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Gavin Newsom wants constitutional amendment on guns

California Gov. Gavin Newsom discusses the recent mass shooting in Texas, during a news conference in Sacramento on Wednesday, May 25, 2022. Flanked by lawmakers from both houses of the state legislature, Newsom said he is ready to sign more restrictive gun measures passed by lawmakers. Photo by Rich Pedroncelli, AP Photo

Gov. Gavin Newsom declared Thursday he will crusade for a 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution on gun control — and if he wanted more national attention, he certainly got it as  supporters praised and critics slammed his bold ambition.

As CalMatters colleagues Ben Christopher and Alexei Koseff explain, the amendment is pretty straightforward: It would raise the minimum age to buy a gun from 18 to 21, mandate universal background checks, institute a “reasonable” waiting period for gun purchases and ban civilians from buying assault weapons.

It’s the next move by a governor who typically tweets outrage after every mass shooting. 

  • Newsom, to Politico: “I got four damn kids, dude, I can’t take it anymore…. It’s absolute insanity. And the biggest and most insane thing we can do is the same old BS and just point fingers. So, let’s give this a shot.”

The first step on what he acknowledged will be a very long and difficult journey for the amendment to become law of the land: Getting the bill through the Legislature, where it will be shepherded by the fellow Democrats who lead the public safety committees, Sen. Aisha Wahab of Fremont and Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer of Los Angeles. 

  • Jones-Sawyer, to reporters: “This is the most comprehensive way we can make a big, huge impact on mass shootings here in America.”

After that, 33 other states would have to approve the amendment to call a constitutional convention, or two-thirds of Congress would have to sign off. And then 38 states would need to ratify the amendment.

Money to support his amendment campaign will come from his new Campaign for Democracy political action committee, which also funded his cross-country tour in March and was seeded by leftover cash from his 2022 reelection.

The governor announced his plans to Politico and NBC’s Today show — the latest example of Newsom debuting major proposals with a national news outlet. Newsom will likely stir up more headlines on Monday, when he’s expected to talk to Fox News host Sean Hannity about the amendment, California and “the current state of democratic politics.” It will be his first interview with Fox in 13 years.

Amid the media blitz, Newsom again denied any presidential ambitions, telling reporters it’s “not part of the calculation for anything I do.” But he did pick more fights with Republican-led states, lecturing Mississippi’s governor on Twitter for its high rate of gun violence.

Closer to home, legislative Republicans railed against the governor, arguing that he should prioritize issues in California.

  • GOP Assembly leader James Gallagher of Chico, in a statement: “Newsom’s proposal is a poorly thought out, attention-seeking stunt from a governor desperate to distract from his ever-growing record of failure.”

California has some of the nation’s strictest gun control laws, but some efforts to pass even more restrictive legislation have been blocked by federal courts. Most recently, a 2022 U.S. Supreme Court ruling will loosen some requirements on concealed carry permits in California.

The state also continues to struggle enforcing the very gun measures Newsom is eager to tout, including disarming violent domestic abusers and those who pose a danger to themselves or others.

For more on what you need to know about the amendment, read Ben and Alexei’s story.

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Youth journalism: CalMatters is ramping up its youth journalism initiative for high school students and educators. That includes an educator fellowship, with a workshop July 10-13 at CalMatters’ offices in Sacramento. Here’s an FAQ, and the application, with a priority deadline Monday. Read more from our engagement team.

Reparations calculator: CalMatters has created an interactive tool to estimate how much someone might be owed in reparations for slavery and racism. Look it up here, watch a TikTok about it, see it on Instagram and read the full story from Wendy Fry of CalMatters’ California Divide team.

If you have questions on reparations, send an email to Wendy at wendy@calmatters.org.

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1
Stiffer fines for water scofflaws?

The Shasta River flows through Montague on Aug. 29, 2022. Photo by Martin do Nascimento, CalMatters

The Shasta River flows through Montague on Aug. 29, 2022. Photo by Martin do Nascimento, CalMatters

How big a fine would it take to deter someone from stealing water? 

For Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan, a Democrat from San Ramon, she’s hoping a daily $10,000 fine, enforced immediately, will do the trick.

As CalMatters’ Rachel Becker explains, last year the state fined ranchers from Siskiyou County for drawing water from the Shasta River during drought season in defiance of a state emergency order. The move jeopardized the fish that spawned in the river and outraged Klamath tribes, but the ranchers said they were left with little choice — trucking in water was too expensive, as was the hay to replace the dead pasture.

For flouting the state order, the maximum fine is $500 and the state could have issued a cease-and-desist order, which carries maximum fines of $10,000 per day after a 20-day waiting period. But in the end, state officials fined the ranchers $4,000 — roughly $50 each.

  • Bauer-Kahan: “Paying the fines was worth it to them to take what they took, and that shows a real weakness in what we have done. It was so clear that our law was not working.”

Her bill passed the Assembly last week and is before the Senate. It would give state water officials more power to move faster and charge bigger fines. If it had been enforced last year, ranchers could have been fined as much as $1 million: Between $1,500 and $10,000 a day, plus $2,500 for every acre-foot of water diverted.

Rancher Rick Lemos told Rachel that with a $500 daily fine, ranchers “could have kept going.” But if fines reached $10,000 a day? “We definitely could have had to rethink it. That’s for damn sure.”

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. There’s a lesson-plan-ready version of the water explainer — especially made for teachers, libraries and community groups — as part of the CalMatters for Learning initiative.

2
Food banks warn of hunger crisis

Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano volunteer and staff load groceries into cars in Vallejo on June 7, 2023. Photo by Shelby Knowles for CalMatters

Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano volunteers and staff load groceries into cars in Vallejo on June 7, 2023. Photo by Shelby Knowles for CalMatters

Even with the peak of the pandemic behind us, the winding down of emergency food aid may still cause a “catastrophic hunger crisis” that is already starting to show up at California’s food banks, reports CalMatters’ politics/California Divide intern Rya Jetha.

The outlook is grim: Emergency allotments for the state’s CalFresh program ended in March, with benefits dropping from $281 to as little as $23 a month for a single-person household.

At the end of this school year, a federal aid program that gives households food benefits to replace school meals is expected to end, and the program to replace it will decrease benefits from $125 a month per child last summer to $40 this year. 

In the meantime, food banks are serving more families than they ever did before during the pandemic. Some quick stats Rya uncovered:

  • Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services: Before the pandemic, it served about 150,000 people per month. In April, it served 280,000.
  • San Francisco-Marin Food Bank: Before the pandemic, it served 32,000 households per week and is now serving 56,000.
  • Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano: Before the pandemic, it served 175,000 people a month and is now serving 350,000.

There have been some legislative efforts to combat food insecurity. Democratic Sens. Caroline Menjivar of Van Nuys and Nancy Skinner of Oakland have bills to raise the minimum CalFresh benefit and ensure access to school meals programs, respectively.

But with a looming state budget deficit of $31.5 billion, the measures face an uphill battle and food banks are bracing for the worst.

  • Kevin Buffalino, Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services communications director: “We don’t see an end in sight for this sustained hunger. And if this is sustained, it is going to be very difficult for us to keep up.”

3
The price of fair justice

California State Assembly Public Safety Committee Chair Reginald B. Jones-Sawyer listens to testimony about AB2718 at the state Capitol on April 26, 2022. Photo by Fred Greaves for CalMatters

Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer listens to testimony at the state Capitol on April 26, 2022. Photo by Fred Greaves for CalMatters

Assembly Public Safety Committee Chairperson Jones-Sawyer wanted to make sure that poor people accused of a crime see a public defender within 24 hours. But his bill, due to a possible significant cost, fell victim last month to the “suspense file” and is unlikely to move forward this year.

But a new study this week suggests that it was a good idea, at least in terms of making the criminal justice system more equitable, writes CalMatters’ criminal justice reporter Nigel Duara.

Researchers at the nonprofit California Policy Lab looked at what happened to 40 poor defendants in Santa Clara County who were assigned a public defender within 48 hours of arrest, as part of a pilot program. They compared them to 600 other defendants, booked during the same January through mid-March 2020 time period, who faced similar charges but were not assigned an attorney until their day in court.

The result? Those who met with a lawyer within 48 hours were 75% less likely to be convicted and 75% more likely to be released before trial. 

Advocates say California’s criminal justice system is stacked against poor people. A law to end cash bail, a system that favors the wealthy, was overturned by the bail bond industry at the ballot box in 2020 and subsequent efforts have failed in the Legislature. And as CalMatters has reported, thousands languish in county jails, even though they have not been convicted of a crime, and most are people of color. 

  • Charlie Hendrickson, Santa Clara County assistant public defender. “It’s really an issue of wealth disparity because a person charged with the exact same thing, a client of money, is going to be walking free anyway just because they can afford bail.”
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