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In CA Legislature, 500 bills beat the deadline

by CalMatters, CalMatters Network
February 21, 2023

California doesn’t really need 2,600 new laws, right? 

Nevertheless, state lawmakers proposed 500 new bills on Friday, the 2023 session’s introduction deadline, bringing the total to about 2,600. That’s the most in more than a decade, according to veteran Capitol lobbyist Chris Micheli. More than 1,000 are “placeholder” bills without specific language. Reminder: More bills are typically introduced in odd-numbered years, the first year of the Legislature’s two-year sessions.

Last year, when about 2,000 bills were introduced, the Legislature passed almost 1,200 of them — and nearly 1,000 became law with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signature, including ones on wage transparency and housing.  

Some of the new bills tackle California’s hot-button issues. Assembly Bill 3 by new Assemblymember Jasmeet Bains, a Democrat from Bakersfield, would increase oil production in California just as the state aims to scale back fossil fuels to battle climate change. Her bill, proposed in the special session called by Gov. Gavin Newsom on an oil profits penalty, would require 60% of all crude oil refined in California to be produced in the state in 2030 and 50% in 2035. California now produces only about 30% of its crude oil, while the rest is imported from South America, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere.

Meanwhile, Sen. Dave Min, a Democrat from Costa Mesa, introduced Senate Bill 559 to end offshore oil drilling in California’s waters.

Another hot topic: the fentanyl crisis, which has spurred nearly two dozen bills introduced since December. Last week, bills were introduced by Republican Assemblymember Jim Patterson, from Fresno, and Democratic Assemblymember Carlos Villapudua, from Stockton. Both bills seek to increase the penalties for selling the drug. And Assemblymember Buffy Wicks, a Democrat from Oakland, introduced SB 287, which would make social media platforms liable for promoting the illegal sale of fentanyl to minors. 

Here are a handful of other key bills introduced last week to beat the deadline:

Housing and homelessness 

Health care

Workers’ rights

  • SB 497, by Sen. Lola Smallwood-Cuevas, from Los Angeles: Strengthens protections for workers from retaliation by employers;
  • SB 525, by Sen. María Elena Durazo, also from Los Angeles: Revives the effort to increase the minimum wage for some healthcare workers to $25 an hour; 
  • AB 1672 by San Francisco Assemblymember Matt Haney: Creates a framework to address labor disputes between employee organizations who represent independent in-home caregivers and the state.

From CalMatters California Divide reporter Jeanne Kuang:

Fast food fight: With a landmark law to regulate wages and working conditions in the fast food industry on hold until voters decide its fate in November 2024, California lawmakers will try again to hold franchise chains, including McDonald’s and Burger King, responsible for alleged labor violations in their restaurants. 

Assemblymember Chris Holden, a Pasadena Democrat, introduced Assembly Bill 1228 to establish joint labor law liability for fast food franchise owners. Last year, he agreed to strip it out of his fast food bill to sway detractors in the Legislature. CalMatters found that joint liability in other industries — such as extending legal responsibility from janitorial and gardening contractors to the companies that hire them — has been a key part of California’s efforts to combat wage theft and other labor violations. 

But fast food franchise corporations have long avoided liability in federal and state labor law. Labor advocates say the current business model allows these companies to squeeze profits from franchise locations while distancing themselves from how employees are treated. Franchise and business groups say extending liability would upend the franchise owners’ independence as employers. The International Franchise Association released a statement saying the bill would cause business opportunities to dry up in California. 

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DOJ to review conviction integrity

California Attorney General Rob Bonta announces the creation of the Office of Gun Violence Prevention within the California Department of Justice at a press event in San Francisco on Sept. 21, 2022. Photo by Martin do Nascimento, CalMatters
Attorney General Rob Bonta, with Assemblymember Mia Bonta (left), announce the creation of the Office of Gun Violence Prevention within the California Department of Justice at a press event in San Francisco on Sept. 21, 2022. Photo by Martin do Nascimento, CalMatters

From CalMatters justice reporter Nigel Duara:

The California Department of Justice has created a new unit to investigate convictions for potential legal errors, and the majority of its work will involve convictions in small counties that don’t already have a team to review cases. 

Attorney General Rob Bonta announced Friday that the Post-Conviction Justice Unit will hire two deputy attorneys general to review cases the justice department has taken to trial. Once the department examines its own cases, Bonta said the unit will begin reviewing cases in counties that don’t have their own teams to review convictions.

The new unit is part of a nationwide push to reconsider convictions and sentences that might have been biased by racial prejudice or fumbled at the investigative stage or would benefit from forensic techniques that weren’t available at the time of the trial.  

  • Bonta: “All prosecutors have a duty to ensure the integrity of their convictions with a deeper understanding of issues that affect conviction, from DNA to racism. It’s imperative that every prosecutor’s office consider how these issues affect their convictions, both present and past. Nobody should serve time for a crime they didn’t commit.”
  • California District Attorneys Association CEO Greg Totten: “Our role as prosecutors is that ‘neither guilt shall escape, nor innocence suffer.’ Many district attorneys have similar units, and we believe this an entirely appropriate step for the Attorney General to take that will help ensure justice.”

California has 17 county-level post-conviction units. The justice department handles trials when the local prosecutor has a conflict of interest, and represents the state in all appeals. 

Independent groups also try to exonerate innocent people.The California Innocence Project, based at the California Western School of Law in San Diego, has seven active cases in which it has filed appeals seeking release of defendants. The group reviews more than 2,000 innocence claims from California inmates each year. 

According to the National Registry of Exonerations, 281 people have been exonerated in California since 1989.

  • Bonta: “Despite these efforts, our best efforts, we know our criminal legal system is not infallible. It is not perfect. There are errors that can have serious, devastating consequences on individuals, on families and their communities.” 

Bonta couple conflict: The attorney general’s spouse happens to be a state lawmaker: Assemblymember Mia Bonta announced Sunday that she will recuse herself from budget matters directly related to her husband’s Department of Justice.

The Oakland Democrat relented after days of questions about potential conflicts following an initial story by Ashley Zavala of KCRA pointed out that she had been chosen by Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon as chairperson of the Assembly budget subcommittee that holds the attorney general’s purse strings. 

Mia Bonta and her defenders said there was no legal or ethical conflict and blamed “racism and sexism” for the questions. But both the Los Angeles Times and Sacramento Bee editorial boards opined that she shouldn’t oversee her husband’s budget. And last week, she refused to answer queries, beyond reading a written statement, when confronted by Zavala in the Capitol.   

This isn’t the first time that the Bontas’ marriage of personal and political has raised eyebrows. In 2020, CalMatters reported that Rob Bonta, then in the Assembly, steered money through a foundation to nonprofits that employed Mia Bonta. And last year, CalMatters reported that the attorney general created a gun violence policy office — the same idea put forward in a bill authored by his wife but rejected by legislators. The Bontas announced the office together.        

Cuts to CA’s health care rainy day fund

A medical examination room in Fresno on June 8, 2022. Photo by Larry Valenzuela, CalMatters/CatchLight Local
A medical examination room in Fresno on June 8, 2022. Photo by Larry Valenzuela, CalMatters/CatchLight Local

If you’re a Californian struggling with the rising costs of health care, you’re far from alone. 

In the California Health Care Foundation’s Health Policy Survey, more than half reported skipping or delaying health care because of the cost in the last year. More than 1 in 3 reported medical debt, and, of those, 1 in 5 said they owed $5,000 or more. 

The rising costs are also hitting those using Covered California, CalMatters’ Kristen Hwang reports. 

Since 2014, deductibles for the Silver Plan — a mid-tier coverage plan widely considered to have the best value —  have grown nearly 88% after adjusting for inflation. That has increased out-of-pocket costs for enrollees. 

That’s why health care advocates are miffed that Newsom’s budget proposal would transfer $333.4 million set aside to offset middle-income healthcare costs to the general fund to address the state’s projected budget deficit. 

The proposal to move the money is temporary. But advocates say inflationary pressures and rising health care costs are reasons to use that money right now.

  • Diana Douglas, policy director for Health Access California, which sponsored legislation to create the reserve fund: “We recognize there’s not a lot of room for new spending in the current budget situation, but we don’t see this as new spending. We see this as the existing commitment.” 

EDD drops plan to claw back overpayments

The headquarters of California's Employment Development Department in Sacramento. The agency says it's made improvements that have made it better equipped to issue employment benefits if the economy goes south. Photo by Rahul Lal, CalMatters
The headquarters of California’s Employment Development Department in Sacramento. Photo by Rahul Lal, CalMatters

Californians who were overpaid unemployment benefits during the pandemic won’t have to refund the money to the Employment Development Department, as long as they didn’t commit fraud, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

On Friday, the department and consumer advocacy group Center for Workers’ Rights agreed that the EDD “will not pursue claimants that it retroactively decided were not entitled to benefits.”

The decision immediately affects at least 5,000 people who received “notices of overpayment” in recent months, but could have eventually covered many more. About 1.4 million recipients were asked to prove their eligibility for receiving aid as part of a fraud recovery campaign. Some people didn’t have the documents to be cleared, putting them at risk of paying back more than $30,000 or facing collection, Jesse Bedayn reported for CalMatters’ California Divide team last year. 

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California’s indefensible and inadequate pay for child care workers has racist roots, writes Annette Nicholson, a provider in Stockton and a member of Child Care Providers United.

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