California Attorney General Rob Bonta goes after the NFL, and tobacco
As California’s top law enforcement official, Attorney General Rob Bonta has plenty of leeway for his to-do list. This week, he’s using his powers widely on some hot-button issues.
NFL sexual harassment: Saying that no company is too big or powerful to be “above the law” Bonta announced a joint investigation on Thursday with New York attorney general Letitia James into sexual harassment and discrimination at NFL offices in the two states, which employ more than 1,000 workers. More than 30 former female staffers have accused the league of gender discrimination and retaliation.
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Bonta called the allegations from directors, wardrobe stylists and other employees “very disturbing and concerning.” The workers accuse players and male staff of abuse, and claim that the NFL did not take the necessary steps to prevent the hostile behavior. The investigation will also probe accusations of gender pay disparities, as well as age and racial discrimination.
Abortion rights: In his latest move to protect abortion access, Bonta partnered with the Southern California Legal Alliance for Reproductive Justice on Tuesday to launch a free hotline for people who need legal help related to abortion.
Joined by several advocacy groups and law firms, he debuted the hotline on the one-year anniversary of the leak of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. “In the wake of this decision…. California has remained a beacon of hope and safety,” said Bonta.
Some of the hotline’s services include offering clarity on abortion restrictions, advice on how to protect health-related data, and referrals to local and national law firms. The hotline can be reached at (310) 206-4466.
Big Tobacco: Bonta has warned tobacco companies that their latest gambit to get around California’s ban on flavored tobacco products is illegal. Politico reports that Bonta sent letters to R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company and ITG Brands, LLC on April 25, saying that their products are “presumptively flavored” or imply they have “non-tobacco taste or aroma,” and that the marketing for these cigarettes promote them as such.
Though California does not have an all-out ban on tobacco, last November voters defeated an industry attempt to kill a law that prohibits the sale of some flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes.
In January, The New York Times reported that R.J. Reynolds quickly attempted to skirt the ban by advertising its non-menthol cigarettes with “a new twist.” The companies have until June 23 to respond to Bonta.
California’s water crisis, explained: CalMatters has a detailed look at how California might increase its water supply, and a dashboard tracking the state’s water situation. We also offer a version of the water explainer especially made for libraries and community groups, as part of the CalMatters for Learning initiative.
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1 A lifeline for rural hospitals
It’s a small win in the long list of hardships for California hospitals: On Thursday, lawmakers sent to Gov. Gavin Newsom a bill that will set aside $150 million for interest-free state loans to keep them open.
As CalMatters’ health reporter Ana B. Ibarra explains, the funds will be available to nonprofit and public hospitals, as well as hospitals that have already closed, but plan to reopen. The loans must be repaid within six years, but they could be forgiven under certain requirements. It’s unclear yet what criteria hospitals need to meet or how many hospitals could qualify for the loans. But a report from the California Hospital Association says that one in five hospitals is at risk of closure, and half of the state’s hospitals are losing money.
Rising costs, labor shortages, and pandemic-related expenses have all contributed to the financial difficulties of hospitals, particularly ones in rural areas. After the closure of Madera Community Hospital in December, Ana reported on other struggling hospitals, including Beverly Hospital in Montebello.
In March, the hospital announced it would suspend its maternity, pediatric and outpatient radiology services. But on Thursday, Sen. Bob Archuleta, a Cerritos Democrat whose district includes Montebello, said he hopes this funding can help the institution stay afloat.
- Archuleta: “This bill, this money, will keep them (Beverly Hospital) open long enough to be able to perhaps sell, regroup, whatever, but they will keep their doors open.”
Financial pressure on hospitals: The industry says more hospitals could close if lawmakers approve a $25 minimum wage for healthcare workers. And to make the point, on Thursday it put out a study that says Senate Bill 525 would raise costs by $8 billion a year for public and private providers,
That includes $2.3 billion for hospitals, $3.6 billion for Medi-Cal and $1.3 billion for nursing homes, according to the economic analysis. And the total bill would increase to $11 billion by 2030, the study says.
- Cathy Martin, CEO of the Association of California Healthcare Districts, in a statement: “Health care providers go to great lengths to support and reward workers, but SB 525 is a massive $8 billion increase in health care costs we simply cannot afford.”
All the opposition may already be working. On Monday, the bill was sent to the dreaded “suspense file,” where the Senate Appropriations Committee could quickly kill it later this month, without a recorded vote or an explanation.
2 CA lawmakers act, urgently
The Legislature passed two other “emergency” measures Thursday.
Nicole Foy of CalMatters’ California Divide team reports that lawmakers signed off on revisions to a new law that significantly expanded farmworker union rights when it went into effect in January.
California farmworkers previously voted for union representation via a two-step secret ballot process that often took place at their worksite on employer property. The new law, which went into effect in January, allowed farmworkers to vote either by card check — turning in signed union authorization cards — or a complicated vote-by-mail process.
The budget trailer bill approved by both the Senate and the Assembly Thursday removed the vote-by-mail provision and further clarified last year’s legislation, as part of a compromise between Gov. Gavin Newsom and labor unions, including the United Farm Workers.
Newsom had previously expressed concern about the security of the vote-by-mail provision of the bill in particular, but eventually signed the legislation after months of United Farm Workers and White House pressure.
Grower groups opposed both the previous version of the bill and the new agreement, telling both Senate and Assembly committees that they were not consulted and didn’t agree with the new terms. The United Farm Workers declined comment.
No taxes on student debt relief: Legislators also passed a bill on Thursday that will exclude federal student loan relief money from California income taxes. Last August, the White House announced a plan to cancel as much as $10,000 in student debt, $20,000 for Pell Grant recipients.
While that plan has been blocked until an expected U.S. Supreme Court ruling by the end of June, it left California residents wondering if the state would consider that relief as income and tax it. In November, the governor called on state lawmakers to pass legislation to ensure that wouldn’t happen, and a month later, the bills were introduced in the Assembly and Senate.
Data privacy protections approved by voters are being drafted, but tech companies are trying to derail the rules, writes Justin Kloczko, tech and privacy advocate for Consumer Watchdog.
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