California Legislature tackles food chemicals, facial recognition, transgender kids and more
The Legislature is back this week from spring recess and already things are getting busy.
CalMatters’ Julie Cart reports that a bill that would outlaw five chemicals in food products passed the Assembly health committee Tuesday after a robust debate — and a little snacking.
The so-called Skittles Bill prompted both a freewheeling discussion of beloved candies and confections — the author, Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel, produced a package of the colorful snack to share — and a serious analysis of the chemicals that go into producing the color, taste and texture of popular foods.
Among the targeted chemicals is red dye No. 3, which the European Union banned in food products. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration outlawed its use in cosmetics 1990 but has not done so for food. Many companies have reformulated their products to comply with EU food safety standards, and the candy that Gabriel, a Woodland Hills Democrat, passed around came courtesy of friends who purchased them in Europe.
Synthetic dyes in food were found in a 2021 California study to have neurobehavioral impacts on children. The state health department on Tuesday held a hearing to consider a petition to ban some of the chemicals.
The other additives named in the bill are brominated vegetable oil, potassium bromate, propylparaben, and titanium dioxide. Gabriel said the bill does not seek to ban the chemicals outright but intends to spur manufacturers to use alternative ingredients, which he says can be cheaper.
- Gabriel: “All have a documented risk of harm. Many major brands have moved away from using these chemicals. We are very far behind the rest of the world in protecting our young people.”
A variety of food and beverage companies oppose the bill, challenging the science the legislation relies on and saying that all of the chemicals have been vetted for consumer safety.
- Brendan Flanagan, senior director of state affairs for the Consumer Brands Association: “Food safety is of paramount concern to our members. We believe the current regulatory environment provides sufficient regulatory oversight.”
Here’s the latest on some other notable bills:
- Facial recognition: Also on Tuesday, the Assembly public safety committee approved the proposal by Assemblymember Phil Ting to limit the use of facial recognition technology by police. The San Francisco Democrat’s bill would disallow issuing search and arrest warrants based only on a facial recognition match and would require law enforcement agencies to publish written policies detailing their use of the technology. Several racial and reproductive justice groups oppose the bill. ACLU California Action argues that it is a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” and that the bill fails “to meaningfully limit the dangerous sharing of information with other agencies.”
- Transgender students: On Monday, the Assembly Education Committee said it will not set a hearing for a bill that would have required teachers to notify parents if their child is transgender, essentially killing the legislation that Republican Assemblymembers Bill Essayli from Riverside and James Gallagher from Chico authored. The committee chairperson, Democratic Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi from Torrance, called the bill “bad policy” and said that a hearing would “potentially provide a forum for increasingly hateful rhetoric targeting LGBTQ youth.” In a statement, Gallagher said the move was “sad, but not surprising.”
CalMatters events: We’re hosting more public events this year, starting with an April 18 discussion in our downtown Sacramento offices that will focus on the debate over early dyslexia screening. Read more from our engagement team and check out our calendar and sign up today.
For the record: The item in Tuesday’s newsletter about Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis incorrectly stated that Jerry Brown once served as lieutenant governor.
Other Stories You Should Know
1 Did guaranteed income work in Stockton?
In 2019, Stockton launched a two-year experiment in guaranteed income. It randomly chose 125 residents from neighborhoods where the median household annual income was below the city’s average (about $46,000 back then) and gave them $500 a month, no strings attached.
Participants spent the money however they wanted, while researchers studied their spending habits. And as Jeanne Kuang of CalMatters’ California Divide team reports, the study showed mainly positive results — except during the pandemic when results were inconclusive.
Under normal “economic and health conditions,” guaranteed income helped reduce financial and emotional stress in recipients. But during the second year of the program, in 2020 amidst the throes of the pandemic, “$500 a month is not a panacea for all social ills,” Amy Castro, a study author, told CalMatters.
Many recipients also couldn’t be reached for surveys and interviews, so the positive trends were not “strong enough to be statistically significant,” the researchers say.
Critics of guaranteed income believe such programs discourage people from working and are too expensive to fund. Some labor leaders argue that employers should just pay higher wages to their workers instead.
So what did the recipients spend their money on? One participant Jeanne spoke to spent it on car parts, children’s clothing and school supplies. But on average, participants spent more than a third of the funds on food. And during the first month of the pandemic, that shot up to nearly half of the tracked funds.
- Michael Tubbs, the Stockon mayor during the program: “People did not stop working. And people spent money on things we all spend money on. People know how to spend money.”
2 Feds suggest how to divvy up water
After months of intense discussions with water commissioners, indigenous tribes, farmers, irrigators and more, the federal government released its suggestions Tuesday on how to best allocate reduced water available from the Colorado River.
As CalMatters’ water reporter Alastair Bland explains, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation proposed three options on Tuesday — none of which are ideal to the seven states that rely on the Colorado. They are:
- Prioritize historic water rights, which would boost the Imperial Irrigation District that serves mostly farmers in Southern California. Arizona and Nevada would lose out the most.
- Split the cuts equally across states. This would hit California the hardest since it receives the most water now.
- Do nothing, as in keep the same level of water use and exports. This is unlikely: The West’s megadrought has shrunk the Colorado River’s major reservoirs, which will run out of water unless the states can agree on how to cut back usage.
Federal officials had warned California, Arizona and Nevada that if they don’t reach an agreement to reduce water use by 2 million to 4 million acre-feet a year, the government would step in. Earlier this year, six states made a proposal, but California issued a separate plan.
Following the finalization of these suggestions from the Biden administration, there will be a public comment period. The Interior Department is expected to make its final decision by August.
In other big environmental news: The Biden administration is following California’s lead by proposing new emission standards today to accelerate the transition to electric vehicles.
If put into effect, the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed standards would be among its strictest ever to reduce greenhouse gases and address climate change, reports CalMatters’ Nadia Lopez.
- Ali Zaidi, deputy national climate advisor to President Joe Biden: “We have reestablished the United States as a leader in the clean transportation future.”
The proposed regulation comes almost eight months after California set its own, more aggressive standards mandating sales of electric cars. Unlike California’s mandate, however, the EPA standards would not require that zero-emission vehicles make up a percentage of sales. Instead, the total fleet sold by an automaker each year would have to meet an overall emissions standard, forcing the company to produce enough electric vehicles to avoid surpassing it.
3 The revolving door of candidates
As the 2024 campaign heats up, one candidate jumped into a race Tuesday while another jumped out.
Eric Early announced his bid for the U.S. Senate. The Los Angeles attorney is the first major Republican to join the race, stating in his campaign video that he will “stand up for common sense solutions on issues that actually matter” while “progressive career politicians shadowbox over their woke ideology.”
Running as a conservative in a high-profile race that overwhelmingly favors Democrats is familiar territory for Early. In 2022, he finished third in the June primary for attorney general, behind incumbent Democrat Rob Bonta, who won in November, and then-Republican Nathan Hochman, who last week announced his campaign to be the next Los Angeles District Attorney.
Early joins a competitive field in the March 2024 primary hoping to succeed outgoing Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Other contenders include Democratic Reps. Adam Schiff of Burbank, Barbara Lee of Oakland and Katie Porter of Irvine.
Former Democratic Rep. Harley Rouda announced he’s withdrawing from his bid to replace Porter. Rouda said he suffered a serious fall last month, which caused moderate traumatic brain injury, and is ending his campaign to focus on recovery. He reported last week that he had raised more than $1.25 million in the first quarter of 2023 for the race.
Porter’s district is one of the most contested in California. A good percentage of the district’s voters have no party affiliation, and Porter won reelection in 2022 only by a slim margin over Republican Scott Baugh.
Baugh is running again in 2024, along with Democratic state Sen. Dave Min and Republican Newport Beach businessman Max Ukropina, among others.
CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: There’s no shortage of efforts to impose new taxes on the wealthy or corporations in California, but few of them survive the political process.
Just 2.5% of California community college students successfully transfer to a university within two years, but fully implementing a 2021 law could help, writes Momina Nadeem, who graduated from Mission College and UC Davis.
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