an audit slamming the state water board for failing to urgently provide assistance to systems serving unsafe drinking water to nearly 1 million Californians.
The coronavirus bottom line: As of Thursday, California had 10,024,326 confirmed cases (+0.4% from previous day) and 93,056 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 Jobless benefits too hard to get, report finds
“People should get fired for this.” That was Fresno Republican Assemblymember Jim Patterson’s response to a scathing Monday report from the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office that found California’s embattled unemployment department delayed payments for roughly 5 million workers amid the pandemic and improperly denied them for likely 1 million more. The report found that the Employment Development Department put a higher priority on reducing costs and preventing fraud than on making benefits available to workers, resulting in hundreds of thousands of backlogged claims, jammed phone lines and and account freezes that blocked many desperate Californians from the funds they needed to stay afloat — even as the agency paid out at least $20 billion in fraudulent claims, including nearly $1 billion to prison and jail inmates.
CalMatters’ Grace Gedye breaks down other key takeaways from the report:
- More than half of California’s unemployment benefit denials are overturned on appeal, meaning those workers should have gotten the benefits in the first place.
- In reports to the Legislature, EDD mischaracterized how many claims it was disqualifying or denying. From the start of the pandemic through June 20, 2021, EDD reported disqualifying or denying 705,000 claims — when it had actually disqualified at least 3.4 million. About 78% of the 200,000 workers who appealed won their claims.
- EDD disqualified about 1 in 4 unemployment benefits claims during the pandemic for failing to respond to requests for additional information — or because it wasn’t able to process the additional information provided in the allotted time frame.
Michael Bernick, a former EDD director who is now special counsel with law firm Duane Morris, countered that many of the anti-fraud measures blamed for slowing down payments are required by the federal government. And EDD spokesperson Gareth Lacy said that many of the legislative analyst’s recommendations, “such as limiting improper claim denials and minimizing delays, have been incorporated into EDD actions over the past year.”
2 California, Texas make bounty hunting new again
If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em: After the U.S. Supreme Court declined to block a Texas law allowing private citizens to sue abortion clinics and anyone who “aids or abets” the procedure after about six weeks of pregnancy and collect at least $10,000 per infraction, Newsom responded with a proposal — which he recently signed into law — permitting private Californians to collect the same sum of money for successfully suing anyone who manufactures, distributes or sells certain illegal guns. Both of these laws essentially transfer law enforcement authority from the state to individual people — and in so doing add to a long, fraught history of bounty hunting in the United States, CalMatters’ Nigel Duara reports.
- Randy Beck, a professor at the University of Georgia School of Law: “There’s a good reason that legislators have stopped using them, and … I’m worried that a bunch of legislators are repeating history that we don’t want to repeat. … It becomes kind of part of this culture war, one state retaliating against another state. These things are not good in practice.”
CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: The University of California is requiring candidates for faculty employment or promotion to write statements declaring their active support of “diversity, equity and inclusion.”
California needs to come together on homelessness: County officials have had enough of the state’s fragmented homeless services system, the local finger-pointing and the lack of accountability, argues Chuck Washington, first vice president of the California State Association of Counties.
Drought requires new strategies for managing cropland: Careful planning, research and development, and incentives can help San Joaquin Valley residents avoid the worst consequences of land fallowing — and perhaps even bring benefits to a region in transition, write Andrew Ayres and Caitlin Peterson of the Public Policy Institute of California Water Policy Center.
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A quarter of San Francisco public school students were chronically absent last year. // San Francisco Examiner
Many Bay Area school board meetings are back in person, but not all are allowing parents to participate remotely. // Mercury News
1 million Californians eligible for federal student loan relief, but only 10,000 reimbursed, lawmakers say. // KCRA
Nearly two-thirds of L.A.’s $1 billion in COVID relief funding went to police and firefighters’ salaries. // LA Taco
‘Nowhere is safe’: California highway shootings double in two years, data reveals. // The Guardian
Driver in fiery Los Angeles crash that killed 5 charged with murder. // ABC News
Anne Heche in coma following fiery Mar Vista crash, faces possible slew of charges. // KTLA
Grand jury investigating L.A. County Sheriff’s Department handling of deputy who knelt on inmate’s head. // Los Angeles Times
S.F. D.A. Brooke Jenkins officially running to keep job in November. // San Francisco Chronicle
14 Starbucks stores have now unionized in California. // Los Angeles Times
California child care providers fight to ‘retire with dignity.’ // Los Angeles Times
As downtown recovery lags, a tangle of business taxes encourages work from home. // San Francisco Standard
United, pilots notch wins in California wage statement dispute. // Bloomberg Law
San Francisco quietly retreated on contract tracing for monkeypox weeks ago. // Mercury News
First case of suspected monkeypox ID’d in S.F. jail, outraging COVID-weary staff. // San Francisco Standard
Billionaire Marc Andreessen says he’s all for more new housing, but public records tell a different story. // The Atlantic
Why is Lyft funding California Proposition 30 on electric cars? // San Francisco Chronicle
Why companies that clean scalpels and IVs are now in California’s crosshairs. // Daily News
In dry California, salty water creeps into key waterways. // Associated Press
Poseidon failed to start wetlands restoration on time, says Coastal Commission. // San Diego Union-Tribune
How young Californians are dealing with climate anxiety. // Los Angeles Times
McKinney Fire: ‘Very respected,’ decades-long Forest Service fire lookout among four people killed. // Mercury News
McKinney Fire: With lives at stake, did alert system work properly? // Mercury News