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Your guide to California policy and politics
Lynn La BY Lynn La March 24, 2023
Presented by California Optometric Association, Dairy Cares, National Resources Defense Council and Southern California Edison

Can a suicide hotline help California’s Native Americans?

From 2018 to 2021, 109 Native Americans took their own lives in California.

Can the new national hotline help save some lives?

This week in Sacramento, Assemblymember James Ramos, a member of the Serrano/Cahuilla tribe who is the first Native American to be elected to the state Assembly, partnered with Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services to promote the 988 national suicide prevention hotline to Northern California tribal communities. 

Several Native American and health care organizations also joined the Wednesday event. It followed a similar summit in February for Southern California tribal communities.

  • Ramos, a Highland Democrat: “Non-Native Americans often subscribe to the notion that we are all one culture, one language, one set of traditions. California has more than a 100 tribes, and each one is different. It is why I applaud Didi Hirsch for reaching out to the state’s tribal communities to hear how best to make 988 the effective, life-saving tool it is meant to be.”

While suicide rates for Native Americans were lower in California, across the U.S., their rates are higher compared to the population as a whole, and the suicide rate for Native American men is three times higher than women.

Various reasons contribute to suicides among Native Americans. A 2017 report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services lists limited access to health care resources, historical trauma, high unemployment and poverty rates and a “loss of cultural values and traditions that could otherwise provide anchors of strength in crises.”

By holding the summits, Native American organizations hope to bring more awareness to the 988 hotline for those in tribal communities experiencing mental health crises. When 988 was established as a national hotline in 2020, it included a stipulation that allowed states the ability to fund call centers that would support the hotline. The number debuted in California in July 2022, with an initial $20 million investment and 13 call centers.

Since taking office in 2018, Ramos has authored a number of bills concerning tribal communities. In September, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed several of them into law, which included establishing the California Indian Education Act and banning state usage of a historically derogatory term for indigenous women.

Mental health issues in general also impact a broad range of residents in California, as evidenced by the drastic increase in suicide and overdose rates. To address these issues, Assemblymember Corey Jackson, a Democrat from Perris, introduced on Monday a package of mental health bills, one of which is a five-cent tax on candy that would be used to fund mental health programs.


CalMatters staff update: CalMatters continues to grow to meet our mission of explaining California policy and politics. Read more about the new staffers from our engagement team.


1 Smooth sailing for Newsom oil bill

Protestors gathered 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 gathered outside the California Energy Commission headquarters during a hearing on the state gas price spike in Sacramento on Nov. 29, 2022. Photo by Rahul Lal, CalMatters

From CalMatters’ politics reporter Alexei Koseff:

It seems that California Senate Democrats expunged their anxieties over Newsom’s proposal to combat excessive gas prices in the bill’s marathon first hearing on Wednesday.

By comparison, there was relatively little debate as the measure, Senate Bill X1-2, cleared the Senate Thursday by an overwhelming 30-8 vote, sending it to the Assembly for consideration.

Despite widespread complaints about how quickly the governor has moved to pass the bill — which would authorize the California Energy Commission to investigate and potentially penalize oil company profits — since unveiling a revised version last week, the Democratic caucus largely held together on the Senate floor. Few members rose to speak about the measure at all, and only new Sen. Marie Alvarado-Gil of Modesto, who unexpectedly won in a heavily Republican district last year, voted against it.

  • Newsom celebrated in a statement: “For decades, oil companies have gotten away with ripping off California families while making record profits and hiding their books from public view. With this proposal, California leaders are ending the era of oil’s outsized influence and holding them accountable.”

Senate Republicans had more to say, with more than half of the (admittedly tiny) caucus rising to complain about the speed of a process that they argued had excluded them, their constituents and the oil industry, opening the door to unintended consequences that could make California’s sky-high energy costs worse.

Senate Republican Leader Brian Jones of Santee, who tried to bring up an alternative proposal to suspend state fuel taxes and regulations that was quickly tabled by Democrats, said he was “very, very disappointed in this body.”

But even among the GOP, there is bubbling frustration with oil companies over gasoline prices that soared to record levels last summer, nearly $3 per gallon higher than the national average.

Sen. Scott Wilk of Santa Clarita abstained on the measure instead of voting against it like his Republican colleagues. He said more transparency was needed to determine why oil companies have reaped such massive profits as Californians are struggling to fill up their cars, but said Newsom’s bill was the wrong approach.

  • Wilk: “A plague on everybody’s house.”

That opened the door for Sen. Ben Allen, a Santa Monica Democrat, to criticize legislative Republicans for not doing enough to hold oil refiners accountable, including by voting against a measure he carried last year that required them to report more data about their operations.

  • Allen: “There’s just been a lack of willingness to support even basic transparency on the part of the oil industry.”

SB 1X-2 could come up for a vote in the Assembly as soon as Monday, the last stop before the governor’s desk. Newsom has been meeting with legislators this week to shore up support, including before session Thursday morning with the Progressive Caucus of the Assembly in a hearing room at the Capitol.

2 A Skittles ‘ban,’ really?

A Skittles candy pack on July 17, 2022. Photo by Dado Ruvic, Reuters

When Assemblymembers Jesse Gabriel from Woodland Hills and Buffy Wicks from Oakland announced their food chemical bill last week, the most interesting thing about it at the time was that they got a celebrity chef to help introduce the bill.

But now the bill — which, starting in 2025, would ban the state’s sale, manufacturing and distribution of five food additives that are linked to health issues in children — has predictably fed the national narrative about California’s penchant for overregulation. 

Now known as the “Skittles ban,” news organizations including USA Today and The Washington Post, and even one as far as The Independent in the U.K., are reporting that because one of the listed chemicals, titanium dioxide, is an ingredient in Skittles, it means that California is all but ready to ban the candy altogether.

This is despite the fact that when the legislators introduced the bill — perhaps in anticipation of receiving this very blowback — they explicitly said that the measure does not set out to ban any specific foods.

  • Gabriel: “We’re not looking to ban any foods or any products. We just want folks to switch to safer alternatives. For each of these chemicals that are part of our legislation, there are readily available safer alternatives, and in many cases, a cheaper alternative. So it’s still possible to make a healthy profit without poisoning kids.”

Still, with the recent press coverage, Gabriel was prompted to reassure USA Today on Wednesday that he loves Skittles and that he eats them “all the time.” 

3 More on sterilization patient records

Then-Assemblymember, current Secretary of State, Shirley Weber during a press conference in 2019. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters
Then-Assemblymember and current Secretary of State Shirley Weber, during a press conference in 2019. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters

On Wednesday, I reported on the California State Archive’s mishandling of personal and medical records belonging to patients who were forcibly sterilized by the state. Though the Secretary of State’s office, which oversees the Archives, did not respond before publication, a spokesperson replied Thursday with an update. 

A few takeaways:

  • The dates of the records were mislabeled when the Archives received them, so they were accessible even though they were more recent than the 75-year rule for public access.
  • The office has revised its process so that items are reviewed to make sure their dates are accurately labeled.
  • An estimated 865 individuals were affected by the data breach, or what the office considers a “privacy incident.”

The Secretary of State added that there is no evidence the records were viewed or distributed by others, and that as far as it knows, no further information has been misused.


CalMatters Commentary

Two views on a bill requiring large corporations to disclose their carbon emissions: 

It could increase costs for California consumers, while failing to promote transparency, argues Wayne Winegarden, a senior fellow in business and economics at the Pacific Research Institute.

It will empower consumers, disrupt greenwashing and help spotlight sustainable companies for others to model, argue Brianna McGuire and Charles Kieser of the Sunrise Movement’s Bay Area hub.


Other things worth your time

Some stories may require a subscription to read

California bill would require high schools to hand out free condoms // Los Angeles Times 

State names new literacy directors amid California’s literacy crisis // EdSource

State launches probe of cannabis licensing to clean corruption // Los Angeles Times

California State University workers demand higher wages, benefits // Sacramento Bee

California low-wage workers demand more amid rising living costs // Los Angeles Times

Oakland weighs phase-out of its eviction moratorium after 3 years // San Francisco Chronicle

Bay Area tech layoffs worsen, Glassdoor and Microsoft slash jobs // The Mercury News

Oakland Trader Joe’s first in California to file for union election // Los Angeles Times

Tiny homes could count as real housing under state proposal // San Francisco Chronicle

Alameda County judge rejects 15-year plea deal in case alleging 3 murders // Berkeley Scanner

SVB pledged $11B to underserved communities. Will new owners honor that? // KQED

Woman partially blinded by police bean bag in La Mesa protest settles for $10M // San Diego Union-Tribune

Historic California gas station for sale for $2.7M // The Sacramento Bee 

SF Supervisor considers run against Mayor London Breed in 2024 // San Francisco Standard

See you next week


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