This story appeared on Calmatters

Fast food workers rally at the state Capitol in Sacramento on Aug. 31, 2023. Photo by Rahul Lal for CalMatters

The Legislature kicked off the final, frenzied week of session on Monday with a couple of big questions: 

Would there be a grand bargain between labor and the fast food industry? Yes. 

As CalMatters’ Jeanne Kuang and Alexei Koseff explain, a last-minute deal in the form of Assembly Bill 1228 includes goodies for both sides: Fast food workers would get a $20 minimum wage starting next April, while fast food companies would stop a bill to hold them liable for labor violations at their franchises. And both sides would avoid a costly campaign for November 2024: A referendum to undo a controversial law regulating the industry would be pulled from the ballot.

Some context: The law, which originally passed in 2022, would have established a state-run council to write rules regulating wages and working conditions in fast food restaurants. But since last fall, the law has been put on hold as restaurant groups and fast food corporations poured millions into the ballot measure campaign.

In response to the referendum, the author of the fast food council law, Democratic Assemblymember Chris Holden of Pasadena, authored AB 1228, which is where the deal is written and which the Legislature has until it adjourns Thursday to approve. For more specifics, read Jeanne and Alexei’s story.

The other question: Would there be a big deal on homeowners’ insurance? No.

As Alexei reports, because of a requirement that any bill must be in print for at least 72 hours before its final vote, the last chance to amend legislation before the session ends was Monday night. That deadline passed without a deal with insurers, who began rapidly fleeing the California market this summer.

Decades of industry profits were wiped out by disastrous wildfire seasons in 2017 and 2018, while the cost of rebuilding is only growing, prompting insurance companies to seek a reset in how premiums are calculated in fire-prone California. But many lawmakers were reluctant to get behind a plan they feared would be a giveaway to the industry, substantially raising costs for their constituents.

Things looked grim last week when one senator publicly declared the effort “dead.” Though several lawmakers tried to keep negotiations going over the weekend, no agreement could be reached.

With hundreds of bills still alive, super-majority Democrats are trying to push through as many as possible before the Legislature ends the session on Thursday (or early Friday). Republicans, on the other hand, are vowing to try to stop some. Among the bills still in play: 

  • Public records: A bill that would establish an ombudsperson who investigates whether denials of public records requests comply with state law is awaiting a vote in the Senate, CalMatters state Capitol reporter Sameea Kamal writes. The measure would require state agencies to provide the public record if the ombudsperson finds the request was improperly denied. Though the bill has bipartisan support and passed unanimously through committees and the full Assembly, the First Amendment Coalition has raised concerns that it could potentially allow agencies to drag people who requested records into court if the agencies appeal the ombudsperson’s decision. Read more here.
  • UC transfers: A bill that would help more community college students transfer to the University of California, which failed in a Senate committee earlier this month, has been resurrected by gutting and amending another bill, according to CalMatters higher education reporter Mikhail Zinshteyn. The new bill would establish majors at select UC campuses that community college students, through a specialized associate degree for transfer, could get into. The bill doesn’t guarantee admission, but it does say that the UC would “prioritize” those transferring students. Read more here.
  • Other bills: SB 14, the much-debated measure to increase penalties for child sex traffickers, passed unanimously in the Assembly and is one Senate vote away from Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk. SB 253, a closely-watched bill to require large companies to report their greenhouse gas emissions, won final approval in the Assembly, by one vote. And SB 423, a key bill to accelerate housing construction, won final passage.

Reminder: Lots of key bills have already made it through the Legislature. CalMatters is keeping track of them, and what Newsom eventually decides.


CalMatters covers the Capitol: CalMatters has guides to keep track of your lawmakers, explore the Legislature’s record diversity, make your voice heard, understand how state government works and to find out what Gov. Newsom decides on key bills.

CalMatters nurtures young journalists: This summer, CalMatters has hosted events for high school and college journalism students and educators. Read more from our engagement team.


What is ‘adequate shelter?’

An emergency non-congregate housing site in Chico on Sept. 6, 2023. Photo by Fred Greaves for CalMatters

As California’s homelessness crisis reaches unprecedented levels, one deceptively simple question also continues to confound local government officials: What counts as “adequate” shelter?

In 2018, writes CalMatters’ Jeanne Kuang, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that it’s cruel and unusual punishment to evict homeless people from public spaces when they lack “access to adequate temporary shelter.” Though the case originated in Boise, Idaho, the ruling applies to California too. 

Last week, a three-judge panel of that same appeals court declined to lift a temporary order that has, for nine months, barred San Francisco from removing homeless encampments. But the ruling did confirm that the city can sweep sites and cite residents who are “voluntarily” homeless because they refuse adequate shelter.

The ruling has renewed debates about what is adequate shelter. As San Diego implements its new daytime ban on camps, it’s shuffling unhoused people to a fenced asphalt lot with more than 100 tents. But in Chico, a federal district court judge ruled that an asphalt tarmac with no roof, no walls, no water and no electricity alongside the local airport did not count as shelter.

To get more clarity, a number of city attorneys plan to sign on to a brief asking the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in. In the meantime, homelessness advocates want to remind cities that there may not be a one-size-fits all approach.

  • Will Knight, decriminalization director at the National Homelessness Law Center: Enforcing camping bans “has to be done from an extremely humane and individualized level.”

Read more on this debate in Jeanne’s story.

Also: CalMatters has detailed looks at why housing is so expensive in California and why homelessness is so persistent. CalMatters for Learning offers a lesson-plan-ready version of these explainers especially made for teachers, libraries and community groups, with Spanish translations. 

A revolution at CA community colleges?

Welding instructor Mitchell Schmidt teaches a student to use welding tools during a welding course at Lakeshore College in Wisconsin on Aug. 16, 2023. Lakeshore College offers courses that practice competency-based education that some California schools are hoping to adopt. Photo by Larry Valenzuela, CalMatters/CatchLight Local

An instructor teaches a student to use welding tools at Lakeshore College in Wisconsin on Aug. 16, 2023. Photo by Larry Valenzuela, CalMatters/CatchLight Local

Should a college education be less about the hours sitting in a classroom, and more about learning the skills it takes to be successful? As CalMatters’ community college reporter Adam Echelman explains in a two-part series, it’s a question some California colleges are grappling with as they develop new courses based on competency-based education.

Adam first dives into a pilot program, launched in 2021, involving eight community colleges. Associate degrees typically require about 3,000 hours of classes. But by the 2024-25 academic year, these eight schools must design a single associate degree using the competency model in which students prove they have the relevant skills through exams. Some schools offer no grades nor lectures, but do provide students materials to teach themselves, so that they can go at their own pace. And teachers and counselors are available to answer questions and lend support.

The pilot is geared toward working adults, many of whom left community college during the pandemic, and have obligations outside of school.

  • Jeremy Cox, a student at the competency-based, online-only community college Calbright: “My study time is when the kids go to bed. I only have after 10 p.m. And then with student body responsibilities, my time is split between the two. Half of it is with the student body and half is my studies.”

But in addition to the various bureaucratic and logistical hurdles the eight schools face, faculty members have raised concerns about pay and intellectual property rights to their teaching materials. 

Designing a new framework for education also isn’t easy — which is why California teachers and administrators look for inspiration to Wisconsin, where a handful of technical colleges there have gained reputations for developing successful competency-based programs.

That includes Lakeshore Technical College, which offers courses in automotive repair, welding and more. (The automotive curriculum, for example, includes 32 skills that students must master to graduate.) The college has gradually shifted more majors to the competency-based model, leading to a bump in enrollment.

  • Josiah Vervelde, Lakeshore Technical College student: “I wish I would have figured this out 10 years ago. It’s easier and cheaper.”

CalMatters Commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: A new law and another bill would boost housing by blocking NIMBYs, but a setback in court. 

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


Other things worth your time

Some stories may require a subscription to read

Law punishing doctors who spread COVID misinformation may be undone // Los Angeles Times

California workers could get more sick time under Senate bill // The Sacramento Bee

Newsom’s mental health reform faces pivotal test in Legislature // Los Angeles Times

Rep. Barbara Lee: Newsom ‘insulting to countless Black women’ // East Bay Times

Legal battle over Feinstein’s late husband’s assets heads to mediation // KQED

Bay Area schools face wave of abuse suits // San Francisco Chronicle

Google says huge downtown San Jose village will be built // The Mercury News

Madera hospital bidder accused of improper influence with $150K check to CEO // The Modesto Bee

Gun threats against San Diego police officers are at a five-year high // Los Angeles Times

San Diego County’s shrinking beaches // The San Diego Union-Tribune

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