Labor hits back on business-led California ballot measures

Your guide to California policy and politics
Lynn La BY Lynn La March 21, 2023
Presented by New California Coalition and California Water Service

Labor hits back on business-led California ballot measures

From CalMatters state Capitol reporter Sameea Kamal: 

It’s become a key part of the big business playbook: If an industry doesn’t like a California law, it uses the referendum process to try and overturn it

Already on the November 2024 ballot: the oil industry qualified a ballot measure to kill a law that bans new oil wells near schools and neighborhoods, and the fast-food industry qualified another to wipe out a law creating a council to regulate fast food wages

Those referenda can only qualify by getting enough signatures from voters, which some industries pay people to do. But as Culver City Assemblymember Isaac Bryan and environmental and labor groups pointed out Monday, the signature-gathering process can be rife with deception. 

At a virtual press conference, Bryan, chairperson of the Assembly elections committee, showed videos of paid signature gatherers purportedly giving incorrect information about the referenda to voters — in some cases, the exact opposite message of what the ballot measure would do. That’s why he introduced Assembly Bill 421, which seeks to bring more accountability and transparency into that process. 

The bill would require more disclosure into who is funding the effort, and a number of steps to help voters distinguish paid signature gathering, such as having petition circulators register with the Secretary of State’s office, undergo training and wear a badge with an ID number, and use different-colored paper from volunteer signature gatherers. To repeal a law within two years of enactment, the bill would also require that at least 10% of signatures be obtained by unpaid volunteers.

  • Assemblymember Bryan: “Blatantly dishonest tactics are being used to manipulate and mislead voters, putting more obstacles in the way of communities working to protect the environment, improve the health of our children, and give workers a fair shot.” 

But the Republican vice chairperson of the Assembly elections committee quickly tried to quash the bill. 

  • Assemblymember Tom Lackey of Palmdale, in a tweet: “This is a blatant attempt to disenfranchise Californians & help out partisan special interest backers. Why can’t #CALeg trust voters to make up their minds?”

The bill would also change the way that referendum questions are presented on the ballot. Currently, a “yes” vote is to uphold the law and a “no” vote is to repeal the law. But the bill’s backers say that leads to confusion, and under the new legislation, the meaning of “yes” and “no” votes would be reversed. 

As CalMatters’ Ben Christopher and Jeanne Kuang explain, even when referenda fail, they can still pay off for industries because the laws go on hold once the measures qualify

While the bill seeks to make changes to the direct democracy process, it wouldn’t alter language in the Constitution, so it wouldn’t need to be approved by voters, Bryan said.

Businesses are also trying to block legislation before it even gets through the Legislature. After a slowdown during the pandemic, money spent lobbying state officials rose in 2022 to $444 million, according to data from the Secretary of State’s office. 

The biggest spenders last year, as reported by The Sacramento Bee, are familiar: the Western States Petroleum Association, representing the oil industry, with $7.3 million, up from $4.4 million in 2021, and the International Franchise Association, representing the fast food industry, at $6.1 million, up from only $83,000 in 2021. 

In another effort to expand direct democracy, today state Sen. Monique Limón, a Santa Barbara Democrat, is promoting her Senate Bill 846 that aims to update, streamline and expand the state’s automatic voter registration system.

Currently, people who visit the DMV are asked if they’re a citizen and if they want to register to vote. These questions are usually prompted in the middle of a transaction, and about half decline due to impatience or confusion. Non-citizens are also put at risk if they answer incorrectly and are mistakenly registered to vote.

If Limón’s bill passes, however, verifying eligibility and registering voters will be automated based on documents the customer provided during their time at the DMV. By shifting responsibility more onto the DMV instead of individuals, proponents of the bill hope to register more Californians to vote, including people of color, previously incarcerated people, and other marginalized groups.

  • Alejandra Remírez-Zárate, policy director of O.C. Action: “Right now there are around 4.6 million Californians who are eligible, but are not registered to vote… A robust diversity of voices is essential to a healthy democracy. Ensuring that these eligible voters can participate in the process makes our democracy stronger, and makes the government more responsive to our communities.”

Opponents of the bill — which include ACLU California Action, the League of Women Voters of California and the California NALEO Educational Fund — doubt these methods will produce higher registration rates. They say the state should instead extend automatic voter registration services to other programs. 

  • In a coalition letter to the Senate elections committee: “Thoughtfully and carefully extending the AVR model currently in use at California’s DMV to other social services points-of-contact — such as applications for health coverage through Covered California — has the potential to bring voter registration to additional groups of under-represented Californians, including low-income voters who may be less likely to interact with the DMV.”

More honors for CalMatters: CalMatters reporters are up for seven Sacramento Press Club awards, which will be announced on March 29. The nominated stories include coverage of the state Capitol, housing, higher education, wage theft, public health, the cannabis industry and more. Read more about the finalists and the stories from our engagement team.


1 A tsunami of concealed carry applicants

Firearms instructor Ziyad "Zip" Showket offers concealed carry training in various locations around the state. March 15, 2023. Photo by Mark Leong for CalMatters
Firearms instructor Ziyad “Zip” Showket, who offers concealed carry training in the Bay Area, is shown on March 15, 2023. Photo by Mark Leong, CalMatters

In June 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a New York state law — a ruling that loosened requirements on concealed carry permits. The ripple effects quickly reached California, leading to a surge of concealed carry permit applicants, reports CalMatters’ Ben Christopher.

Some sheriff’s offices, especially where permits were rarely issued, are having trouble keeping up. But gun rights advocates are giving them a pass, for now.

  • Chuck Michel, president of the California Rifle & Pistol Association: “I’m trying to be understanding. Imagine suddenly the DMV had a million more people showing up to renew their license.” 

California’s situation is unique because when states loosen their concealed carry laws, it’s usually done by choice. But because this was done by “judicial fiat” by the highest court in the country, it’s unclear how this will specifically impact California, Ben writes.

So will more concealed carry permits lead to more violence? The evidence is inconclusive:

  • A study in Texas found that concealed carry permit holders were less likely to be convicted of a crime than the general population. But it also found that permit holders were more likely to be convicted of certain types of crimes, which include murder and manslaughter.
  • University researchers found that when states put less restrictive permit laws in place, violent crime increased by about 9%
  • The same study notes that this increase isn’t always due to the licensed gun holders themselves, but rather the result of more firearms being stolen, leading to an uptick in violence.
  • More armed civilians leads to less effective policing, complicating officers’ jobs and making them more likely to draw their own guns.

As the repercussions of the change in law remain unclear, Democratic lawmakers are seeking to put up guardrails, and they have the support of most California voters. Their proposals include adding more training requirements and, most notably, limiting where gun owners can carry their concealed weapons. It’s a measure similar to one that failed last year, but will likely pass this time around due to a simple majority approval.

2 Eviction protections to end in L.A.

Irma Cervantes at Atlantic Avenue Park in East Los Angeles on March 2, 2023. “It’s difficult to move because I do not have a job at the moment,” Cervantes said, who used to do janitorial work at the convention centers in Los Angeles and Orange Counties. “I just want to find a way to pay the rent without getting harassed.” Pablo Unzueta for CalMatters
Irma Cervantes at Atlantic Avenue Park in East Los Angeles on March 2, 2023. Photo by Pablo Unzueta, CalMatters

When California lifted statewide tenant relief and protection measures, originally enacted during the pandemic, cities and counties stepped in to provide additional rental assistance. But now, even those measures are being phased out — leaving tenants scrambling to pay back rent to avoid being kicked out of their homes, reports CalMatters’ Alejandra Reyes-Velarde.

For example, Los Angeles County — where nearly 200,000 households owe more than $500 million in unpaid rent — will end its tenant protections on March 31. With eviction cases already surging in the past two years, the county is bracing for another wave. Until then, housing advocates are trying to make sure renters don’t get left out in the cold.

Some of their proposals include extending deadlines for back rent, protecting those who do pay rent (but are in violation of their lease for other reasons) from no-fault evictions, or canceling rent debt altogether. 

  • Irma Cervantes, a tenant living in East Los Angeles who is at risk for eviction: “The home is the base of life for every human. Here we can laugh, we can rest, we can cry. Having a home is a right, it’s not an option.” 

But others, including mom-and-pop landlords and real estate professionals, say that eviction protections and bureaucracy make it difficult for landlords to collect the rent they’re rightfully owed.

  • Daniel Yukelson, executive director of the Apartments Association of Greater Los Angeles: Landlords “got crucified the last three years at the hands of the government. The government continues to use landlords as a scapegoat for the unhoused we see on our city sidewalks every day, because they haven’t come up with solutions to that problem.” 

Renters facing eviction in Los Angeles County still have some options. They can get federal and state funds to pay back rent, though they’ll need to get an attorney first. And tenants must cross a certain threshold of rent owed before they can be evicted. One city ordinance also requires landlords to pay relocation assistance to renters if they increase rent by more than the state cap.

3 Bolstering criticism of math framework

A student works through a math worksheet at Stege Elementary School in Richmond on Feb. 6, 2023. Photo by Shelby Knowles for CalMatters
A student works through a math worksheet at Stege Elementary School in Richmond on Feb. 6, 2023. Photo by Shelby Knowles, CalMatters

From CalMatters K-12 education reporter Joe Hong:

While the controversial updates to the California Mathematics Framework remain in limbo, a new study by Stanford University researchers released on Monday bolstered one of the main criticisms of the proposed changes. 

A quick refresher: In 2018, the California Department of Education started the process of updating its guidelines for teaching math in K-12 public schools. One of the most contentious aspects of the revisions was the recommendation that all students start high school in Algebra I, infuriating parents of high-achieving students who sought higher-level math courses to increase their chances of attending prestigious universities.

The authors of the proposed framework pointed to San Francisco Unified, where the district has required all ninth graders to take Algebra I since 2014, as an example of why this could help high-needs students, such as Black and Latino students as well as those from low-income families. CalMatters reported in 2021 that this policy actually coincided with a drop in test scores for high-needs students. 

The Stanford study adds to those findings:

  • According to the researchers, enrollment in Advanced Placement math courses dropped by 15%, “driven by declines in AP Calculus and among Asian/Pacific-Islander students” immediately following the change in policy.
  • In following years, more students tested into geometry in ninth grade or took geometry over the summer after ninth grade, resulting in subsequent increases in enrollment for advanced math classes.
  • But racial and ethnic gaps persist: Black and Latino students are still less likely to enroll in AP Calculus and AP Statistics by their senior year, and some of the gaps have grown since the policy change.

Scott Roark, a spokesperson for the California Department of Education, said there’s currently no timeline for the State Board of Education to vote on the revisions to the new math framework. He said state officials are still reviewing and considering the “hundreds of suggested edits” it received during the public comment period in the past two years. 


CalMatters Commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: A California appeals court ruling added a new twist to the legal and political battle over the status of gig workers, shifting the conflict to another arena.

Here are the guiding principles for the California Reparations Task Force as it finalizes its recommendations for the Legislature, explains Lisa Holder, a task force member and president of the Equal Justice Society.


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Talks fail, LAUSD strike and school closures set for Tuesday // Los Angeles Times

Bonta among 23 attorneys general blasting Kia, Hyundai over lack of anti-theft devices // CBS Sacramento

California wants Medicaid to cover six months of rent // Kaiser Health News

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Who gets a levee? The fight to save California’s small towns from flooding // Mercury News

Farmers, politicians clash as flood water rise in Central Valley // The Fresno Bee

Pajaro farmworkers face the prospect of no income as harvesting starts // KQED

Assemblymember Maienschein runs for San Diego city attorney // The San Diego Union-Tribune

Khan Academy envisions AI as a powerful tool for learning and teaching // EdSource

California’s first Latina chief justice recognized by USA TODAY // Redding Record Searchlight

Feds want to expand autonomous surveillance capabilities along border // Voice of San Diego

Opinion: California’s terrible deluge hides a silver lining // Bloomberg

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