California lawmakers want to tax guns and ammo

Your guide to California policy and politics
Lynn La BY Lynn La September 8, 2023
Presented by Dairy Cares, Southern California Gas Company, Climate-Smart Agricultural Partnership and Politifest 2023

California lawmakers want to tax guns and ammo

With adjournment edging ever closer next Thursday, legislators are continuing to push through bills to beat the deadline. 

On Thursday: 

Gun tax: After years of failed efforts, the Legislature sent Gov. Gavin Newsom a measure to tax firearms and ammunition to fund gun violence prevention in California, CalMatters’ Alexei Koseff reports.

Assembly Bill 28 by Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel, a Woodland Hills Democrat, would impose an 11% excise tax on retailers and manufacturers for sales of guns or ammunition. Modeled on a similar federal levy for wildlife conservation, the tax could bring in an estimated $160 million annually for violence intervention programs, school safety improvements and law enforcement efforts to confiscate guns from people who are prohibited from owning them.

  • Gabriel, to CalMatters: “We’ve passed a lot of good gun safety laws. The data shows that we have a lower gun death rate here in California than we do in other states. But this was one of the big things that was still out there.”

Lawmakers unsuccessfully pursued sales or excise taxes on guns and ammunition — which face a higher two-thirds threshold for approval — half a dozen times over the past decade, some of which never even got a hearing.

That made Thursday particularly momentous for supporters. In the morning, Gabriel and several Assembly colleagues watched a lengthy floor debate in the Senate from the back of the chamber; Democrats narrowly approved AB 28 over the objections of Republicans, who said businesses would simply pass the cost onto customers, an unfair burden for sports shooters and hunters who frequently buy ammunition. After a final vote in the Assembly hours later, Gabriel was bombarded with congratulatory hugs.

“I’m going to cry. I’m going to cry. What a journey,” said Assemblymember Buffy Wicks, an Oakland Democrat whose husband leads the gun control organization Giffords.

The bill now goes to Newsom, who has until Oct. 14 to sign or veto. Though he has been a vocal proponent of adopting more gun safety laws in California, a spokesperson for Newsom declined to comment on the measure.

Workplace retaliation: Alejandra Reyes-Velarde of CalMatters’ California Divide team reports that in a victory for labor activists, a bill is headed to the governor desk that would require employers to prove they are not retaliating if they fire, demote or cut the hours of workers who have lodged workplace complaints against them. 

The Assembly passed SB 497 on a 45-15 vote. The bill would mandate the California Labor Commissioner’s office and state courts assume employers are illegally retaliating if they take certain disciplinary actions against a worker who in the prior 90 days has made a wage claim or a complaint about unequal pay.  

“California has some of the strongest workplace and equal pay protections in the country,” said Assemblymember Ash Kalra, the San Jose Democrat who presented the bill on behalf of Sen. Lola Smallwood-Cuevas, the Los Angeles Democrat who authored the bill. “However, our strong workplace protections are meaningless if workers are too afraid to speak up when their rights are violated.”

Employers will be able to rebut the retaliation assumption by showing to the labor commissioner or courts that there is a legitimate, non-retaliatory reason for the employee discipline, Kalra said. 

Noise pollution: Meanwhile, Newsom is signing some noteworthy bills. Thursday, he announced his blessing of a measure to remove noise pollution from the list of potential environmental harms that can block housing. AB 1307 was authored by Assemblymember Wicks after a court ruling this year that halted a UC Berkeley student housing project under the California Environmental Quality Act.

  • Newsom, in a statement: “California will not allow NIMBYism to take hold, blocking critically needed housing for years and even decades.”

Focus on inequality: Each Friday, the California Divide team delivers a newsletter that focuses on the politics and policy of inequality. Read the latest installment here and subscribe here.


1 TikTok, disaster aid bills delayed

The TikTok application on a phone on July 25, 2023. Photo by Felix Schlikis, Imago via Reuters
The TikTok app on a phone on July 25, 2023. Photo by Felix Schlikis, Imago via Reuters

Other bills are getting shelved in the final days of the session:

TikTok ban: A bipartisan bill to ban the social media platform TikTok and other “high-risk” apps from state phones and devices was put off until 2024, writes CalMatters’ state Capitol reporter Sameea Kamal

Sen. Bill Dodd, a Napa Democrat who co-authored SB 74, said it was held after Gov. Newsom’s office reached out about waiting on findings of a study on artificial intelligence and cybersecurity. 

  • Dodd, to CalMatters: “They have a choice to make whether they sign the bill or veto the bill, and if it really doesn’t meet the criteria, they’re going to veto it.”

A spokesperson for Sen. Brian Jones, a San Diego Republican who is the other co-author, said it was pulled because they needed “to ensure that the bill’s language doesn’t impede any law enforcement investigations.”

TikTok says it’s being unfairly singled out. It has spent nearly $80,000 lobbying on this measure, as well as three other bills this session. 

The federal government and 30 other states have adopted similar bans. Read more about the TikTok measure.

Disaster aid: Nicole Foy of CalMatters’ California Divide team reports that an attempt to get disaster relief to more Californians is dead for the year.

AB 513 would have created a state program to give direct aid payments to Californians who might not qualify for federal aid because of their legal status or because of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s qualifying criteria. But it failed during the Assembly appropriations committee’s suspense file hearing last week. The state’s emergency management department estimated the bill would cost more than $1 billion and require at least seven additional staff.

The state has sometimes deployed temporary, targeted solutions for past disasters. For instance, it recently created a state fund for undocumented Californians who lost work and property during the 2022-23 winter storms and flooding. 

Assemblymember Freddie Rodriguez, a Chino Democrat who authored the bill, told CalMatters that “disaster-prone” California needs a permanent solution for the obstacles blocking Californians from getting the disaster assistance they need. He also disagreed with the cost assessment.

The proposed legislation could have helped Coachella Valley residents trying to recover from Tropical Storm Hilary, which flooded and damaged mostly low-income immigrant communities across the region.

2 As COVID surges, vax debate returns

Medical assistant Letrice Smith fills syringes during a community COVID-19 vaccination clinic run by Ravenswood Family Health Network at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park on April 10, 2021.
A medical assistant fills syringes at a community COVID-19 vaccination clinic at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park on April 10, 2021. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters

An uptick in COVID-19 hospitalization rates and wastewater surveillance networks confirm that COVID-19 infection rates are on the rise. And while experts have been concerned that a new potential variant, known as Pirola, can spread faster even among people who had the illness before, trial data for the new booster appears promising to combat it.

But with any new COVID-19 booster — available as early as next week — comes renewed debate over vaccine mandates. In anticipation of any potential state or federal public health requirements, the Huntington Beach City Council voted Wednesday to ban mask and vaccine mandates, reports The Orange County Register, arguing that prior rules “damaged the economy.” Individual businesses can still require masks and vaccines, however, and residents can “do as they please.”

For public school students though, districts will expect them to be up-to-date on their shots against measles, mumps, chickenpox and other diseases. As EdSource reports, the state’s student vaccination rates have increased steadily since 2015, when California got rid of personal belief exemptions. 

But rates fell dramatically after schools shut down during the pandemic, and haven’t fully recovered since. California’s Department of Public Health’s latest audit numbers show that more than 500 public schools serving kids from kindergarten and seventh grade had low vaccination rates last school year, and can be at risk of losing funding.

Read more about California’s COVID status from CalMatters health reporter Kristen Hwang.

3 Meet Assemblymember Pilar Schiavo

Assemblymember Pilar Schiavo, left, of District 40, embraces Malia Cohen, California Controller during the opening session of the California Legislature in Sacramento on Dec. 5, 2022. The legislature returned to work on Monday to swear in new members and elect leaders for the upcoming session. Photo by José Luis Villegas, AP Photo Pool)
Assemblymember Pilar Schiavo, left, embraces California Controller Malia Cohen at the state Capitol in Sacramento on Dec. 5, 2022. Photo by José Luis Villegas, AP Photo Pool

Assemblymember Pilar Schiavo has a lot on her plate. After Robert Rivas became speaker, he approached the Democrat from Santa Clarita Valley to become the chairperson of the Military and Veterans Affairs committee, which is now monitoring the tech-financed land grab near Travis Air Force Base, apparently to build a brand-new city (“We’re keeping an eye on it… but it’s not raising huge red flags”).

Meanwhile back in her district, Schiavo is opposing the recent utilities commission’s approval to ramp up operations of the Aliso Canyon natural gas facility, which was the site of the country’s largest gas leak in 2015. 

But juggling several things at once is par for the course for Schiavo, who is also a single mother of an 11-year-old daughter. As the legislative session wraps up, I sat down with Schiavo to discuss her priorities on the committee, as well as her legislative wins and losses.

How did your role at the Assembly Military and Veterans Affairs committee come about and what are your priorities?

(Rivas) came in and toured my district where we did a tour with veterans of veteran housing. He knows that there’s a lot of veterans in our district, in our community and it’s a really important issue for us.

I’ve also done work in this space — I’m a daughter of a Vietnam War veteran, sister of an Iraq War veteran. I’ve worked closely with veterans in Santa Clarita to get a veteran service officer, who is the person that can basically help you access all the VA benefits and supports….

We’re looking at doing an hearing this fall around housing and services, really focusing on veterans who are in need the most and see where the holes are. California does an incredible job, and I’ve been learning a lot, but there’s a lot more we can do.

With the legislative session ending next week, what are your top bills?

Our bills have really been focused on what I call the “three Hs” (homelessness, housing and health care)…. What seems simple but it’s so important is helping folks get IDs and vital records when they’re experiencing homelessness. That’s my first bill I introduced, that’s my baby. It’s the one I love so much because in my work around homelessness, I did weekly outreach to encampments for over a year. And the number one thing that people asked for, aside from housing and food, was help getting an ID because it gets lost, stolen, swept so often and you can’t get a job, can’t get housing, you can’t get services.

I have one around concealed carry, licensing and just setting statewide standards around training and licensing. I’ve heard stories of people going and having pancakes with the person who was supposed to be training with them, or a cup of coffee, and then get signed off on their paperwork and can get a concealed carry. (Note: The bill was held in the appropriations committee.)

Let’s talk about a bill of yours that didn’t make it — the measure that would establish a public awareness campaign about abortion options.

I was very surprised and heartbroken about that one. Crisis pregnancy centers are really the frontline of the anti-abortion movement in California. That’s where they see they can expand, and it’s how they see that they can really impede women’s access to abortion. It’s completely reasonable to be incredibly concerned about them.

My bill would have just simply helped inform people about where they can get access to abortion and medically accurate information about abortion…. I definitely still want to do something in that space… so if we don’t do it this year, maybe then next year.

What’s one thing that has surprised you about being in office? 

What surprised me the most was how hard it was to move my daughter (from Los Angeles)…. She’s tough and she’s endured a lot. 

My colleagues have been amazing and amazingly supportive. That has been phenomenal because I basically bring her everywhere with me, they call her “the 81st Assemblymember” now because she’s always there…. It’s never felt like she’s unwelcome in a meeting or in a space, or that I’m unwelcomed because she’s with me, which has made a huge difference. I know there’s mothers who come before me who have helped paved that way.

For more on the 31 new legislators, read my prior interviews: Sen. Caroline Menjivar, a San Fernando Valley Democrat; and Assemblymembers Corey Jackson, a Moreno Valley Democrat; Joe Patterson, a Granite Bay Republican; Stephanie Nguyen, an Elk Grove Democrat; and Liz Ortega, a Hayward Democrat.


CalMatters Commentary

CalMatters on the big issues: The next event is scheduled for Sept. 19, on Gov. Newsom’s push for rehabilitation over incarceration. Register here. Here’s our coverage of the prior panel discussions in Sacramento, in May on homeownership, in June on police shootings and in August on electric vehicles and inequality


Other things worth your time

Some stories may require a subscription to read

California health care tax proponents go to the 2024 ballot // Politico

Water conservation rules could mean new cuts // Los Angeles Times

Newsom ramps up National Guard to stop fentanyl at border // The San Diego Union-Tribune

State law enforcement workers get family leave, 7% raises // The Sacramento Bee

California courts may weigh child’s gender identity in custody cases // AP News

Robert Rivas wants to use small-town charm to build political power // Los Angeles Times

Schiff, Porter lead poll for California’s US Senate seat // Los Angeles Times

Story of Japanese Americans proves reparations are possible // The Guardian

AI used to create renderings of proposed city in Solano County // San Francisco Chronicle

40,000 eviction notices have gone out in LA this year // Los Angeles Times

MacKenzie Scott gives $20M to SF housing nonprofit // The San Francisco Standard

See you next week


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