A day of surprises at the Capitol
With a midnight Friday deadline to determine the fate of hundreds of bills on his desk, Gov. Gavin Newsom has been a busy man.
On Wednesday, Newsom unexpectedly showed up at the vigil that members of the United Farm Workers union have been holding outside the state Capitol since late August, when they completed a 355-mile march to Sacramento urging him to sign a bill that would make it easier for farmworkers to vote in union elections — and signed it.
The move came as a surprise to many Capitol onlookers, given that Newsom’s office had repeatedly said the governor was opposed to the bill as written. But strong pressure from President Joe Biden and prominent Latino labor leaders may have helped change his mind, along with a deal Newsom struck with key unions to pass legislation next year containing “clarifying language” to address some of the governor’s concerns around implementation and voting integrity. CalMatters’ Jeanne Kuang has more on what that means and the significance of Newsom’s signature.
Newsom’s Sacramento bill signing came after a morning trip to San Francisco, where he gave his stamp of approval to a package of housing bills that includes two complementary proposals to make it easier to build housing on land zoned for commercial use. Before signing the bills, Newsom described housing affordability as California’s “original sin,” vowing that this marked the moment “not to give the same speech and expect the same applause, but to begin to do something about it.”
- Also in the housing package: a bill to exempt public college and university housing from the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act, the state’s landmark environmental protection law. The bill aims to address California’s chronic student housing crisis by blocking developments from being hit with environmental lawsuits that in the past have slowed down dorm construction and almost capped enrollment at UC Berkeley.
That’s not all: Newsom signed additional stacks of bills Wednesday, including a host of water and drought-related proposals. But Wednesday night, he announced a veto of a bill to provide more aid to low-income Californians in paying water bills, saying that “no sustainable, ongoing funding” for the program had been identified.
He also vetoed bills to extend jobless benefits to undocumented immigrants, restrict bee-killing pesticides, offer a $1,000 tax credit to Californians without cars, boost salaries for unionized, non-faculty California State University staff members and expand the scope of practice of optometrists.
Late Tuesday night, after greenlighting proposals related to pay equity and reproductive justice, he acted on yet another ream of legislation mostly related to health care. Here’s a look at the outcome of some particularly interesting bills:
- ✅ A controversial bill to reform California’s problem-plagued nursing home licensing system — which splintered advocacy groups that usually align, CalMatters’ Jocelyn Wiener reports.
- ✅ A bill to create non-hospital settings for low-income youth suffering from mental health crises, after vetoing a similar proposal last year.
- ✅ A bill to expand California’s bottle recycling deposit program to wine and liquor bottles, which will cost 10 cents more starting Jan. 1, 2024. However, you can get the money back by returning the empty bottles to a recycling center.
- ❌ A bill to require state agencies to report to lawmakers by Jan. 1, 2024 on the status of California’s behavioral health workforce and how best to address the shortage of employees.
- ❌ A bill to require the state public health department to evaluate the adequacy of local public health departments’ infrastructure and workforce for future public health needs.
- ❌ A bill to ban foreign governments from purchasing, acquiring, leasing or holding an interest in California agricultural land.
In other surprising Capitol news: California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye announced Wednesday that she will assume leadership of the Public Policy Institute of California on Jan. 1, 2023, when she steps down from her role leading the state’s highest court. (Voters will decide in November whether to confirm Newsom’s nominee, Associate Justice Patricia Guerrero, as the next chief justice.) “I understand this role will be different from my current one and yet I believe my skillset and experience have prepared me well for this task,” Cantil-Sakauye said in a statement. “I am fully committed to PPIC’s nonpartisan mission and efforts to improve public policy in California through independent research — without a thumb on the scale. After all, who can say ‘no’ to facts?” Cantil-Sakauye will replace PPIC President and CEO Mark Baldassare, who announced his retirement plans in March.
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Other Stories You Should Know
1 EDD makes big strides, but challenges remain
California’s unemployment department has made “significant progress” since the early days of the pandemic — when account freezes, jammed phone lines and pervasive tech glitches blocked hundreds of thousands of jobless residents from receiving their benefits even as billions of dollars in fraudulent claims were paid out to international fraud rings and prison and jail inmates — but only “time will tell” if the Employment Development Department is truly prepared to handle the next economic downturn.
That was the assessment Bob Harris, acting deputy state auditor at the California State Auditor’s office, gave state lawmakers at a Wednesday oversight hearing in Sacramento. Here are some key takeaways from the latest legislative review of EDD’s performance:
- EDD has fully implemented 19 of 21 recommendations from the state auditor’s office, according to Harris: “What needs to happen now is EDD needs to sustain and continue implementing these positive steps.” Harris added that the department still needs to complete “a root-cause analysis of why people choose to call the call center for assistance rather than use the self-service options” on the website.
- Looming over EDD is the need to completely overhaul its tech systems after it stopped an ongoing project to do so at the recommendation of a “strike team” formed by Newsom. EDD director Nancy Farias said the department is already implementing some small changes from EDD Next, its new five-year tech modernization project. Assemblymember Cottie Petrie-Norris, a Costa Mesa Democrat and one of the hearing’s leaders, noted that it would be helpful for lawmakers to have a blueprint outlining “key milestones and deliverables … as we pivot from addressing the auditor recommendations and strike team recommendations and looking towards kind of that next generation of EDD service.”
- EDD continues to fend off “significant fraud attempts,” though the department is better equipped to handle them than it was before, Farias said. She also said that $20 billion remains “the most accurate assessment” of the fraudulent claims paid by EDD, despite recent media reports that pegged it at nearly $33 billion. Farias added that EDD has recovered a little more than $1 billion of that money. And, in a response to Republican Assemblymember Tom Lackey of Palmdale asking whether EDD is investigating employees who may have been complicit in the fraud, Farias said, “If someone has perpetrated a crime, they are fired and go to prison. And that actually happened with a vendor staff not that long ago.”
- Despite significant progress, significant problems remain. Several residents at Wednesday’s hearing testified that EDD had repeatedly denied their claims, failed to help them with identity theft and more. “It’s just been a really bad situation here,” said one woman who described herself as a victim of identity theft. Democratic Assemblymember Jim Wood of Santa Rosa wondered how many Californians had wrongly been denied benefits by both EDD and the state’s problem-plagued rent relief program. “These are real people’s lives,” Wood said. “And so getting this right for the future is really, really important.”
2 Fiona Ma comes out against Prop. 30
State Treasurer Fiona Ma hadn’t taken a public position on Proposition 30, the Nov. 8 ballot measure that would increase taxes on millionaires to fund electric vehicle and other environmental programs.
At least not until Wednesday, when she was pressed about it during a CalMatters interview — and finally said that voters can count her as a “no.” “So you want me to take a position, then yes, I will be no on Prop. 30,” she said.
One reason she’s against Prop. 30 is the same rationale Gov. Gavin Newsom has given for opposing it — that ride-share company Lyft is one of the driving forces behind it and would be among the biggest beneficiaries. The Yes on Prop. 30 campaign said, “Neither Lyft nor Lyft drivers get any preferential treatment under Prop. 30 — in fact, all of its funding goes through the same state agencies that the governor and Legislature fund.”
As part of its climate goals, the state is requiring Lyft drivers to log 90% of their miles in electric vehicles by 2030. Lyft has pumped more than $35 million into the Yes on Prop. 30 campaign.
Ma also said the measure singles out “high net-worth individuals” — ones that the state relies on for much of its revenues and who she says have been “demonized” and worries might start leaving California. In an ad, Newsom calls Prop. 30 “a Trojan horse that puts corporate welfare above the fiscal welfare of our entire state.”
But their stand puts the governor and the state’s banker on the opposite side from the official position of their Democratic Party, as well as many environmental groups.
- Clean Air California, the coalition supporting Prop. 30, has described as “disappointing” the fact that “the governor would side with the California Republican Party and a handful of San Francisco billionaires who would rather kids breathe toxic, polluted air than pay their fair share.”
Your guide to the 2022 general election in California
3 Fact-checking sports betting claims
Trying to parse the complexities of Propositions 26 and 27 — the two dueling November ballot measures to legalize sports betting in California — is difficult enough without getting into the complex claims in seemingly innumerable ads paid for by four separate campaigns. But how truthful are the ads about Prop. 26 — which would legalize in-person sports betting at Native American casinos and California’s four private horse race tracks — and Prop. 27, which would legalize online sports betting across the state? CalMatters’ Grace Gedye breaks down the veracity of a handful of claims in this extremely helpful piece, including whether Prop. 27 would actually provide hundreds of millions of dollars annually to address homelessness and whether Prop. 26 is truly an attempt by tribes to secure “a virtual monopoly on all gaming in California.”
Which of the 2022 California ballot measures do you support or oppose?
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