The Diablo is in the details
At least two days of statewide Flex Alerts asking Californians to voluntarily conserve energy amid an extreme heat wave that could last more than a week, pushing temperatures 10 to 20 degrees above normal and endangering vulnerable communities. Gov. Gavin Newsom proclaiming a state of emergency to take last-ditch measures to keep people’s lights and air conditioners on and stave off potential rolling blackouts. And wildfires that prompted mandatory evacuations in Southern California, shut down stretches of I-5 and caused heat-related injuries in at least eight firefighters.
That was the backdrop for the final hours of the legislative session on Wednesday and into early today, when state lawmakers — after contentious, lengthy debates that at one point involved a discussion about the morality of electrons — approved Newsom’s proposal to extend the lifespan of Diablo Canyon, California’s last nuclear power plant, and to give PG&E a $1.4 billion loan to continue operating it. Legislators also greenlighted all but one bill in the governor’s legislative package to significantly accelerate the state’s response to climate change.
- The state Assembly shot down a proposal that would have called for California to slash its greenhouse gas emissions to 55% of 1990 levels by 2030, instead of the current 40% goal. A possible factor in its demise: The state isn’t on track to reach the current target.
Nevertheless, the late-night votes marked a sizable victory for the governor, who has recently pushed to enact his policy agenda through legislation like never before.
But the real test — translating that ambitious climate vision into reality — starts now.
And things haven’t necessarily gotten off to the most auspicious start: Newsom acknowledged the emergency order he signed Wednesday would actually increase emissions by temporarily allowing power plants to generate more energy, expanding the use of backup generators, permitting ships in California ports to burn more fuel and waiving certain air quality requirements. (The order also directs state air regulators to “mitigate emissions” resulting from the emergency measures.)
- Newsom said in livestreamed remarks: “One of the areas we wanted to advance” after the 2020 blackouts “was a de-risking strategy to create a larger buffer so that we’re not doing this on an annual basis. … Getting Diablo Canyon extended, just extending its life for a short period of time, will provide us the capacity … to stack all of these renewables, to get the battery storage, deal with the supply chain issues and move forward with our new strategies to fast-track (clean energy) projects.”
But the devil — or, dare I say, the Diablo — is in the details. (“It probably doesn’t help the fact that the freaking plant’s name is Diablo, to add insult to injury here,” said Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia, a Coachella Democrat.)
Indeed, not all lawmakers were convinced the state actually has a game plan to achieve the ramped-up goals contained within the legislation passed Wednesday, including achieving carbon neutrality by 2045 and setting targets for removing carbon from the atmosphere with nature-based methods.
- Republican state Sen. Andreas Borgeas of Fresno: “We’re creating policies, but we’re disregarding the realities that we’re still in.”
- GOP state Sen. Brian Dahle of Bieber, who’s running for governor against Newsom: “How long are we going to just continue to set targets with no good detail and just throw money at it and get no result?” Dahle also said he opposed extending Diablo Canyon’s operations without more robust debate: “I think we need to spend the time” to discuss it more thoroughly rather than voting “at one o’clock in the morning on the last night of session to bail out Gavin Newsom’s poor planning for this state.”
Yet, while Republicans saw the severity of California’s climate conditions as evidence that its current environmental strategy is flawed, Democrats saw it as evidence the state needs to do more faster.
- State Sen. Bob Wieckowski, a Fremont Democrat: “This is come to Jesus time in the state of California and in the world.”
- State Sen. Henry Stern, a Calabasas Democrat: “We can wait, and let others race ahead in the innovation game. China can beat us to the punch and electrify and push hydrogen. We can wait on the rest of this country to act, or we can be Californians, and we can lead. I think this is that moment. I think we take that leadership mantle.”
The coronavirus bottom line: As of Monday, California had 10,268,137 confirmed cases (+0.3% from previous day) and 94,120 deaths (+0.1% 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.
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1 Concealed carry bill meets surprising end
From CalMatters political reporter Ben Christopher: The California Legislature has been a fountain of some of the strictest gun laws in the country. But Senate Bill 918 was evidently a bridge too far.
In the final hours of the session, lawmakers failed to pass a bill that would have rewritten state regulations on who can get a license to carry a concealed handgun and where they can go while armed. The measure, authored by Attorney General Rob Bonta, was introduced by Democratic state Sen. Anthony Portantino of Glendale shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down state laws giving local law enforcement wide discretion over who gets a license.
Although the Legislature is often receptive to laws placing new restrictions on firearms, this bill failed after stalling numerous times in the Assembly — in part because it was written to go into effect immediately, therefore requiring the support of two-thirds of members in both chambers. After the final attempt fell one vote short in the Assembly early today, Portantino vowed to reintroduce the measure in the next session.
- Nearly all Republicans voted against the bill, as did two Democrats heading into competitive elections: Ken Cooley from Rancho Cordova and Rudy Salas from Bakersfield. Another five Democrats abstained. Bonta was at the Capitol Wednesday night trying to round up more votes.
Supporters said the bill complied with the letter of the Supreme Court’s ruling without abdicating the state’s role in preserving public safety. Opponents said it amounted to a legislative middle finger aimed at the nation’s highest court.
Though the ruling prohibited states from leaving the choice of who should get a license to the whims of a licensing officer, the opinion written by Justice Clarence Thomas did allow for “objective” standards and the creation of gun-free “sensitive” places.
The bill took both those caveats and ran with them:
- Applicants would have to be 21 years old, could not have been under a recent restraining order and must have three “character references.”
- Sensitive areas would include medical facilities, buses, public parks and most private businesses.
The bill was fiercely opposed by gun rights advocates and state sheriffs.
- An opposition letter from the California State Sheriffs’ Association: The bill would turn “much of the state into ‘no-carry’ zones.”
2 What passed? What failed?
Let’s take a look at the fate of some other high-profile bills:
- Democratic state Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco’s highly controversial proposal to allow youth 15 and older to get vaccinated without parental consent. (An earlier version of the bill would have applied to kids 12 and older.) Wiener said Wednesday that he was tabling the bill because he didn’t “see a viable path for those final few votes” necessary to ensure its passage. “Sadly, months of harassment and misinformation — including death threats against me and teen advocates — by a small but highly vocal and organized minority of anti-vaxxers have taken their toll,” Wiener said in a statement, adding that the bill “did nothing more than empower young people to protect their own health, even if their parents have been brain-washed by anti-vax propaganda or are abusive or neglectful.” CalMatters’ Elizabeth Aguilera takes a closer look at what led to the bill’s demise.
- A bill to allow legislative staff to unionize failed for the third time since 2019 after a confusing back-and-forth that saw Democratic Assemblymember Jim Cooper of Elk Grove pull the proposal off a committee agenda, only to change his mind after staff in attendance vocalized their dismay and some walked out of the room, CalMatters’ Sameea Kamal reports. Although lawmakers seemed to agree that staff deserve better working conditions, Cooper cited concerns with the bill process — a last-minute gut-and-amend that hadn’t been properly vetted. Others said they were concerned with logistics and suggested the Legislature conduct management training instead. Assemblymember Mark Stone, the Santa Cruz Democrat who authored the bill, said lawmakers voting it down while their staff worked long days was “a slap in their faces.” Assemblymember Tina McKinnor, an Inglewood Democrat who voted for the bill, vowed to reintroduce it next year.
- A bill to reform California’s bail bond system by requiring bail companies to return at least 90% of the money paid by defendants if the legal action against them is dismissed or no charges are filed within two months.
- A bill to block law enforcement agencies from notifying federal immigration authorities when they’re about to release inmates convicted of violent felonies or other serious crimes.
- A bill to levy an excise tax on firearms and ammunition to fund gun violence prevention programs, education and research.
- A bill to reduce catalytic converter theft by blocking car dealers and retailers from selling vehicles with catalytic converters not permanently marked with the corresponding vehicle identification number. “I’m not surprised that the auto dealers and manufacturers would be reluctant to take on this task to support their customers,” state Sen. Thomas Umberg, the Garden Grove Democrat who authored the bill, said in a statement. “Frankly, I’m more surprised that the majority of the California State Assembly chose the concerns of the car dealers over the cries of help from their constituents.”
- A bill to require U.S. companies doing business in California with more than $1 billion in gross annual revenue to disclose all of their greenhouse gas emissions.
- A bill to prevent counties from allowing sheriffs to also serve as coroner, a dual role that’s become embroiled in the national debate over abortion.
CalMatters is keeping tabs on noteworthy bills sent to Newsom’s desk with our handy tracker, but here’s a rundown of what some key proposals approved Wednesday would do:
- Make it easier to force severely mentally ill people into treatment and housing. Newsom, who proposed the CARE Court program, described it in a Wednesday statement as a “paradigm shift” that would provide “housing and services in the community, where people can heal — and not behind locked walls of institutions and prisons.”
- Expand access to and legal protections for abortion via a package of more than a dozen bills that gained urgency in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, in addition to making it easier for women to get contraceptives and cheaper for men to get vasectomies.
- Legally shield people receiving or providing transgender health care in California — a response to other states seeking to criminalize such procedures for youth.
- Extend California’s COVID paid sick leave program for essential workers through Dec. 31, 2022, instead of its previous expiration date of Sept. 30.
- Increase legislative oversight of California’s no-bid contract renewal process, which came under scrutiny following the Newsom administration’s quiet auto-renewal of a contract worth as much as $1.7 billion for a troubled COVID testing lab.
- Prohibit car companies from falsely advertising their vehicles as “self-driving,” in what seems to be a pointed statement at Tesla.
3 State to investigate health care algorithms
In an effort that he said could help address racial disparities in health care access and outcomes, Attorney General Rob Bonta on Wednesday sent letters to 30 hospital CEOs across California, asking them to share detailed information about their commercial algorithms and decision-making tools as part of a Department of Justice investigation into whether the software has discriminatory impacts based on race and ethnicity. The health care industry uses these algorithms to help with everything from administrative work to diagnostics to referrals and specialty care, and although they can improve efficiency and patient outcomes they can also have negative unintended consequences, especially when used without the appropriate guardrails, according to Bonta’s office.
- Bonta’s office wrote in the letter: “For example, researchers found one widely used algorithm that referred white patients for enhanced services more often than Black patients with similar medical needs. The problem was that the algorithm made predictions based on patients’ past record of healthcare services, despite widespread racial gaps in access to care. Whatever the cause, these types of tools perpetuate unfair bias if they systematically afford increased access for white patients relative to patients who are Black, Latino, or members of other historically disadvantaged groups.”
- Jan Emerson-Shea, vice president of external affairs for the California Hospital Association, told me in a statement: “Racial bias has absolutely no place in the medical treatment provided to any patient, in any care setting. We only learned of this inquiry yesterday, and look forward to coordinating with the Attorney General on this request for information.”
CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: After 28 months, California has finally recovered the millions of private sector jobs it lost during the COVID-19 recession.
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