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Your guide to California policy and politics
BY Emily Hoeven October 19, 2022
Presented by Climate-Smart Agricultural Partnership, Californians Against Higher Taxes, Save our Capitol and Sutter Health

California GOP demands emergency action on taxes, crime

California Republicans are zeroing in on the three issues on which they say Democrats may be most vulnerable heading into the Nov. 8 election: The rising cost of living, crime and homelessness.

On Tuesday, 26 of the 28 current Republican lawmakers asked the Democratic leaders of the state Assembly and Senate to “immediately” reconvene the state Legislature — which adjourned at the end of August — for a session focused on those three topics.

“These are urgent matters that cannot wait until next year for the Legislature to take action,” the GOP lawmakers wrote. Republicans oppose Gov. Gavin Newsom’s plan to call a special legislative session on Dec. 5 — the same day the new Legislature will be sworn into office — to consider a windfall profits tax on the oil and gas industry, which Newsom has said will help bring down gas prices.

Back to reconvening the Legislature: According to veteran Sacramento lobbyist Chris Micheli, Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon have 10 days to decide whether to grant the Republicans’ request. If they don’t, a group of at least 10 lawmakers can then ask their colleagues to override the rejection, which would require the approval of two-thirds of legislators in both the Assembly and Senate.

  • A spokesperson for Atkins said she was unavailable for comment. Rendon’s press office did not respond to a request for comment.
  • Newsom spokesperson Alex Stack told me in a statement: “In addition to the actions that Governor Newsom has already taken to lower gas prices, he looks forward to working with the legislature on additional measures to hold the big polluters accountable for gas price hikes, increase transparency, and put big oil’s record profits in the pockets of Californians. We don’t comment on hypothetical legislation.”

Given that Republicans are a superminority in the Legislature — meaning Democrats don’t need their votes to pass legislation or the state budget — it seems highly unlikely that Democrats would greenlight their proposal to return early to Sacramento, especially with an election just three weeks away.

But in an exclusive interview at the California Republican Party’s Sacramento offices on Tuesday, Assembly GOP Leader James Gallagher of Yuba City said that even if the Legislature doesn’t immediately reconvene, he’s hopeful the policy proposals themselves will gain momentum.

  • Gallagher told me: “I think what we could see even more so, even in this next legislative session, is those moderate Democrats really pushing and actually joining with us on many of these measures to bring about change. That’s the thing that I think I’m more excited by.”

Gallagher pointed out that some Democrats already support the proposals outlined in the Tuesday letter, including:

  • Suspending the state gas tax. Indeed, Newsom himself initially proposed postponing the scheduled increase to the gas tax, which went up by nearly 3 cents per gallon in July. A bipartisan group of lawmakers also suggested suspending the gas excise tax for one year and requiring gas companies pass 100% of the savings on to consumers, but their colleagues voted the proposal down. “We’re ready to work on these real solutions that will actually bring down the price of gas,” Gallagher said. “The governor wants to talk about a windfall tax — I mean, does anybody seriously believe that a new tax is going to bring down your costs?”
  • Expanding the number of crimes considered “violent” felonies under California penal code. Gallagher noted that Democratic Attorney General Rob Bonta recently told CalMatters he thinks certain crimes currently defined as “nonviolent” — including domestic violence, human trafficking and rape of an unconscious person — should potentially be considered “violent.” And he pointed out that other Democrats, including outgoing Assemblymember Jim Cooper of Sacramento, have supported reclassifying certain crimes as violent felonies. “I think there is majority support for these kinds of changes,” Gallagher said. “Rape of an unconscious person — really? Why isn’t that a felony? We shouldn’t even have to really debate that.”
  • Declaring a homelessness state of emergency and banning encampments within 1,000 feet of sensitive areas. Gallagher cited Los Angeles, whose Democratic-led city council recently approved a controversial policy outlawing encampments within 500 feet of schools and daycares. And although Gallagher has long been a vocal opponent of California’s soon-to-expire COVID state of emergency — even suing Newsom over the constitutionality of one of his pandemic executive orders — he said he’s “not opposed to emergencies — what I’m opposed to is abusing your power during those emergencies.” California, he added, needs to treat homelessness “like the emergency that it really is. You know, COVID-19 is not an emergency anymore. But this is definitely an emergency.”
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1 State has flawed approach to domestic violence, audit finds

Lawyers address a judge in Madera County Superior Court in Madera on Sept. 29, 2021. Photo by Larry Valenzuela for CalMatters

California’s approach to reducing domestic violence — which research shows is the cause of one in six homicides — has been plagued with “inconsistent and ineffective practices” for at least three decades, revealing “a critical need for statewide guidance and oversight” of programs that aim to rehabilitate offenders, according to a scathing state audit released Tuesday. The audit, which examined so-called batterer intervention programs in Los Angeles, Contra Costa, Alameda, San Joaquin and Del Norte counties, found that offenders often weren’t held accountable for their actions by county probation departments, service providers or courts, exacerbating public safety and health risks.

Among the report’s key findings:

  • Nearly 50% of offenders whose records were reviewed did not complete required batterer intervention programs. Of those, 65% committed further domestic violence or other abuse-related crimes.
  • However, just 20% of offenders who completed the program committed further crimes, “demonstrating that intervention can be effective.”
  • County probation departments frequently didn’t notify the court when offenders violated the terms of their probation. When they did, the courts imposed “escalating consequences” for only 10% of violations, a move that “likely weakens the impact” of rehabilitation programs.
  • The system features “a lack of critical data,” including comprehensive information about offenders’ possible mental health or substance abuse issues, which could affect their ability to complete rehabilitation programs.

In their responses to the audit, the county probation departments generally agreed with the auditor’s recommendations and findings but raised some concerns. The Del Norte County Probation Department, for example, noted “that each county is unique, with different resources, justice partners, and expectations of their populace regarding priorities of the local government.” Del Norte has never had more than two providers of batterer intervention programs, and “for a good portion of the last 6 years we operated with 1 provider only. This is not unusual for a community who struggles to attract and retain clinical experts in every field.”

2 Kaiser mental health worker strike set to end

National Union of Healthcare Workers members march in a circle as they strike in front of Kaiser Permanente in Fresno on Aug. 15, 2022. Photo by Larry Valenzuela, CalMatters/CatchLight Local

On Tuesday, 10 weeks after 2,000 mental health workers at Kaiser Northern California went on strike, the National Union of Healthcare Workers and Kaiser Permanente reached a tentative agreement for a new contract. Union members have until Thursday to decide whether to approve the proposed contract, the details of which have not yet been made public. The tentative deal marks the culmination of intense negotiations that came to a close soon after Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg stepped in as mediator last week. “The new 4-year agreement will benefit Kaiser Permanente patients and drive collaborative efforts aimed at improving access to mental health care, while at the same time recognizing and better supporting mental health therapists in their important work,” the union and health care giant said in a statement.

In other health news: Motivated by the pandemic, California is now pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into public health. But due to a lack of comprehensive data, local health departments say it’s unclear whether the money will be enough to make up for decades of underfunding and persistent staff shortages, CalMatters’ Kristen Hwang reports. Nevertheless, citing lower-than-expected tax revenues, Newsom recently vetoed a bill that would have required California to perform a comprehensive workforce study to evaluate the state’s needs and make recommendations for adequate resources.

3 Check out our election event and resources

Illustration by Chanelle Nibbelink for CalMatters

This marks your last chance to register for CalMatters’ free election event, which is happening today from 5 to 6 p.m. We’ll be breaking down the November statewide ballot measures and answering your questions. Register to virtually attend here!

Also, CalMatters is releasing our popular Props-in-a-Minute videos in Spanish, which we developed in collaboration with Univision. Check them out here, and don’t forget that the rest of our acclaimed nonpartisan Voter Guide is also available in Spanish.

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Tips, insight or feedback? Email emily@calmatters.org.

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