Three state officers face policy pitfalls
Several statewide officials’ policies are coming under scrutiny as California’s Nov. 8 general election inches closer, heightening the possible political implications.
First up: Attorney General Rob Bonta was dealt a major blow Monday, when the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 8-3 that California must exclude private immigration detention centers from its 2019 law phasing out private for-profit prisons. According to the court, that portion of the law, which Bonta authored as a state Assemblymember, illegally interferes with the federal government’s ability to enforce immigration policy.
- Judge Jacqueline Nguyen wrote for the court’s majority: “Virtually all of (Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s) detention capacity in California is in privately owned and operated facilities. … The (U.S. Constitution’s) foundational limit on state power cannot be squared with the dramatic changes that (the law) would require ICE to make.”
The full court reached the same conclusion as a smaller panel of its judges did last year after Bonta’s office asked it to review the decision. Bonta’s office will now have to decide whether to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
- Bonta’s office said in a statement to Courthouse News that it was “deeply disappointed” in the decision and that the law “was enacted to protect the health and welfare of Californians and recognized the federal government’s own documented concerns with for-profit, private prisons and detention facilities.”
Next up: Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara is under fire from major insurers who say that his refusal to grant car insurance rate increases since the onset of the COVID pandemic is threatening a market crisis, the Associated Press reports. Lara in April 2020 directed auto insurers to partially refund premiums as many Californians stopped driving to comply with strict stay-at-home orders. He later extended that order multiple times, helping California drivers save $2.4 billion as of November 2021. But even as Lara accused insurers of continuing to overcharge motorists, 38 rate increase filings piled up on his desk.
- Three associations representing insurers writing more than 90% of California auto insurance premiums: “Auto insurers cannot operate indefinitely in California without the ability to collect adequate rates. Criticism of decisions made during the pandemic, including allegations by some that insurers should have provided more relief for customers, do not justify ignoring the financial realities of the present.”
- Deputy Insurance Commissioner Michael Soller told the Associated Press: “Data we collected directly from the insurance companies themselves shows many of them failed to fully return premiums that they overcharged consumers.”
Last but not least, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond is facing intense criticism for his office’s decision to delay releasing until “later this year” — and possibly until after the election — results from last year’s state assessments on English language arts, math and science, EdSource reports. The postponement has alarmed youth advocates and education officials such as Los Angeles Unified Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, who said it could impede “immediate action to meet the needs of our most vulnerable, at-risk student populations.”
Republican Assemblymember Kevin Kiley of Rocklin slammed the delay in a Monday letter to Thurmond as “another example of our elected officials putting politics over the health, education and welfare of California students.” Kiley has endorsed Thurmond’s opponent, GOP education policy executive Lance Christensen, who in a Monday interview with CalMatters called for the scores to be released as soon as possible and vowed to make such information more easily available to parents.
- Mary Nicely, chief deputy state superintendent for instruction, told EdSource: “We are on track to release the data as we did last year. If we can come out sooner, we will. We are not withholding anything; people are working hard to finalize the data.”
The California Department of Education, in a Sept. 23 letter to school superintendents and administrators, asked them to finalize their statewide assessment data by Sept. 30. “Our goal is to review statewide data and release it when it is finalized, which is expected to occur sometime in October,” the letter reads.
That isn’t the only data California’s schools chief will have to contend with. As the state grapples with an ongoing teacher shortage, one in five current teachers say they will likely leave the profession in the next three years — including more than one-third of educators under 55, according to a survey released this morning and commissioned by the California Teachers Association and the UCLA Center for the Transformation of Schools. The survey of more than 4,600 CTA union members working as TK-12 teachers found that their top priority for state and local officials is better pay.
- E. Toby Boyd, CTA president and a kindergarten educator, told me in a statement: “Students need excellent teachers. Excellent teachers require resources, professional level pay, support and respect to do their work and remain in the profession. We can solve this educator recruitment and retention crisis, but it’s going to take acknowledgement, commitment and collaboration.”
Something special for teachers: CalMatters and iCivics are bringing nonpartisan curriculum about the 2022 elections to California classrooms. Our new site offers 10- and 45-minute lesson plans for middle- and high-school students each week through November based on CalMatters stories and iCivics learning materials. And our webinar this Thursday will explore ways to bring the midterms to life in your classrooms.
Other Stories You Should Know
1 Low-income Californians could face health care disruptions
Are many low-income Californians about to see “immeasurable” disruptions to their health care? Yes, according to Jim Mangia, the president and CEO of St. John’s Community Health in South Los Angeles, who told CalMatters’ Kristen Hwang that state regulators’ decision last month to award $14 billion worth of Medi-Cal contracts to just three companies — Health Net, Molina and Anthem Blue Cross — down from nine would cause “profound” changes that “would completely interrupt … systems of care,” prompting many poor and medically fragile patients to lose “access to specialty care, to hospital care and to primary care.” More than 1.7 million Medi-Cal patients may get a new insurance provider in the coming months.
The changes are part of the California Department of Health Care Services’ ambitious, multifaceted effort to improve the behemoth program that provides health insurance for a third of all state residents, but, as Kristen reports, critics and some providers have questioned whether the plans can actually meet the contracts’ tougher quality standards. Adding to the potential shakiness of the transition, health plans that weren’t awarded contracts have already appealed the Department of Health Care Services’ decisions, and some are threatening further legal action if they lose.
- Jacey Cooper, Medicaid director for California: “We will make sure through our readiness process of all managed care plans … that they are ready and able to handle those continuity-of-care requests.”
- Zara Marselian, CEO of La Maestra Community Health Centers in San Diego: “Good grief. Medi-Cal populations have a complexity of needs. It’s not like we can just transfer them and give them a new card.”
2 PG&E part of federal criminal investigation into Mosquito Fire
Much of Southern California is bracing for yet another heat wave lasting through Wednesday — and, although it won’t be nearly as intense or long-lasting as the one earlier this month that pushed the state’s electric grid to the brink of rolling blackouts, it could nevertheless result in increased fire risk. The news comes as PG&E announced in a regulatory filing that federal officials seized some of its equipment as part of a criminal investigation into the cause of the Mosquito Fire, which ignited Sept. 6 in El Dorado and Placer counties and has since burned nearly 77,000 acres, making it the state’s largest fire of 2022 so far. A lawsuit filed Friday in San Francisco Superior Court also alleged PG&E’s “poorly maintained utility structure” was responsible for the Mosquito Fire.
- PG&E said in a statement to the Mercury News: “We remain focused on preventing major wildfires and safely delivering energy to our customers and hometowns. The U.S. Forest Service has not made a determination on the cause of the fire. PG&E is cooperating with the U.S. Forest Service investigation.”
Nevertheless, the investigation and lawsuit mark the latest setbacks for the beleaguered utility, whose equipment has been found responsible for causing some of the largest and deadliest wildfires in California history. Some lawmakers cited that track record when expressing hesitation over an ultimately approved plan to give PG&E a forgivable loan of as much as $1.4 billion to extend the lifespan of California’s last nuclear power plant.
3 Newsom signs bills, but delays main action
Gov. Gavin Newsom, who’s facing a quickly approaching Friday deadline to act on more than 500 bills, on Monday deferred action on the highest-profile items by signing into law a handful of proposals that he said would protect voting access and election integrity — including by allowing election workers to keep their home addresses confidential — and a package of bills to help support animal welfare in California. Among them: a bill from Democratic state Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco to prohibit toxicity tests on dogs and cats for products including pesticides, chemical substances and food additives. Wiener’s office described the practice as one that “is unreliable, does not truly ensure human safety, and has serious scientific limitations,” noting that “nearly 90 percent of drugs first tested on animals end up failing when subsequently tested on people, with about half failing due to unanticipated toxicity when tested on humans.”
Meanwhile, pressure is mounting on Newsom to determine the fate of some of the most closely watched and controversial bills of the 2022 legislative session. In a Monday letter, Latino leaders of unions belonging to the powerful California Labor Federation urged Newsom to approve a bill that would make it easier for farmworkers to vote in union elections: “This is an opportunity to show California and the Nation that Democratic leaders, like yourself, will stand beside farmworkers, just as many great leaders did in the past,” the leaders wrote, in what appears to be a sly reference to Newsom’s potential presidential ambitions. However, Newsom has hinted that he’s likely to veto the farmworker unionization bill, even as prominent Democrats — including President Joe Biden — have called on him to sign it.
CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: The California Department of Education has finally acknowledged the obvious: It is arbitrarily delaying the release of results from this year’s round of academic testing.
Taxing tribal lands adds insult to injury: The Legislature should amend California’s tax codes to exempt from property taxes lands returned to Native American tribes, argues Kerri J. Malloy, an assistant professor at San Jose State University and an enrolled member of the Yurok Tribe.
Other things worth your time
Hundreds of local officials failed to file state financial reports, county records show. // San Diego Union-Tribune
State workers can double their pay through union apprenticeships. Newsom wants more of them. // Sacramento Bee
SFO airport strike: About 1,000 food workers demand higher pay. // San Francisco Chronicle
Crypto platform Nexo sued by New York, California and six other U.S. regulators. // TechCrunch
47 Alameda County Sheriff deputies get ‘unsatisfactory’ on psych evaluations; relieved of duties. // KTVU FOX 2
San Diego County seeks shift away from locked psychiatric units. ‘The change that we need in behavioral health is dramatic.’ // San Diego Union-Tribune
L.A. County probation officer killed by intruder at her Lancaster home, authorities say. // Los Angeles Times
Has the Zodiac Killer mystery been solved (again)? // Los Angeles Magazine
Donald Trump’s California golf course ensnared in New York lawsuit alleging fraud in land value inflation. // Mercury News
UC housing crisis forces students into multiple jobs to pay rent, sleeping bags and stress. // Los Angeles Times
Modular homes cost less and are used all over California. Why not in San Francisco? // San Francisco Chronicle
Changes to Oakland’s Longfellow neighborhood are pushing Black population out. // San Francisco Chronicle
In San Bernardino mountains, residents fear more mudslides. // Los Angeles Times
Climate change is transforming Redwood Valley, a ‘holy grail’ wine region in California. // San Francisco Chronicle
California offshore fracking ban won’t receive new court review. // Reuters
Oil company trying to buy out McKittrick, some residents blame Newsom’s policy. // KGET 17
Portugal’s president set to visit Gustine, other California cities. // Modesto Bee
CalMatters staffers share insights at national events. // CalMatters