California drops plan for school vaccine requirement

Your guide to California policy and politics
Sameea Kamal BY Sameea Kamal February 6, 2023
Presented by New California Coalition and California Water Service

California drops plan for school vaccine requirement

The latest sign that California is easing out of the pandemic and into the endemic phase: The state has dropped its plan to require the COVID-19 vaccination for K-12 students as the state of emergency comes to an end Feb. 28, after nearly three years.

That said — “we continue to strongly recommend COVID-19 immunization for students and staff to keep everyone safer in the classroom,” the California Department of Public Health said in a statement. 

Dropping the policy, which Gov. Gavin Newsom first announced in 2021 — alongside lawmakers’ stalled efforts to eliminate the personal belief exemption for COVID-19 vaccines and allow some minors to get vaccinated without parental consent — may end the latest round of contentious debate over vaccination requirements for schools.

The policy would have applied to all of California’s 6.7 million public and private students. But enforcing the requirement would have posed a challenge, given the vaccine’s waning immunity.  

The course reversal follows President Joe Biden’s Jan. 30 announcement that he plans to end the national state of emergency on May 11. 

But the end of the state of emergency or the easing of vaccination requirements doesn’t mean COVID-19 has disappeared entirely. 

As of Jan. 31, California had more than 11 million confirmed cases and about 99,400 total deaths, according to state data. It has administered nearly 88 million total vaccine doses, and 72.6% of eligible Californians have received their primary vaccine series.

California did benefit from the federal state of emergency in crucial ways: 

  • Expanded telehealth services: In 2020, California got a federal waiver to allow telehealth medical care to be reimbursed at the same rate as face-to-face appointments for patients on Medi-Cal. 
  • Boosted health coverage for CA: People enrolled in Medi-Cal didn’t have to renew their coverage every year, helping to insure millions of Californians during the pandemic.

California’s water crisis, explained: Despite last month’s deluge, the state is gripped by a deep drought. CalMatters has a detailed look at how California might increase its water supply. And now, you can read it in Spanish.


1 Do as I say, not as I do

Newly elected legislators are sworn in in the Senate chambers at the state Capitol on Dec. 5, 2022. Photo by Martin do Nascimento, CalMatters
Newly elected legislators are sworn into office in the Senate chambers at the state Capitol on Dec. 5, 2022. Photo by Martin do Nascimento, CalMatters

“Rules for thee, but not for me” is an increasingly common put-down, especially to critique politicians, including those who flouted COVID restrictions.

But the California Legislature has been making its own rules for a long time. As I report today, it exempts itself from a wide range of labor and other laws it passes for everyone else. 

Besides the bad look, Dan Schnur, a politics professor at UC Berkeley, USC and Pepperdine University, says that “rules for thee” damages civic engagement. 

  • Schnur: “This is exactly the type of double standard that makes voters across the ideological spectrum absolutely despise politics and politicians.” 

But on a highly visible exemption, a logjam could break this year: A bill to let legislative staff organize a union, just like other state employees, may finally get across the finish line. Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, a former Assemblymember who is now head of the California Labor Federation, says there’s no excuse for legislators blocking their own employees from collective bargaining to seek better pay and working conditions. 

  • Aubrey Rodriguez, a legislative director: “People are comfortable trying to exploit our passions for public service. That’s why a union is absolutely needed.” 

Two longtime and well-known leaders in the Capitol advocacy community died in the last few days. 

Allan Zaremberg, president of the powerful California Chamber of Commerce from 1998 to 2021, was remembered as a business leader and a mentor. Gov. Gavin Newsom said Zaremberg was also a “trusted advisor” to several governors.      

Also passing away was Rex Hime, president of the California Business Properties Association for 37 years before retiring in 2021. He was remembered as a “champion” for taxpayers

2 New numbers on farmworker conditions

Farmworkers in a strawberry field in Santa Paula on April 15, 2020. Photo by Marcio Jose Sanchez, AP Photo
Farmworkers in a strawberry field in Santa Paula on April 15, 2020. Photo by Marcio Jose Sanchez, AP Photo

In the wake of the Jan. 23 mass shootings in Half Moon Bay in which seven people were killed, state authorities say they are investigating the “deplorable” living and working conditions of the farmworkers. 

A study published Friday gives a glimpse of just how grueling those conditions are, CalMatters’ Nicole Foy reports: inadequate training on handling pesticides, limited compliance with heat illness prevention protocols, and a fear of retaliation for complaints. 

And that’s just on the job. Of the 1,200 farmworkers surveyed in the University of California, Merced Community and Labor Center’s report, most are renters, and a significant number report having cockroaches and rodents in their homes, and poor drinking water. 

State leaders and labor advocates gathered in Merced after the report’s release to discuss the sobering statistics. 

  • California Labor Commissioner Lilia García-Brower: “…The realities that were highlighted in this report are the remnants of a history of slavery, exploitation and the systemic exclusion of this population in this state, so it is going to take us a long time to heal and win back these communities’ trust.”

The report comes as authorities continue their investigation into the shooting. Prosecutors said the suspect was spurred after he was issued a $100 repair bill for a damaged forklift.

  • Assemblymember Robert Rivas, who helped secure the study’s funding: “Just a week ago, in Half Moon Bay, we saw the explosive damage that these atrocious conditions, that these types of conditions, when left to boil over, what they can do on the health and safety of our communities.”  

3 Oil and gas industry buys time

Protestors hold signage supporting the act to "cap big oil windfall profits" outside the California Energy Commission headquarters, during a hearing on the state gas price spike hearing in Sacramento on Nov. 29, 2022. Photo by Rahul Lal, CalMatters
Protestors hold signs to “cap big oil windfall profits” outside the California Energy Commission headquarters in Sacramento during a hearing on Nov. 29, 2022. Photo by Rahul Lal, CalMatters

Californians won’t vote on ballot measures until 2024. But six measures have already qualified for that November.

The latest: a referendum launched by the oil industry to overturn a law that bans new oil and gas wells near homes, schools and hospitals.

The referendum is one of two by industry groups seeking to block regulations. The fast food industry’s push to undo a first-in-the-nation law that would create a state council to set wages and workplace standards qualified on Jan. 24.

And while there are still many months and millions of dollars to be spent before the election, the upside for industries is that the qualified referenda put the laws on hold. 

The half-dozen measures that have already qualified make up nearly the total number of measures on the November 2022 ballot — seven.

The qualification of the oil industry ballot measure gave the governor another opportunity to call out Big Oil.

  • Newsom, in a statement Friday: “Greedy oil companies know that drilling results in more kids getting asthma, more children born with birth defects, and more communities exposed to toxic, dangerous chemicals — but they would rather put our health at risk than sacrifice a single cent of their billions in profits.”

The California Independent Petroleum Association says the now on-hold law would force the state to rely more on imported foreign oil that is exempt from California’s environmental laws. 

Echoing that argument: a new industry group, Californians for Energy Independence, made up of a coalition of regional interests. 

The governor also said holding the industry accountable for price increases, despite $129 billion in profits last year for five major companies, includes passing a price gouging penalty in the special legislative session he called — though there are still few specifics on the effort.


CalMatters Commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: California’s politics have become highly polarized over the last quarter-century but the state is not alone.


Other things worth your time

Some stories may require a subscription to read

Millions of Californians are at risk of losing Medi-Cal coverage // California Healthline

Karen Bass’ mission: Get 17,000 people off the streets of Los Angeles in a year // Politico

BART spent $350,000 on Salvation Army program that treated one person // Mercury News

Court orders California prisons to install cameras to deter abuse // San Francisco Chronicle

Town of Grayson wonders if restored floodplain prevented disaster // Reuters

What Obama’s strategist thinks of Newsom // Los Angeles Times 

Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s extremely awkward exit from the political stage // Politico

California wealth tax proposal likely to stall in Legislature // Bloomberg Tax

Natural gas bill spikes follow big raises for California utility executives // Los Angeles Times

California fast food act prompts copycats in New York, Virginia // USA Today

California U.S. Senate race’s early start accelerates House and legislative races // Los Angeles Times 

PG&E to face manslaughter trial over deadly California fire // Associated Press

Black Lives Matter criticizes LAPD chief’s reappointment // Los Angeles Times 

George Santos donor gave to group opposing LA’s progressive DA // The Intercept

Worker’s electrocution at Stanford physics lab forces shutdown/ // San Francisco Standard

Authorities: 2 arrested in Tulare County shooting that killed 6 // Associated Press

Opinion: I was thrilled for my first day at a new job, but a gun threat sent me home // San Francisco Chronicle

See you tomorrow


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

Follow me on Twitter: @sameeakamal

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