California legislators put crime front and center
Crime is always a key issue at the state Capitol — and even more so this week. With many Californians worried about personal safety and crime, legislators are touting bills that either support victims of crime or enact harsher penalties on criminals.
Today is the second day of the 10th annual Survivors Speak Conference, which gathers crime victim advocates, public safety organizations and even a couple of celebrities to push for more funding and support for victim services.
They’ll be marching to the Capitol for a rally and are backing bills by Los Angeles Democratic state Sens. María Elena Durazo and Caroline Menjivar related to victims compensation (Senate Bills 655 and 838), as well as proposals from Democratic Assemblymembers Isaac Bryan from Culver City and Matt Haney from San Francisco. In February, Bryan introduced a bill that would allow crime victims to be notified of the availability of restorative justice programs. Haney’s bill would enable survivors of domestic violence or human trafficking who are charged with a violent crime to share their stories in court.
Meanwhile, Republicans plan to rally today to put pressure on the Assembly public safety committee on the fentanyl crisis. In March, the Democratic committee chairperson put a hold on all fentanyl-related bills, citing “duplicative efforts” and “temporary solutions.” Republican Senate leader Brian Jones of El Cajon and Assembly GOP leader James Gallagher will be joined by three district attorneys and family members of residents killed by fentanyl.
The hold on fentanyl bills (which halted bills authored by Democrats as well) isn’t the only recent time Republicans ran into roadblocks on their crime initiatives. In January, Republican Assemblymember Joe Patterson of Granite Bay introduced a bill that would have expanded the definition of a violent felony to include human trafficking, domestic violence and “rape of an unconscious or incapacitated person,” according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
Democrats killed the bill in March. On Monday, though she was joined by Republicans, it was Democratic state Sen. Marie Alvarado-Gil of Modesto who promoted her bill that would expand the definition of a violent felony to include the rape of an unconscious or incapacitated person.
In other crime news, Attorney General Rob Bonta announced Monday that 17 people were arrested in connection to multiple violent crimes across Northern California, including the two mass shootings that took place at Sikh temples last Aug. 27 and this March 23.
The arrests were a result of a months-long investigation by local, state and federal law enforcement of two rival “criminal syndicates.” According to The Sacramento Bee, “The district attorney said the motivation behind the violence is still a ‘little murky,’ but that they basically show up to places and try to shoot each other.”
Cannabis coverage: CalMatters is coming to Cal Poly Humboldt for a look at how the news media covers cannabis. From 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. on Thursday, a panel of local journalists, media professors and cannabis studies experts, moderated by CalMatters CEO Neil Chase, will critique cannabis-related coverage and discuss journalism in a democratic society. Pre-register for this event.
More honors for CalMatters: CalMatters’ Julie Cart won a second first-place award Monday in the Best of the West journalism contest for her series “Trial by fire: The trauma of fighting California’s wildfires” this time for long-form feature writing. Her series previously won first place for environmental reporting. Read more on the four awards CalMatters won in the contest from our engagement team.
Other Stories You Should Know
1 Starbucks, Cal State unions make gains
Starbucks Workers United, one of the major union groups for employees of the multibillion-dollar coffee giant, announced Monday that it has gained its 300th unionized store — the one at 7th and K Streets in downtown Sacramento.
- Maizie Jensen, Starbucks barista and labor organizer, in a statement: “We could not have done it without our union siblings at the 299 stores that came before us, and we are thrilled that our store can represent such an impressive milestone.”
The first Starbucks-owned store in the U.S. to successfully unionize was in Buffalo, N.Y. in 2021. Though hundreds of stores have followed suit since, that’s fewer than 3% of the 9,000 company-operated Starbucks locations, according to NPR. Unionization efforts continue statewide, including at stores in midtown Sacramento, Oakland, Sunnyvale and Los Angeles.
These efforts are part of a wider movement of California food workers seeking union representation, better working conditions and higher wages. On Labor Day 2022, fast food workers scored a big win when Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a law that would create a council to regulate wages and working conditions in fast food restaurants. However, that measure has since stalled after the fast food industry poured $4 million in a referendum effort that will put the issue to voters in the 2024 election.
Speaking of labor organizing, Friday’s newsletter featured a report by Rocky Walker of CalMatters’ College Journalism Network about California State University student assistants seeking to unionize by gaining representation through the California State University Employees Union. On Monday, the students officially petitioned the California Public Employment Relations Board for a union election.
To trigger a union election, student assistants had to garner support from more than 30% of their fellow workers. (Cal State estimates there are about 13,000 student assistants, while the union puts it around 10,000.) Either way, the students submitted more than 4,000 signed union authorization cards. The union is billing this effort “as the largest non-academic student worker organizing effort in U.S. history.”
In response, a Cal State spokesperson said that “In the event student employees are formally recognized by the California Public Employment Relations Board, we look forward to engaging with them as we do with all of our other union partners.”
2 AG honors farmworkers, but no action yet
From Nicole Foy of CalMatters’ California Divide team:
Attorney General Rob Bonta touted California’s legacy of farmworker union organizing — and his own connections to the farmworkers’ rights movement — during a virtual event Monday honoring the legacy of Cesar Chavez. Bonta grew up in La Paz, the headquarters of the United Farm Workers, where his parents worked for the union and under the leadership of Chavez and Dolores Huerta.
Huerta joined the event along with others from the United Farm Workers, the state Department of Justice Workers’ Rights and Fair Labor Section, and the authors of a landmark UC Merced study on the health and working conditions of California farmworkers. She said organizing farmworkers was still the best way to continue Chavez’s legacy and improve the lives and working conditions of agricultural workers around the state.
- Huerta: “They don’t know they have these protections, these protections people died for.”
The UC Merced study published in January surveyed more than 1,200 farmworkers around the state about their health, access to medical care, housing and working conditions — with particularly sobering insights into California’s ongoing struggle to protect workers from heat and pesticides and to enforce state and federal wage laws.
The study found that 43% of farmworkers said their employers never provided written heat illness prevention plans, while 36% said they would be unwilling to file a report against their employer for noncompliance with workplace health and safety rules.
Edward Flores, one of the study authors, told Bonta the state should be investing more resources for enforcement and oversight of state worker protection laws, as well as bolstering incentives for employers to comply with existing law.
Bonta echoed support for one of Flores’s suggestions in particular — that his department could help identify “good” employers based on their history of compliance with worker safety laws. This could make it easier for state agencies to direct funding such as the Community Economic Resilience Fund grants.
- Bonta: “We can direct guidance to those folks so they can know what their legal obligations are, so they can know the Department of Justice is watching.”
CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: California lawmakers must deal with a multibillion-dollar budget deficit, but also face demands for more money from leaders of vital health care and transit services.
CalMatters held a contest for students to write opinion pieces about Earth Day.
Fourth place: California must curb Central Valley food waste, writes Jesse Morris, a high school student from Tulare County. And here are excerpts from some of the 120-plus submissions.
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