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CA parental rights and student privacy collide

This story appeared on Calmatters

People show support for three statewide initiatives: schools to notify parents when their child requests to be treated as transgender, preventing biological boys competing against biological girls and prevent sterilization of children, at a press conference at the state Capitol in Sacramento on Aug. 28, 2023. Photo by Rahul Lal for CalMatters

The battle over LGBTQ+ students in California public schools and parental rights is heating up again — and this time Attorney General Rob Bonta is going to court.

Bonta on Monday announced that he has filed a lawsuit against Chino Valley Unified School District Board of Education over its recent policy to require district teachers and staff to notify parents if a student requests to identify as a different gender. In a statement, Bonta said the policy runs afoul with the state constitution and civil rights laws, including equal protection and a right to privacy. 

  • Bonta, at a press conference: “Let’s call this policy what it is: It is a forced outing policy…. It tramples on students’ rights. It presents students with a terrible choice: Either walk back your rights to gender identity and gender expression, to be yourself, to be who you are. Or, face the risk of serious harm.”

LGBTQ+ advocacy group Equality California applauded the move, and plans to hold a rally today at the state Capitol in response to what it considers a rise of anti-LGBTQ+ threats and policies. Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins of San Diego, LGBTQ Legislative Caucus Chairperson Sen. Susan Talamantes Eggman of Stockton and other Democratic legislators are expected to attend.

On the other side of the debate: Protect Kids CA — which says it promotes “all children’s rights and well-being” — held a rally on Monday at the Capitol to promote three proposed initiatives it filed Monday: One would require schools statewide to notify parents if their student identifies as transgender, another would ban female transgender students from girls’ athletic teams and a third would ban children from medically transitioning. The group must collect more than 546,000 signatures each measure to get them on the already-crowded November 2024 ballot.

  • Jonathan Zachreson, a Roseville City School District board member and president of Students First California, which is backing the initiatives: “These initiatives are necessary because we have a Legislature that’s out of touch with most Californians, so we’re taking these issues directly to the voters.”

As CalMatters education reporter Carolyn Jones and state Capitol reporter Alexei Koseff explain, under the state’s local control system, school boards have a wide degree of freedom to enact their own policies. Chino Valley Unified isn’t alone in testing the limits; Anderson Union High School District, Murrieta Valley Unified and Temecula Valley Unified have adopted similar policies for transgender students, with others having proposals in the works.

The escalating battles between several California school boards and Democratic state officials are also one outcome of the California GOP targeting local school boards as the backdrop for culture war flashpoints. Through its “Parent Revolt” program, the party encouraged candidates last year to run for school boards to surface concerns over critical race theory, gender identity and book bans — and also to develop potential contenders for other elected offices. 

At a state Capitol rally last week, one of those new school board members — Chino Valley Unified’s school board president, Sonja Shaw — labeled the ongoing conflict as “a spiritual battle.”

 

Speaking of elections: Lance Christensen, who ran on parental rights in his unsuccessful 2022 bid to unseat Tony Thurmond as state schools chief, may run again in 2026. He announced an exploratory campaign committee over the weekend.

If Christensen does run again, however, it won’t be against Thurmond, who is subject to term limits and is thinking about running for governor in 2026 instead.

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1
Caste bill takes a big step

People listen to testimony at the Assembly Judiciary Hearing for SB 403 at the state Capitol in Sacramento on July 5, 2023. Photo by Semantha Norris, CalMatters
People listen to testimony at the Assembly Judiciary hearing for a caste discrimination bill at the state Capitol in Sacramento on July 5, 2023. Photo by Semantha Norris, CalMatters

From CalMatters’ state Capitol reporter Sameea Kamal:

With the Sept. 14 adjournment looming ever closer, legislators tackled some key bills Monday.

The bill to add caste as a protected subcategory in California’s employment and housing discrimination laws passed the Assembly on a 55-3 vote, after months of opposition from some in the South Asian community, as well as questions from inside the Legislature,. 

It now heads back to the Senate — where it passed 34-1 in May — after amendments in Assembly committees that set caste as a subset of ancestry instead of a standalone category. The bill was also changed to remove background information that listed the prevalence of caste among South Asian communities. 

  • Bill author Sen. Aisha Wahab, a Democrat from Fremont: “I appreciate every Assemblymember who voted in support of SB 403 today. I thank them for their courage in joining me on this journey of enshrining in our state laws protections against caste discrimination…. We are protecting people from a long-standing form of discrimination with SB 403.”

Assemblymember Alex Lee, a Democrat from Milpitas who previously called for further study, spoke in support, while Assemblymember James Gallagher, a Republican from Chico, said caste was already covered under existing law, but didn’t vote. GOP Assemblymembers Vince Fong of Bakersfield, Megan Dahle of Redding and Josh Hoover of Folsom voted “no.”

Following the Assembly passage, supporters wearing “Vote Yes” T-shirts gathered near the Capitol rotunda to celebrate, hugging and cheering. In a Monday evening press conference, a coalition of groups supporting the bill, including the South Asian Legal Defense Fund and Equality Labs, said they were very confident the bill would win final approval in the Senate and Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signature.

More in suspense file: The bill to allow legislative staff to unionize was moved to the suspense file during Monday’s Senate Appropriations committee hearing because it triggered the financial threshold. But Assemblymember Tina McKinnor, a Democrat from Inglewood who is carrying the bill, told CalMatters she believes the votes are there for final approval. 

Four similar bills in the last five years have failed, including AB 1577 last year. That bill passed the Senate, but died in the Assembly Public Employment and Retirement Committee on the last day of session. This year’s bill was amended in July to delay its implementation to July 1, 2026. 

Also, three election-related constitutional amendments were sent to the Senate suspense file.

  • SCA 1 would change the process for recalling the governor and other statewide officials.
  • SCA 2 would lower the minimum voting age from 18 to 17.
  • SCA 3 would transfer from the attorney general to the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office the duty to write titles and summaries for ballot measures.
 

The pace isn’t slowing down at the Capitol. Just today:

  • Domestic workers plan to rally for safer working conditions (while cleaning offices), as restaurant workers lobby for a bill to free them from paying for safety training. 
  • A crime victims group and the state district attorneys association will oppose a resentencing bill they say would release more dangerous criminals. 
  • And Sen. Melissa Hurtado, a Bakersfield Republican, plans to host a hearing with U.S. Rep. John Garamendi on the threats to California agriculture, including the purchase of 52,000 acres in Solano County backed by Silicon Valley investors.

2
A smooth leadership handover

State Sen. Majority Leader Mike McGuire, a Healdsburg Democrat, (right) talks with state Sen. Lola Smallwood-Cuevas, a Los Angeles Democrat, during session at the state Capitol in Sacramento on Aug. 24, 2023. Photo by Rahul Lal for CalMatters
State Sen. Majority Leader Mike McGuire (right) talks with state Sen. Lola Smallwood-Cuevas during session at the state Capitol in Sacramento on Aug. 24, 2023. Photo by Rahul Lal for CalMatters

From CalMatters state Capitol reporter Alexei Koseff

Healdsburg Democrat Mike McGuire will succeed Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins as leader of the state Senate next year, they jointly announced Monday evening at the Capitol during brief remarks flanked by their Democratic colleagues.

Atkins, a San Diego Democrat, has served as the pro tem since 2018, but she terms out of the Legislature at the end of 2024. That has set off a quiet scramble behind the scenes over the past year among senators mobilizing support to replace her — including McGuire, who currently serves as Atkins’ deputy, wrangling the Democratic caucus as Senate majority leader.

“The reason I would like to work with these senators is to continue to make sure that the California Dream is available for all,” McGuire said, citing climate change, wildfire preparedness, insurance companies dropping homeowners, abortion rights, homelessness and the housing shortage as priority issues.

The agreement reached Monday does not yet include any formal transition plan or date, but McGuire’s tenure will be relatively short, as he terms out only two years later in 2026.

The changing of the guard appears to be as respectful as it was inevitable. McGuire, who represents a sprawling district along the Northern California coast from Marin County to the Oregon border, took pains to praise Atkins’ accomplishments and emphasized that she remains the leader for now.

Atkins also repeatedly affirmed their solidarity and stressed that the Democratic caucus would set aside its internal politics to focus on the work that remains in the final three weeks of the legislative session.

  • Atkins: “A respectful transition and the continued strength and unity of our incredible caucus are one of the most important responsibilities that I have accepted as pro tem.”

It’s a sharp contrast to the Assembly, which was racked last year by a messy and bitter power struggle that spilled out into the open.

When Salinas Democrat Robert Rivas announced in May 2022 that he had the votes to succeed then-Speaker Anthony Rendon as leader of the lower chamber, Rendon and his allies fought off a handover at a six-hour meeting of the majority Democratic caucus. 

After six months of internal campaigning and another six-hour caucus meetings, Rivas and Rendon agreed to a transition plan; Rivas finally assumed the speakership at the end of June.

3
Prison guards get a bonus

Guards and inmates in the yard at San Quentin State Prison on March 17, 2023. Photo by Martin do Nascimento, CalMatters
Guards and inmates in the yard at San Quentin State Prison on March 17, 2023. Photo by Martin do Nascimento, CalMatters

Gov. Newsom’s administration and the union representing 26,000 California correctional officers are one step closer to finalizing a new contract — one that includes a fat $10,000 bonus and would cost taxpayers $1 billion over three years.

After more than a dozen state union contracts expired in July, the administration has been busy negotiating new agreements. Some have reached tentative deals, including the largest state worker union, SEIU Local 1000, which represents nine of the state’s 21 bargaining units. Others, such as the union for state scientists whose contracts expired in 2020, are still waiting to hammer out a final deal.

As CalMatters’ investigative reporter Byrhonda Lyons explains, the second largest state union, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, reached a tentative deal that includes

General salary increases of 3% for 2023 and 2024, plus bonuses of at least $2,400 for health and wellness. Bilingual guards will have their monthly bonus doubled to $200, and night shift and weekend pay supplements will increase from $1.50 to $2.50 an hour.

A new state-funded retirement fund in addition to the existing state pension. The state would deposit $475 in a 401(k) for each permanent, full-time employee in November 2024, and then would add 1% of the officer’s wages into the plan every month beginning in January 2025. 

Retention bonuses of $10,000 for correctional officers working at prisons in Soledad, Sacramento and San Diego, and a $5,000 location incentive bonus for new cadets who accept work at 13 other prisons. As of July 31, about 10% of the correctional officer positions statewide were vacant. 

Prison reform is one of the governor’s top priorities, with his administration moving to reduce California’s prison population by improving rehabilitation programs and shutting down a handful of prisons. Since Newsom took office in 2018, the correctional officers union’s membership has declined by 6%, according to a CalMatters analysis.

At the same time, an August compensation report found that correctional officers’ pay last year was far lower than officer pay for deputy sheriffs at the state’s six largest law enforcement agencies.

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CalMatters Commentary


CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Labor unions that are striking for pay and benefits are also pressing the Legislature on the same goals.

A bill to decriminalize psychedelics would particularly benefit firefighters and other first responders dealing with trauma, writes Joe McKay, a retired FDNY firefighter and patient advocate.

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