This story appeared on Calmatters
State lawmakers are passing many, many bills before they end the legislative session next Thursday.
But under California’s system of direct democracy — and happening at the same time — advocates for various causes are trying to go straight to the voters when their elected representatives won’t do what they want.
Tuesday, victims’ families filed an initiative to increase punishments for fentanyl dealers as legislative Republicans hit a Democratic roadblock for a similar constitutional amendment.
Former Fox News host Steve Hilton plans to file a ballot measure on another top-of-mind issue that legislators are wrestling with — the housing crisis. The California Homeownership Affordability Act seeks to defang the state’s landmark environmental law, which Gov. Gavin Newsom and YIMBY advocates also want to do.
But as first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, the initiative would go further by only allowing the state attorney general and local district attorneys to sue under the California Environmental Quality Act to block housing projects. And it includes a second part that may not be as popular with Democrats: It calls for capping many of the impact fees paid by developers and used by cities and counties to help cover their costs of providing services to new residents.
Also, Next Gen Personal Finance filed a measure on Tuesday that would require high schoolers to pass a personal finance course to graduate. It’s similar to a bill that was introduced by Assemblymember Kevin McCarty, but weakened in the face of opposition from California School Boards Association, which said it interfered with local school districts. The Sacramento Democrat told Politico he backs the initiative, as did state schools chief Tony Thurmond.
One big caveat: Even if it qualifies for the ballot and voters approve it, the initiative wouldn’t take effect until the 2029-30 school year.
At the same time, the Legislature can put measures on the ballot, and on Wednesday two proposed constitutional amendments with substantial implications for California elections cleared a major hurdle.
After lengthy floor debates, the Assembly advanced both Assembly Constitutional Amendment 1, which would lower the threshold for passing local housing and infrastructure bonds to 55% from two-thirds, and ACA 13, which would require initiatives raising the threshold for new taxes to pass by that same margin. If approved by the Senate before the end of session next week, they would go to voters in March. ACA 13 is particularly contentious because it is an effort to knee-cap an initiative that has qualified for the November ballot, which would set a higher benchmark for local voters to pass special taxes.
On Wednesday morning, state Sen. Monique Limón, a Santa Barbara Democrat, appeared outside the Capitol with supporters of Senate Bill 702, which would require the governor’s office to release an annual report with demographic data about thousands of appointees to state board and commissions.
Limón said her bill, which has bipartisan support and passed the Senate unanimously in May, is a critical transparency measure to ensure the racial, gender, geographic and other diversity of California is represented in positions of power. But Newsom has vetoed two previous versions, citing cost considerations and the questionable utility of the self-reported data.
Also on Wednesday, Sen. Aisha Wahab, a Fremont Democrat, hosted a press conference on SB 403, her caste discrimination measure that passed through the Legislature Tuesday, noting that the “world is watching” and that other jurisdictions could follow California’s lead.
Wahab was flanked by three advocates, who are on a hunger strike until Newsom decides on the bill. Tarina Mand, chair of the South Asian Bar Association of North America’s Racial Justice Task Force, addressed arguments by opponents, such as the fact that not everyone has a caste.
She added that no one would be required to reveal their caste background, as some fear: “Regardless of their caste background, irrespective of whether they’re low caste or high caste, the bill protects everyone equally.”
CalMatters events: 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.
From CalMatters K-12 education reporter Carolyn Jones:
Chino Valley Unified’s controversial policy of informing parents if their children alter their gender identity is on hold, at least for now.
A San Bernardino County Superior Court judge on Wednesday granted the state’s request for a temporary restraining order, blocking the district from enforcing the 7-week-old policy. The order will be in place until the court rules on Attorney General Rob Bonta’s lawsuit to overturn the policy entirely.
The district’s policy requires teachers and other school staff to inform parents within three days of discovering that a child has changed their gender identity. That could include using different pronouns or joining a team or club that doesn’t align with the student’s gender identity on school records. Since Chino adopted the policy, several other districts have enacted similar policies. Orange Unified is scheduled to vote on one tonight.
The state argued that the policy discriminates against LGBTQ students, violates students’ privacy and is intended to harm students who are already vulnerable. Bonta also launched a civil rights investigation into the policy.
Chino Valley Unified’s board president, Sonja Shaw, was defiant about the district’s position.
Speaking of students: Carolyn also dives into the effort by California public schools to engage students who are consistently late or absent from class. Last year, chronic absenteeism was around 30% — an all-time high and double the rate before the pandemic. The highest rates were among kindergarteners, in particular Black and Pacific Islander students, as well as students who have disabilities.
Reasons why kids cut class vary: Lack of transportation is the most common, but some students also work, care for a family member or are being bullied. Absenteeism doesn’t just jeopardize students’ chances of graduating; it can also lead to schools losing state revenue.
The state has poured billions into initiatives, aimed at boosting student engagement, such as after-school and summer programs, improved school meals, offering social services to students and their families, on-campus wellness centers and expanded school bus services.
The Legislature is also taking notice — the Assembly recently asked Policy Analysis for California Education, a nonpartisan research organization, to study the issue and come up with recommendations. Read more on this issue in Carolyn’s story.
If you’re eyeing an electric vehicle and counting on a state rebate to save some money, you may be out of luck depending how much you make.
More than 1.6 million electric cars have been sold in California, in part due to the incredibly popular Clean Vehicle Rebate Project that has been enticing early adopters since 2010. But now that zero-emission cars have become mainstream, the state is shifting its focus to lower-income residents, writes CalMatters’ climate reporter Alejandro Lazo.
California has ambitious goals to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2035. And as of July, the average cost of an electric car was $53,469 — about $5,000 more than the average car.
Under the current program, individuals earning less than $135,000 a year and families earning as much as $200,000 can receive as much as $7,000 for a new electric car. But starting next year, under the revamped Clean Cars 4 All program, Californians who earn more than 300% of the federal poverty level will not be eligible for a state subsidy (that’s about $43,740 for an individual and $90,000 for a family of four).
The equity gap between electric vehicles haves and have-nots is stark: In a prior analysis, CalMatters found that the median household incomes in the top 10 ZIP codes for electric cars exceeded $200,000 (the statewide median is $84,097). In contrast, electric cars are nearly nonexistent in the state’s lowest income communities. Read more about the new rebate program.
Electric vehicle primer: We have a series on California’s electric vehicle transformation, plus a lesson-plan-ready version for teachers, libraries and community groups, as part of the CalMatters for Learning initiative.
CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: The home insurance crisis is among the big proposals that could be tackled by the Legislature in its last two weeks.
CalMatters columnist Jim Newton: L.A. crime is complicated, and the LAPD and the city’s leaders are struggling to come up with the right strategy.
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CA fast food restaurants take advantage of wage law loophole // Capital & Main
California lawmakers consider plan to cap Naloxone cost at $10 // CBS San Francisco
Narcan is now available over the counter at CA pharmacies // LAist
California farmers urge one-dam solution for Colorado River // Los Angeles Times
Burning Man’s climate reckoning has begun // Grist