An unusual start to the legislative session
Today is shaping up to be a pretty unusual day in Sacramento.
Newly elected state lawmakers will be descending on the Capitol to be sworn into office — even though two seats are still up in the air. That’s because, by some measures, California is in the middle of two of its closest legislative races in more than a century: According to figures updated this morning, Democratic incumbent Melissa Hurtado and Republican David Shepard each had 50% of the vote for a state Senate seat looping around east Bakersfield — and Democrat Christy Holstege and Republican Greg Wallis each had 50% of the vote for an Assembly seat straddling Riverside and San Bernardino counties.
- Holstege tweeted: “Palm Springs ALWAYS brings the drama.”
- However, the race for California’s last undecided U.S. House of Representatives seat came to an end Friday, when Democratic Assemblymember Adam Gray conceded to Republican farmer John Duarte for the Central Valley slot. California’s new congressional delegation contains 40 Democrats and 12 Republicans, compared to 42 Democrats and 11 Republicans heading into Election Day. (Due to slowing population growth, California lost one House seat after the 2020 Census.)
Latest coverage of the 2022 general election in California
Also unusual: State legislators will be convening a special session focused on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposal to pass a “price gouging penalty” on oil companies and increase state oversight of the gasoline market. This marks the first time a governor has proclaimed a special session in six years, according to veteran Sacramento lobbyist Chris Micheli.
Newsom has yet to unveil the actual text of his proposal, and lawmakers aren’t likely to take substantive action on it until they reconvene in January. But the special session could amount to trial by fire for legislators, nearly one-third of whom will be new to Sacramento.
- Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog, an advocacy group that supports capping oil company profits, told the Los Angeles Times: “The fact that the governor put a spotlight on this in a special session means that these are not votes that will be forgotten. This is going to be a career-defining vote for every legislator in the building.”
Although the Newsom administration has taken steps to defang the rhetoric surrounding the proposal — shifting from calling it a “windfall profits tax” to a “price gouging penalty” — the special session will nevertheless put lawmakers, some of whom were elected with the financial support of the oil and gas industry, squarely in the middle of the governor’s escalating battle with oil companies.
Apart from the politics, there are messy market factors to sort through: As California pushes to decarbonize its economy, the price of gas will likely shoot up as the industry seeks to maximize profits ahead of a 2035 ban on the sale of new gas-powered cars, experts told state regulators last week.
- Adding figurative fuel to the fire: California, which has already seen refineries close in recent years, could see further gas price spikes as supply decreases and fewer groups control the market. Numerous California cities, including Los Angeles, have banned the construction of new gas stations, and the city council voted Friday to block new oil and gas wells and phase out existing ones.
The oil industry, meanwhile, is currently gathering signatures to try to qualify a 2024 referendum to overturn a new state law banning new oil and gas wells near homes, schools and hospitals.
It has a model in a coalition of fast food industry groups, which is set to announce today the submission of more than 1 million signatures to repeal a new law establishing a state council to regulate fast food employees’ working conditions and to raise their minimum wage to as much as $22 per hour next year, CalMatters’ Jeanne Kuang reports. The coalition — which has raised more than $20 million to overturn the law — needs 623,000 valid signatures to qualify the referendum for the November 2024 ballot, which would pause the law until voters decide whether to uphold or repeal it.
Already eligible for the November 2024 ballot: an initiative to hike California’s minimum wage to $18 an hour.
Other Stories You Should Know
1 Inside California’s limited antiviral use
Even as California swims in what Dr. Sara Cody, Santa Clara County’s public health officer, recently described as “a serious respiratory viral soup” of flu, RSV and COVID-19, few patients are taking advantage of COVID treatments and antivirals such as Paxlovid. The prescription drug, which reduces the risk of severe COVID symptoms and hospitalization, is readily available — but some providers have denied treatment to eligible patients due to a “misperception of drug scarcity,” CalMatters’ Ana B. Ibarra reports. This has sparked concern among state public health officials, who note that California’s COVID hospitalizations have more than doubled since Nov. 1 and the test positivity rate is once again in the double digits, hitting 10.8% on Thursday.
- Dr. Rohan Radhakrishna, chief equity officer at the California Department of Public Health: “We have a concerning low rate of outpatient COVID-19 treatments, especially for vulnerable populations” in rural and high-poverty areas. “We want to remind the provider community that therapeutics are in ample supply and that most adults have qualifying conditions,” such as chronic disease, hypertension, obesity, depression or tobacco use.
- Among the ways California is trying to expand access to antivirals: It contracted with Sesame Care to allow uninsured and underinsured patients or those who have difficulty seeing their primary care provider to schedule free virtual appointments.
2 Is EDD ready for a recession?
Is California’s unemployment agency prepared to handle a surge in jobless claims that could come with a possible recession? It depends on whom you ask: Following the “level of testing that the pandemic put us through, we are in such a strong position to weather a typical economic contraction,” Gareth Lacy, communications director for the Employment Development Department, told CalMatters economy reporter Grace Gedye. Others weren’t so sure: Despite EDD’s “major improvements” — including an updated recession plan, expanded multilingual services, customer service tweaks, a streamlined process for proving claim eligibility and an ongoing tech modernization project — “I think we’re not at the point where if a major crisis hit the unemployment system again, the system would be able to function as it should,” said Daniela Urban, executive director of the Center for Workers’ Rights.
Another challenge: California’s massive unemployment debt, which could keep ballooning amid a recession. The state already owes the federal government more than $18 billion, and asked for a $450 million advance authorization this month, according to federal data. Just since the start of the fiscal year in July, California has accrued nearly $49 million in unpaid interest, the database shows.
Speaking of the feds: Californians who receive state “middle class tax refund” payments — which the state is sending out through January — might have to pay federal income tax, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The state tax board’s website notes the payments aren’t subject to state income tax, but “may be considered federal income.” The Internal Revenue Service has yet to issue guidance on the payments.
3 Black Californians seek to regain taken land
What’s in a home? Among other things, the opportunity to build generational wealth. Due to racist practices such as redlining — the practice of denying mortgages to Black homeowners — and the devaluing of property in minority neighborhoods, Black Californians experienced a “housing wealth gap” of about $223,000 between 1933 and 1977, according to calculations from the state’s reparations task force. If that sum were given to the 2.5 million Black people living in California today, the state could face a tab of $569 billion — a figure that received widespread attention after a recent New York Times article that sparked incredulous reactions from conservative commentators.
CalMatters’ Lil Kalish, who reported on that preliminary calculation in September, is back with a profile on Where Is My Land, a California-based organization that helps Black families regain land seized through eminent domain — when the government takes private property for public use — fraud or other means. One high-profile example: Bruce’s Beach, a Black-owned resort that was seized by Manhattan Beach city officials in 1924 and only returned to the Bruce family last September. “Can you imagine how wealthy that family could have been?” asked Kavon Ward, founder of Where Is My Land.
- George Fatheree, a Los Angeles attorney who represented the Bruce family, told Lil that changes in government policy will be necessary to correct historical real estate discrimination: “It’s a function of decades, if not centuries, of racially discriminatory acts and policies and laws. The idea that the way to address it through one-by-one litigation is somewhat myopic.”
CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Addressing California’s widening educational achievement gap should be a top priority for the new state Legislature.
How Republicans’ gerrymandering push could backfire: The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments this week for a Republican-led case about redistricting authority. In California, it could give Democrats absolute power over the drawing of congressional maps — flipping the House of Representatives back to Democratic control, writes Paul Mitchell, vice president of Political Data Inc.
Other things worth your time
A Bay Area city council race is exactly tied. The winner’s name will be drawn from an envelope. // San Francisco Chronicle
The shadow race is on to succeed Sen. Dianne Feinstein. // Politico
Rep. Ro Khanna pushed back on Twitter suppression of Hunter Biden laptop story. // San Francisco Chronicle
More than 1,000 UC faculty members urge Newsom, lawmakers to support striking academic workers. // Los Angeles Times
San Jose State botched probe of trainer accused of sexual misconduct, report finds. // Los Angeles Times
Catholic Church sex abuse scandal: Accused priests dodge Bay Area disclosure lists. // Mercury News
Court cases in California have plummeted. Here’s why the state’s chief justice is concerned. // San Francisco Chronicle
California accused dozens of CHP officers of overtime fraud. Their defense: Everyone does it. // Sacramento Bee
She pioneered cold case tech and put rapists in prison. What’s next for Anne Marie Schubert? // Sacramento Bee
S.F. drug crisis has hurt kids for years. Why did it take a baby’s overdose to spark outrage? // San Francisco Chronicle
10 Los Angeles students appear to OD on cannabis edibles. // Associated Press
New York will treat more mentally ill people against their will. Should California follow? // Los Angeles Times
City and county of Sacramento reach ‘long overdue’ deal on addressing homelessness. // CapRadio
Threatened coastal railroad is San Diego’s only link to national military rail network. What if it shuts down? // San Diego Union-Tribune
Sen. Scott Wiener’s dramatic idea for San Francisco: Tear down the Central Freeway. // San Francisco Chronicle
Group sues to halt logging near 2,000-year-old redwood on Russian River. // San Francisco Chronicle
Ancient lung disease strikes countertop cutters in Los Angeles. // LAist