Your guide to California policy and politics
BY Ben Christopher September 15, 2022
Presented by Health Net and Association of California Water Agencies

Newsom gets his court

Now the hard work begins.

So said Gov. Gavin Newsom at a Wednesday bill signing ceremony in San Jose about legislation he says is key to addressing one of California’s most glaring failures: The sheer number of people suffering from untreated mental illness living on our streets

Newsom’s office first rolled out his Community Assistance, Recovery, and Empowerment (CARE) Court proposal in March. This new court system would make it easier for loved ones, first responders and mental health workers to force severely mentally ill Californians into psychiatric treatment and housing. 

  • Newsom: “We get a moment in time, but this might live on, if we make it real. And that’s the hard work of the next year.”

The hard work that the governor was alluding to is the fact that California’s 58 counties now have to actually set up these new systems before 2025 — with seven counties rolling out the programs within the next year. 

But alongside implementation and application, there’s almost certain to be litigation. Though the CARE Court bill sailed through both chambers of the Legislature and has been welcomed by at least some families of mentally ill, homeless Californians, it’s fiercely opposed by many civil liberties and human rights groups. They warn the new policy will take us back to the bad old days before the 1970s when California’s population of “mentally disordered persons” were often indefinitely and involuntarily shuttered away in state hospitals.

The governor seemed to have a rejoinder for the ACLU — or at least, similarly named organizations — on Wednesday.

  • Newsom: “It’s one thing to receive an opposition letter from, you know, four-letter groups that have been out there for 30, 40 years, understandably, holding hands talking about the way the world should be…And it’s another to say, ‘Well, that’s wonderful, but what about my damn daughter? What are you gonna do for her?’”

Legislation we’re still waiting on: Three bills that would force the counties of Fresno, Kern and Riverside to set up independent redistricting commissions, taking the power to draw election maps away from elected officials. As CalMatters’ Sameea Kamal reports, advocates hope that change will increase representation for Latinos in particular.  

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Thursday, California had 10,329,995 confirmed cases (+0.01% from previous day) and 94,558 deaths (+0.2% from previous day), according to state data now updated just once per week on Thursdays. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.

California has administered 79,697,832 vaccine doses, and 72.1% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.

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1 Prop. politics, by the numbers

Abortion rights protestors rally in front of the state Capitol on May 14, 2022. Photo by Fred Greaves for CalMatters

Proposition 1 seems to be doing what it was designed to do, at least politically.

Remember: After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that there is no constitutional right to an abortion, state lawmakers led by Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, a San Diego Democrat, rushed a measure onto the Nov. 8 ballot that would enshrine the right to have an abortion into the California Constitution. 

California lawmakers aren’t likely to implement new restrictions on abortion any time soon, but Proposition 1 also serves a political purpose: As Kansas politicians, swing-district candidates and poll watchers have noted, putting abortion on the ballot in 2022 tends to draw Democrats to the ballot.

California Democrats even voted separately to make sure that the amendment comes first on the ballot: Hence Prop. 1.

Sure enough, according to a new poll from the Public Policy Institute of California, 69% of likely voters say they plan to vote “yes” on the measure. (In an earlier poll by UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies, 71% of registered voters said they were in favor.)

Enthusiasm about voting on the issue isn’t uniform. Of the Democrats surveyed, 73% said the outcome of Prop. 1 was “very important” to them. That’s compared to just 48% of Republicans. 

  • PPIC president Mark Baldassare: “Clearly, abortion rights is a salient election issue to some likely voters more than others, meaning that Prop. 1 could have an impact on voter turnout in ways that might benefit pro-choice candidates.”

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Other big findings in the survey:

  • Despite the record-breaking sums of money being spent in its favor, Prop. 27, which would legalize online sports betting, is not popular. Only 34% of likely voters say they would vote “yes.”
  • Voters are more mixed on Prop. 30 — the measure to tax millionaires to fund electric car incentives and infrastructure. About 55% of survey respondents were for it, while 40% were against. But the survey was conducted before the “No” campaign began blasting its ad featuring Gov. Newsom across the state. 

The “Yes” campaign says it’s now following suit with its own round of ad buys in Los Angeles, San Diego, Sacramento and San Francisco.

2 California vs. Amazon

California Attorney General Rob Bonta announces an antitrust lawsuit against Amazon during a news conference in San Francisco on Sept. 14, 2022. Photo by Eric Risberg, AP Photo

California is taking the Everything Store to court.

On Wednesday, the California Department of Justice sued Amazon, accusing the tech giant of stifling competition and using its dominant market position to keep prices artificially inflated for at least a decade.

In an 84-page complaint filed in state superior court in San Francisco, Attorney General Rob Bonta laid out the following claims:

  • Amazon penalizes sellers on its platform if they offer the same product at a lower price elsewhere online, including on their own website 
  • If Amazon lowers a product’s retail price to match a competitor, the wholesaler is forced to pay a “true-up” cost to ensure that Amazon gets its pre-specified profit-margin  

In a statement to CalMatters a spokesperson for Amazon said Bonta “has it exactly backwards.”

  • Spokesperson: “Amazon takes pride in the fact that we offer low prices across the broadest selection, and like any store we reserve the right not to highlight offers to customers that are not priced competitively. The relief the AG seeks would force Amazon to feature higher prices to customers, oddly going against core objectives of antitrust law.”

At a press conference announcing the lawsuit, Bonta, who is seeking election to a full four-year term after being appointed by Newsom last year, called it among “the most significant and far reaching lawsuits in recent memory to protect California consumers.” He also said it should serve as a warning to other massive corporations doing business in the state.

  • Bonta: “If you use your power to illegally bend the market at the expense of California consumers, small business owners and the economy, we’ll see you in court.”

California and Amazon have a history. Legislators in Sacramento have passed several bills over the last decade trying to force the company to collect sales tax on its products. And this isn’t the first such challenge: Regulators in Europe have dinged the company for anticompetitive behavior and prosecutors in Washington, D.C., filed a similar unsuccessful suit earlier this year.

Bonta said he’s “confident” in this current challenge, which alleges violations to California law specifically. But with Republicans using inflation as a political cudgel against Democrats this election season, taking a tech giant to court in defense of lower prices isn’t bad politics either.

3 Regulatory fail

Manuel Chavez, a hotel employee involved in a protracted wage theft case, stands for a portrait in Downey on Sept. 4, 2022. “I worked hard hours, and sometimes all night long,” he said. “The pay always seemed to come up short for the amount of work I did.” Photo by Pablo Unzueta for CalMatters

Sometimes — maybe a lot of the time — California’s institutions don’t work as designed. Alas, we have two more examples this week.

The first comes from CalMatters’ Jeanne Kuang and Alejandro Lazo, who explain how often California workers who file wage theft claims against their employers actually get paid — even after they win.

A quick summary: Not very often at all.

A few shocking facts from their story, the latest in the “Unpaid Wages: A Waiting Game” series:

  • Only 1 in 7 bosses who were issued court judgments in wage claim cases in 2017 have paid up in full five years later.
  • The state’s wage claim system is so backlogged it takes nearly four times longer than state law permits for the average case to reach a decision.

The next example comes from CalMatters child and youth health reporter Elizabeth Aguilera:

In a report released Tuesday, the state auditor found that the Department of Health Care Services continues to fail millions of the most vulnerable California children. For nearly a decade, about half of the 5.5 million children on the state’s health insurance plan for low-income families, Medi-Cal, have not received required preventative services.

This comes after a 2019 report first outlined the failing. In that report, the auditor made 14 recommendations to improve the problem. So far, the agency has not fully implemented eight of the recommendations. Past plans to improve access were put on hold due to the pandemic.

  • Acting State Auditor Michael Tilden: “We believe that the ongoing threat of COVID-19 and other communicable diseases provides more reason, not less, for DHCS to reinstitute and improve its oversight.”

In a response to CalMatters, department spokesperson Anthony Cava said it “has made improving children’s preventive services a cornerstone” of the annual plan it submitted to federal regulators. He also pointed back to department’s official responses to the audit report.

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CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Once again, California voters are being asked to raise income taxes on the state’s most affluent taxpayers, but this time around the dynamics are different and the outcome less certain.

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