Family leave, farmworker bills come down to wire

Your guide to California policy and politics
Emily Hoeven BY Emily Hoeven September 28, 2022
Presented by Dairy Cares, Climate-Smart Agricultural Partnership and Southern California Gas Company

Family leave, farmworker bills come down to wire

Surrounded by members of the California Legislative Women’s Caucus, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law Tuesday a package of bills he said would advance California’s “commitment to pay equity and supporting women.”

Among them: a bill requiring employers with at least 15 workers to include salary ranges in job postings and another prohibiting businesses from charging different prices for similar products based on the gender to which they’re marketed.

  • Newsom said in a statement: “We’re not letting up on our work to ensure all women in our state are paid their due and treated equally in all spheres of life.”

But, as some observers noted, the package didn’t include a high-profile proposal to make paid family leave more accessible to low-income Californians — a version of which Newsom vetoed last year. He has until Friday to determine the fate of all remaining proposals on his desk.

Erin Mellon, a spokesperson for Newsom, told me the package was based on priority proposals identified by the women’s caucus. However, the caucus explicitly identified higher wage replacement rates for the family leave program as a budgetary priority.

But the bill’s uncertain future didn’t go unnoticed by Democratic Rep. Katie Porter of Orange County, a darling of the progressive movement who in a Tuesday video urged Newsom to sign the bill while scribbling figures on the iconic whiteboard she’s used in many a congressional hearing.

Under California’s current paid family leave rates, Porter said, an Orange County preschool teacher wouldn’t be able to afford the average rent of a one-bedroom apartment. But if Newsom were to sign the bill, they’d have some money “left over for necessities like food and transportation,” Porter said.

  • Porter: “We know that some workers will inevitably have to take time off. The question is, how are we going to safeguard our economy in the meantime?”

It’s a question that Newsom may have preferred not to focus on Tuesday. The governor was focused, as CalMatters’ Kristen Hwang reports, on signing more than a dozen bills to protect and expand access to abortion and reproductive health care in California following the U.S. Supreme Court’s June decision to overturn federal abortion guarantees.

He also appeared on MSNBC to talk about his outreach to voters in Republican-led states — including billboards in seven states with near or total abortion bans urging women to seek reproductive care in California, an effort that seems to have contributed to a surge in out-of-state traffic to the Golden State’s new clearinghouse website for abortion information. And he was trolling the Texas attorney general on Twitter. (Meanwhile, gun rights groups on Tuesday launched a long-anticipated legal challenge against a California gun law conceived by Newsom that co-opts the logic of Texas’ abortion ban.)

But behind Porter’s video is the implication that if Newsom doesn’t sign the family leave bill, it would be a slap in the face to working families. A similar sentiment imbued President Joe Biden’s statement earlier this month urging Newsom to approve a bill to make it easier for farmworkers to unionize — a move that apparently infuriated Newsom, who had previously hinted he plans to veto it.

The pointed messages from high-profile Democrats suggest that — despite Newsom’s repeated admonishments for his party to more aggressively combat the GOP on such hot-button topics as abortion, LGBTQ rights, immigration and education — he may still have a ways to go when it comes to shoring up the support of progressives and workers in his own party.

Indeed, the coalition backing the paid family leave bill is today launching full-page ads in the Sacramento Bee and “prominent online placements” in the Bee, the Los Angeles Times and Politico urging Newsom to sign the proposal.

“California’s Paid Family Leave program was the first in the nation,” the ad reads. “Don’t let it become the worst.”

For the record: This item was updated to clarify that making paid family leave more accessible for low-income residents is a priority for the California Legislative Women’s Caucus.


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1 Survivor advocates gain protections

Mayra Romo at Cal State Dominguez Hills on Sept. 15, 2022. Romo works as a counselor for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. Photo by Pablo Unzueta for CalMatters
Mayra Romo, a counselor for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, at Cal State Dominguez Hills on Sept. 15, 2022. Photo by Pablo Unzueta for CalMatters

One of the lesser-known bills that Newsom signed into law Tuesday aims to standardize the role of survivor advocates across California college campuses. These confidential employees work closely with students who have experienced sexual assault, helping them understand their legal options, decide whether and how to file complaints with Title IX offices protecting against sex-based discrimination, and navigate hearings that can bring up the trauma of the original event. But although an estimated 1 in 5 women and 1 in 16 men experience sexual violence while in college, survivor advocates’ availability varies widely across the University of California, California State University and community college systems, Mallika Seshadri and Zaeem Shaihk report in this comprehensive, illuminating story for CalMatters’ College Journalism Network.

The bill, authored by Democratic Assemblymember Sabrina Cervantes of Riverside, will also enshrine survivor advocates’ independent status into law and protect the confidentiality of their communications. The additional protections come amid ongoing fallout over a leadership shakeup at CSU prompted by a sexual harassment scandal.

  • Joshua Moon Johnson, the Title IX coordinator at American River College in Sacramento: “Institutions, you know, have neglected survivors at the expense of making their institutions look good.” Advocates, on the other hand, “have no incentive to protect the institution. That’s not what they’re here for.”
  • Mayra Romo, associate director for the Center for Advocacy, Prevention and Empowerment at CSU Dominguez Hills: “We do have a need to feel protected from retaliation so we can truly support the rights of the survivor. It’s my job to tell a survivor: These are your rights and options, and one of those rights and options is you can sue the university.”

2 California braces for fourth year of drought

The Sierra Nevada had only small patches of snow near the Phillips Station meadow on April 1, 2022. Photo by Ken James, California Department of Water Resources

In what’s sure to be unwelcome news, California — which in August wrapped up the driest three-year period in state history — is bracing for its fourth straight year of drought. The new water year starts Oct. 1, and although it’s still to early to know how much rain and snow might fall on the state, weather watchers are expecting a hot and dry fall that could bleed into a warm winter with below-average precipitation, CalMatters’ Rachel Becker reports. Indeed, California could see its third straight year of La Niña conditions, in which critical rain and snowstorms pass the state by. A “three-peat” La Niña is extremely rare: It’s only happened twice since record-keeping began.

3 Community college enrollment sags

Students walk through campus at Sacramento City College on Feb. 23, 2022. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters
Students walk through campus at Sacramento City College on Feb. 23, 2022. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters

From CalMatters higher education reporter Mikhail Zinshteyn: California’s community colleges have lost a staggering 350,000 students since 2019-20, the last academic year before the COVID-19 pandemic when more than 2.1 million students were enrolled, according to preliminary data presented Tuesday to the California Community Colleges Board of Governors. That includes 80,000 students in the 2021-22 academic year, a steeper decline than national trends. While public two-year colleges across the U.S. saw enrollment sag by 3% between fall 2020-21 and by 8% between spring 2021-22, enrollment in California cratered by 10% and 13%, respectively, according to John Hetts, vice chancellor for data and analytics at the California Community Colleges. 

  • Hetts said at a Sept. 15 meeting of college system leaders and advisors: “The value proposition of our institutions is changing in the minds of the people that we’re serving.” 

Although enrollment data for fall 2022 isn’t yet available, several colleges said Tuesday that enrollment has rebounded compared to fall 2021. Among them: Cerritos College (4%) and the three colleges of San Bernardino Community College District (15%). Hetts previously told CalMatters that enrollment would return to pre-pandemic levels by 2025.

There’s no fiscal consequence to losing students — yet. California is holding colleges “harmless,” or funding them at levels as if they had more students, for a few more years until a new funding formula kicks in. And the state budget includes hundreds of millions of dollars to bring back students, though system leaders think they need more money: The Board of Governors formally asked lawmakers for tens of millions of dollars in new funding to set up campus child care centers so students with children can learn while their kids receive care.

Meanwhile, the enrollment losses put into stark relief the system’s struggles to hold on to students. Almost a third of community college students don’t return for a second semester of schooling, Hetts said. 

  • Hetts: “We’ve had these declines happening all the time. … But (pre-pandemic) they were masked by the fact that we had a demographic growth that was bringing students to replace the students that we were losing.”

CalMatters Commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: California just put lipstick on a porcine tech project that’s so far cost taxpayers at least $1 billion and consumed nearly two decades of political and bureaucratic time.

How California can put a dent in its meth epidemic: Lengthy incarceration won’t help. Rather, we must strategically use the criminal justice system to promote behavioral change in people whose drug use threatens public safety, argue San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo and Keith Humphreys, a Stanford University professor.

Other things worth your time

Some stories may require a subscription to read

California reverses course, will release Smarter Balanced test scores next month, education official says. // EdSource

California attorney general warns Temecula against pursuing abortion ban. // CBS News

Spokespersons debate California sports betting propositions 26 and 27. // PlayCA

California libertarian group sues to block Biden student debt cancellation. // Associated Press

In one swing California suburb, Jan. 6 is minor subplot as voters focus on pocketbooks. // Los Angeles Times

California Rep. Katie Porter trashed Irvine police after they arrested man she lives with. // Fox News

Rep. Ro Khanna pushes rules for ‘gooning,’ taking troubled kids to care. // Associated Press

California Senators Padilla, Feinstein advocate for federal protections for elections workers. // Mercury News

How Kevin McCarthy’s political machine worked to sway the GOP field. // Washington Post

State bar announces probe over Armenian genocide settlement. // Los Angeles Times

False confessions: Why a conservative California DA is urging law enforcement to stop lying to suspects. // CBS News

Breed’s secret resignation letters ‘inconsistent’ with S.F. law, city attorney finds. // San Francisco Standard

S.F. women share more disturbing stories of alleged stalker. How did the city miss its chance to intervene? // San Francisco Chronicle

Four killed in 12 hours in Sacramento shootings. // Sacramento Bee

18-year-old charged with murder in connection to teen’s fentanyl overdose death in San Bernardino County. // Los Angeles Times

Santa Clara County wants a chunk of the $217,500 it fined a San Jose church over COVID rules. // Mercury News

United flight attendants to picket LAX over short staffing, travel disruptions. // Daily News

Sacramento Vice Mayor Ashby calls for 500-foot ban on homeless camps near schools. // CapRadio

UCLA is buying a new campus in Rancho Palos Verdes to boost admissions. // Los Angeles Times

Three homes have become the first in the Bay Area to be publicly named as using too much water. // San Francisco Chronicle

Seven reports of fire in last 8 years at California lumber yard at heart of deadly Mill Fire investigation. // San Francisco Chronicle

Column: California spends billions rebuilding burned towns. The case for calling it quits. // Los Angeles Times

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