How Laphonza Butler Could Reshape California’s U.S. Senate race

Laphonza Butler — Gov. Gavin Newsom’s pick to succeed the late U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein — will be sworn in today, making history as the first openly LGBTQ person and the second Black woman to represent California in the Senate.

But how long does she want to keep the job?

She isn’t saying, yet.

“This week Laphonza is focused on respecting and honoring Sen. Feinstein’s legacy and getting ready to serve the people of California in the Senate,” Butler spokesperson Matt Wing told CalMatters Monday. “Politics can wait.”

Her decision whether to run for the seat, however, will be central to California politics heading into 2024. She would join a crowded field of Democratic candidates already vying for a full six-year term in the Senate — U.S. Reps. Adam Schiff, Katie Porter and Barbara Lee.

Now, the Secretary of State’s office confirmed Monday, there will be two sets of elections in both the March 5 primary and Nov. 5 general election — a special election to determine who serves the final two months of Feinstein’s term and the regular election to decide who gets the full six-year term after that. Voters faced a similar double election last year for the state’s other Senate seat, held by Alex Padilla, also appointed by Newsom. 

A poll released Monday, but conducted Sunday before Butler’s appointment was announced, suggests that California voters generally favor appointing a Black woman to Feinstein’s seat, said Christian Grose, professor of political science and public policy at the University of Southern California. Butler ranked third among nine potential appointees in the survey, and drew more support when respondents were told more about her.

And the large share of undecided voters — roughly a third, according to his poll — could be a way in for Butler, but she must “expand her name recognition” among voters if she decides to run in 2024, he said. 

For Lee, Porter and Schiff, it could be an advantage to also run in the special election. If they win, they get seated sooner and accrue seniority, which would give them an edge over other senators newly elected in 2024, Grose said. 

Plus, running in both elections would allow them to double their campaign contribution limits. “Adam Schiff has raised a lot of money. He can now go back to all the same donors he maxed out and raise more money,” Grose said. Schiff’s campaign reported Monday he brought in another $6 million in the third quarter and had $32 million in cash on hand.

Lee spokesperson David Graham-Caso confirmed Monday she intends to run in the special election, and Butler’s appointment changed nothing for the campaign. In a statement, Lee said she is looking forward to working with Butler and wishes her well.

“I am singularly focused on winning my campaign for Senate,” Lee said in the statement. 

Porter’s campaign spokesperson Lindsay Reilly on Monday did not say whether Porter will run in the special election, but praised Butler for “standing up for women and working families” during her career. 

Schiff’s spokesperson did not return a CalMatters inquiry for comment Monday.

A fourth Democrat in the race could divide the party’s vote further and allow a Republican to sneak into the top two. In a Public Policy Institute of California poll released last week, Schiff at 20% and Porter at 15% were well ahead. Lee was at 8% among likely voters and Republicans James Bradley and Eric Early were at 5% each. In the survey, 47% named other candidates or didn’t know.

But Grose said that without a prominent Republican candidate in the race so far, polling suggests it is most likely that two Democrats will advance to the general election. That, he said, is “healthy” for the state, because a competitive race between Democrats will allow independents and Republican voters to have “more of a voice.”

“The state is so lopsidedly Democratic that it just doesn’t matter if a Republican advances to the general election,” he said. 

Butler could wait as late as Dec. 8 to decide, but is certain to face pressure to announce her plans well before then.

For now, she has the enthusiastic support of the governor, who has not endorsed any of the other Democrats running and who did not make it a precondition of the appointment for her not to run.  

“We didn’t have that conversation. I said, ‘This is up to you.’ That was the end of that conversation,” Newsom said during a Monday press conference. 

The governor, who picked Butler over the weekend, said while multiple people expressed interest in the appointment, Butler was “the only choice.” He deemed her “next-level qualified.”

Butler, who is both Black and lesbian, is “uniquely positioned” to take on the “cultural purge” by Republicans in America, Newsom said, arguing that the GOP is launching an “assault” on the LGBTQ and Black communities.

“I just think that Laphonza Butler is … simply the best person that I could find for this moment in this job.”

Vice President Kamala Harris, the first Black senator to represent California and the most recently elected Black woman to the Senate, will administer the oath of office to Butler at the U.S. Capitol today, one day before Feinstein lies in state at San Francisco City Hall.

Butler, 44, president of pro-abortion rights organization EMILYs List and longtime labor advocate and Democratic strategist, has the support of most unions, including the Service Employees International Union Local 2015 that she led. 

The 310,000-member California Teachers Association also celebrated her appointment Monday. “She’s a true change-maker and a strong champion of labor unions and public schools,” David B. Goldberg, president of the union, said in a statement.

The governor’s office compiled a long list of praise by leaders of various Black, LGBTQ and other groups. And Newsom dismissed criticism from Republicans that she doesn’t live in California at the moment, noting she re-registered to vote in California.

Click here to read the full article in CalMatters

Will Swaim: In Public Schools We Trust?

For fans of dark comedy, California politics is as good as any entertainment – shot through with grim irony, corrupt politicians, and laughable hypocrisy. Consider Attorney General Rob Bonta’s legal campaign to crush the practice of seven school districts to notify parents before gender-transitioning their children. 

Parent notification, as it’s called, “places transgender and gender nonconforming students in danger of imminent, irreparable harm from the consequences of forced disclosures,” Bonta asserted in announcing his lawsuit against Chino Valley Unified, the first of the districts to adopt the policy. “These students are currently under threat of being outed to their parents or guardians against their express wishes and will.”

Translation: Parents are a danger to their own children, and school employees must be trusted to guide K-12 kids through puberty without parental interference.

Meantime, however – and here’s your irony alert – Los Angeles Unified School District officials say their budget is in chaos because of multi-million-dollar settlements with children sexually assaulted by teachers and other school employees. 

Speaking to the LAUSD board on Wednesday, Chief Business Officer David Hart raised the alarm over “certain liabilities . . . with regards to, you know, heinous activities of adults with children is the simplest way to put that. We were surprised by the amounts that we were compelled to set aside.”

One of those surprises came 24 hours before Hart’s red-flag warning. On Tuesday, LAUSD announced that it had settled for $7.9 million yet another sex assault claim involving “heinous acts” of teachers with their students.

Contrary to Hart’s assessment, none of this is surprising says John Manly, the linebacker-sized Southern California trial attorney and former Navy intelligence officer who has hunted child predators and won staggering settlements for their victims. 

Manly built his brand on eye-popping showdowns with the molestation scandal in the Catholic Church, including a record-setting $660 million settlement against the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in 2007. He negotiated similar settlements with the Diocese of Orange ($6.9 million), the Oregon-based Society of Jesus ($50 million), and the Diocese of Delaware (a $77 million settlement).

It’s not just a Catholic thing for Manly. His firm also represented female gymnasts in the successful case against Michigan State University and U.S. Olympic Team doctor Larry Nasser. He represented 234 plaintiffs in the case against former USC gynecologist George Tyndall. 

In California’s K-12 schools, Manly sees all the conditions for more multi-million-dollar sex-assault settlements – vulnerable young people, activist teachers protected by their politically powerful union, and, most important, a culture of official secrecy. Balanced against the suddenly popular Parent Notification policy is the state Department of Education’s guidance: school officials, including teachers, must hide students’ gender orientation from their own parents. 

“With rare exceptions,” the department says, “schools are required to respect the limitations that a student places on the disclosure of their transgender status, including not sharing that information with the student’s parents.”

That sort of secrecy has created “a horror show,” Manly says. “I’ve handled hundreds of public-school cases, and in the majority of those, perpetrators of molestation told their victims, ‘This is our secret. Don’t tell your parents. Don’t tell adults. Don’t tell anybody.’” 

If you doubt him, Manly asks that you recall the story of Mark Berndt, the Los Angeles elementary school teacher who molested at least 71 third graders over several decades, cresting in a campaign of assault between 2009-2011. Berndt’s crimes were remarkable for many reasons, but perhaps especially because Berndt meticulously photographed them – and then left the film for development at his local CVS store where a clerk who saw the photos alerted local police. The photos depict Berndt feeding cookies to his victims – cookies topped with his own semen. A connoisseur of bondage-and-discipline, Berndt blindfolded and bound some of his diminutive victims’ hands with tape and photographed them in sexualized poses. He placed live cockroaches on the children’s faces. A Sheriff’s investigation said his “highly assaulting” attacks included touching girls’ genitalia and exposing himself to his students. 

When confronted with the evidence against him, Berndt, then 61, refused to resign; he knew that his teacher union contract made it nearly impossible to fire a teacher, even a teacher convicted of serious felonies involving students. Berndt ultimately agreed to quit, but only after squeezing Los Angeles Unified School District officials for a $40,000 payoff. When Berndt learned that felony convictions might imperil his pension, the United Teachers of Los Angeles union contract saved him again. Berndt would continue to earn about $4,000 per month (plus cost-of-living adjustments) while serving his 25-year sentence. 

At trial, Manly, showed that LAUSD officials knew that Berndt was trouble years before but did nothing. Their nonchalance cost the district $139 million to settle legal claims with 69 parents and 81 students.

Berndt was unique only in the bizarre superficialities of his violence. Manly can tick off a list of similar teacher-involved horrors without reference to notes. There was the Redlands Unified School District high school teacher who seduced a 16-year-old boy. She swore him to secrecy and, when she discovered she was pregnant, demanded that the boy carry out his fatherly duties. The district settled the family’s claim for $6 million in 2016. In 2018, the same district paid $15.7 million to settle three other sex-abuse lawsuits involving eight children. In May 2018, nearby Torrance Unified School District paid $31 million to settle the claims of eight former students who said they were molested by their wrestling coach. That same month, the Corona-Norco Unified School District paid $3 million to a special-education student raped by a teacher’s aide for two years beginning when she was just 11.

The catalog of abuse goes on and on, though you’d never know it from listening to state officials fixed on the unfailing virtue of public-school teachers and the universal danger posed by homicidal parents – “extremists,” Bonta calls them. At Irvine’s University High, Sacramento’s Mark Twain Elementary, San Diego’s upscale La Jolla High School – search any California school district (Santa BarbaraReddingCalifornia’s Central Valley) and you’ll discover that sexual violence against children is rampant and unfolding behind a wall of official secrecy.

“The common thread [between the Catholic Church and public-school scandals] is secrecy,” Manly says. “You’re telling kids to keep sexual secrets, including gender issues, from their parents. It’s a bad idea. I’m telling you, sending that message to kids is a very, very bad idea. I can’t tell you how many more cases there will be where adults are telling children – their victims – ‘This is our secret.’”

What would he recommend?

“You need a policy where children aren’t told to keep secrets from their parents or other caregivers,” Manly says.

That “policy” sounds like the Parent Notification policy now gaining purchase in local school districts – the policy Rob Bonta is suing to stop. But even if that policy survives California’s notoriously progressive courts, it will come too late for the scores of kids already raped and otherwise sexually abused by schoolteachers – perps whom Newsom, Bonta, Thurmond and teacher union leaders would prefer we forget. 

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond echoed Bonta’s claims, declaring that the Parent Notification policy “may not only fall outside of privacy laws but may put our students at risk.” Hyperventilating reporters routinely call the policy “forced outing” of “at-risk youth” in stories that feature academics who assert (as UCLA law professor Jody Herman did) that Parent Notification “gambles” with children’s lives. Leaders of the California Teachers Association have seized on Bonta’s legal filing is their license to flout the local policies and to conduct business as usual. They’re telling California’s 315,000 teachers that law and public safety allow – indeed, require – them to ignore the parent notification policy. 

If Bonta & Co. succeed in crushing the Parent Notification policy, the abuse will continue. Business will boom for attorneys like Manly. 

Soon after we spoke, Manly texted me with good news: he was celebrating yet another settlement in the case of the Redlands Unified teacher who became pregnant after raping her 16-year-old student. “That’s almost $46 million collected to date against Redlands Unified,” he said.

The key phrase is “to date.” 

“We’ve identified 14 other teacher perpetrators in Redlands since then – five convicted and two to be indicted presently.” Those cases include “50-plus victims,” he says. 

Click here to read the full article in the OC Register

California Governor Rejects Bill to Give Unemployment Checks to Striking Workers

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California won’t be giving unemployment checks to workers on strike, with Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoing a bill Saturday that had been inspired by high-profile work stoppages in Hollywood and the hotel industry.

Newsom, a Democrat, says he supports workers and often benefits from campaign contributions from labor unions. But he said he vetoed this bill because the fund the state uses to pay unemployment benefits will be nearly $20 billion in debt by the end of the year.

“Now is not the time to increase costs or incur this sizable debt,” Newsom wrote in a veto message.

The fund the state uses to pay unemployment benefits is already more than $18 billion in debt. That’s because the fund ran out of money and had to borrow from the federal government during the pandemic, when Newsom ordered most businesses to close and caused a massive spike in unemployment. The fund was also beset by massive amounts of fraud that cost the state billions of dollars.

The bill would have let workers who were on strike for at least two weeks receive unemployment checks from the state, which can be as much as $450 per week. Normally, only workers who lost their job through no fault of their own are eligible for those benefits.

Labor unions had argued that the amount of workers on strike for more than two weeks is so small it would not have had a significant impact on the state’s unemployment trust fund. Of the 56 strikes in California over the past decade, only two lasted longer than two weeks, according to Democratic state Sen. Anthony Portantino, the author of the bill.

“This veto tips the scales further in favor of corporations and CEOs and punishes workers who exercise their fundamental right to strike,” said Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, executive secretary-treasurer of the California Labor Federation. “At a time when public support of unions and strikes are at an all-time high, this veto is out-of-step with American values.”

The legislation was an attempt by Democratic state lawmakers to support Southern California hotel workers and Hollywood actors and writers who have been on strike for much of this year. The writers strike ended Sept. 26, but the other two are ongoing — meaning many workers have gone months without pay.

Beyond the debt, the Newsom administration has said the fund is not collecting enough money to pay all of the benefits owed. The money comes from a tax businesses must pay on each worker. But that tax only applies to the first $7,000 of workers’ wages, a figure that has not changed since 1984 and is the lowest amount allowed under federal law.

Meanwhile, unemployment benefits have increased. The Newsom administration has predicted benefit payments will exceed tax collections by $1.1 billion this year. It’s the first time this has happened during a period of job growth, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office.

Click here to read the full article in AP News

California Gov. Newsom Will Pick Feinstein’s Replacement. He Pledged in Past to Choose a Black woman

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — The Democrats’ fragile majority in the U.S. Senate puts extra pressure on California Gov. Gavin Newsom to quickly pick a replacement for Sen. Dianne Feinstein following her death, a fraught decision for a two-term governor with national ambitions of his own.

The Democratic governor had promised to appoint a Black woman in 2021 as concerns grew about Feinstein’s declining health. He also has said he would avoid the field of candidates already campaigning for the post, which will be on the ballot next year and includes Rep. Barbara Lee, one of the state’s most prominent Black women currently serving in elected office.

In the hours after Feinstein’s death, Newsom quickly faced calls to honor his commitment, with some leaders calling on him specifically to name Lee to the post, a reminder of the fraught dynamic Newsom faces with a key Democratic constituency.

Aimee Allison, who founded She the People, a political advocacy network for women of color, said in a statement that “there is no clearer choice for this appointment than Rep. Lee.”

Newsom’s political allies and advisers were largely quiet Friday about the governor’s thinking, and Newsom avoided any public appearances that would surely result in questions about his impending choice.

It’s not his first time selecting a U.S. senator, after being tasked with choosing a replacement for Kamala Harris when she was elected vice president. It was one of a string of appointments Newsom made in late 2020 and early 2021, a power that gave him kingmaker status among the state’s ambitious Democrats.

But finding a replacement for Feinstein is a less desirable task and one Newsom has openly said he did not want.

Newsom has the sole authority to name a successor. He could even pick himself, though that is unlikely. He could also call a special election, but he’s not expected to do that. He sidestepped the issue in a statement marking her death Friday.

“Dianne Feinstein was many things — a powerful, trailblazing U.S. Senator; an early voice for gun control; a leader in times of tragedy and chaos. But to me, she was a dear friend, a lifelong mentor, and a role model not only for me, but to my wife and daughters for what a powerful, effective leader looks like.”

On Capitol Hill, Feinstein’s death leaves Senate Democrats with no margin for error until a successor is appointed.

Democrats now have a functional majority of just 50 seats in the Senate, while Republicans hold 49. At the same time, many Democrats are calling for the resignation of the indicted Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., although the embattled Democrat has vowed not to step down.

And while Democrats continue to control Congress’ upper chamber, Feinstein’s absence will make it harder to advance Biden’s judge nominees in the Judiciary Committee.

For Newsom, any choice he makes risks alienating key allies at home, including those he would need for a future national campaign.

Should he follow through on his pledge to avoid picking from those already running in the Senate primary, he could select a true caretaker who would be replaced by whomever voters select in next year’s election. A handful of Black women in office have been floated as possibilities, including Secretary of State Shirley Weber and Los Angeles County Supervisor Holly Mitchell.

But Lee and others lashed out at Newsom earlier in the month after he indicated he would select a caretaker instead of picking from the current slate of candidates.

“The idea that a Black woman should be appointed only as a caretaker to simply check a box is insulting to countless Black women across this country who have carried the Democratic Party to victory election after election,” Lee posted on X, formerly known as Twitter.

That was echoed by Allison of She the People, who said, “Black women are not mere caretakers, but the voting and organizing center of the national Democratic Party.”

Lee on Friday posted that Feinstein was “a champion for our state, and served as the voice of a political revolution for women.” She did not address the open seat.

Some California Democrats are still upset about Newsom’s last Senate appointment.

He chose Alex Padilla, then California’s secretary of state and a personal friend, to replace Harris. That process took more than six weeks. That made Padilla California’s first Latino senator, but it also left the Senate without a Black woman.

He later promised that if Feinstein’s seat became vacant, he would choose a Black woman to replace her.

In a recent interview with Fox 11 TV in Los Angeles, Newsom said he was being swamped with recommendations for how to fill a possible Senate vacancy.

The decision for Newsom is clouded by his personal relationship with the late senator.

Newsom, whose father was a prominent judge in San Francisco, has known Feinstein since he was a child and has spoken recently about their personal connection. He interned in her office in college and said he considers her to be family. He said it wasn’t long ago that she would call him on the phone to discuss a variety of issues, from water policy to forest management.

Click here to read the full article in AP News

2023 CAGOP Convention: Golden Opportunities

Republicans at convention express renewed hope for party, candidates in the coming

Every year, the CAGOP convention has a theme. Last year, for example, it was “Together We Win.” It’s always something that is a stated goal that doesn’t have the bluntness of “Beat the Democrats” or something like that to it.

The theme this year is ‘Golden Opportunities.” And it makes sense. California’s Republican Party has improved significantly since 2018. The four OC House seats they lost that year have been mostly won back. The remaining seat, the 47th District, is being vacated by Katie Porter next year to focus on her Senate run, with the top Republican, Scott Baugh, currently likely to face state Senator Dave Min (D-Orange County), who has been bogged down by a recent DUI scandal. For the Senate seat, Republican Eric Early is currently in position to make it past the primary, thanks in party to a three way split Democratic race there. 

Presidential hopefuls are also looking at the Golden Opportunity in the state. Should Donald Trump face even more legal woes, his current strong showing in California could be his saving grace come Super Tuesday. Other Republicans see that high delegate count, and also see opportunity here, with DeSantis, Scott, and Vikram among them.

The convention floor of the Anaheim Marriot is lined with hopefuls both big and small. Posters are everywhere for candidates, and there is a buzz here that really hasn’t been seen at the convention for some time. While this may be because of Trump, DeSantis, and others making stops here, people are talking more and more about the what-ifs. Less people talked about wanting to get a certain percentage as a goal, and more people began talking about actually winning.

Walking down the aisles on Friday morning, the news Dianne Feinstein’s death was discussed. People speculated who Newsom would pick, but, generally, the conversation seemed to return to the wider Senate race. And that’s where it all seemed to head back to: the choices coming up.

“There’s something different this year,” said one delegate to the Globe. “It felt good last year and the year before, and those years we put Newsom to the screws with a recall and then brought more House seats in California to the GOP. And this year, it continues to build. I mean, all the major candidates are coming here for this. California is a really important primary state. And while we are not the dominant party, we are building fast.”

The sentiment was shared by Sandra, an attendee.

“We’re here for Trump, because he is all but certain to win the state,” Sandra said. “But we’re also here for all the candidates. Everyone in the GOP is getting a better showing, and this year, this close to the primaries, we want our people in the race.”

“Look at Trump alone. The whole ballroom is sold out and supporters are lining the street for him. Nobody expects California to have that kind of support level for Republicans, but we are really showing it this year. I think we are going to have some surprises for people this year.”

The theme of this year is, so far, living up to it’s name.

Click here to read the full article in the California Globe

How Much Do Progressives Hate Taxpayers and Proposition 13?

Last week’s column was entitled, “Legislative session ends with declaration of war on taxpayers.” The war has now gone nuclear. Governor Gavin Newsom and the Legislature just filed a lawsuit, directly in the California Supreme Court, seeking to have the Taxpayer Protection and Government Accountability Act removed from the November 2024 ballot before voters get a chance to approve it.

The Taxpayer Protection and Government Accountability Act (TPA) was written to restore key provisions of a series of voter-approved ballot measures that gave taxpayers, not politicians, more say over when and how new tax revenue is raised. Over the past decade, the California courts have created massive loopholes and confusion in long-established tax law and policy. TPA closes those loopholes and provides new safeguards to increase accountability and transparency over how politicians spend our tax dollars.

After more than a million Californians signed petitions to successfully put TPA on the November 2024 ballot, government officials started talking about this popular taxpayer-protection measure as if it was going to end Western Civilization.

First, the League of California Cities, which never met a tax that it didn’t like, disseminated a “Special Release” claiming TPA somehow restricts the right to vote on tax measures. This was absurd as the whole point of Proposition 13, Proposition 218, and now TPA, was to guarantee the right to vote on taxes.

Proposition 13 requires that a local special tax (meaning for a specific purpose) must receive a two-thirds vote of the electorate in order to pass. In 2017, this clear requirement was weakened by ambiguity in the California Supreme Court’s infamous Upland decision, which has been interpreted to allow special taxes to pass with only 50% plus one vote if the tax was put on the ballot by a “citizens’ initiative.” This has enabled special interests to write their own tax increases, direct the money to themselves, and get these self-serving measures passed with only a simple majority vote. TPA restores the two-thirds vote requirement and closes this costly loophole.

The second attack against the Taxpayer Protection Act was launched by the California Legislature with a late-session gut-and-amend that became Assembly Constitutional Amendment 13. This measure was a cynical attempt to derail TPA by changing the rules for passing certain kinds of constitutional amendments — specifically, initiatives that protect taxpayers by requiring a two-thirds vote to raise taxes.

If ACA 13 is enacted, TPA itself would require a two-thirds vote of the statewide electorate to pass, instead of a simple majority. It would be the first and only constitutional amendment in the history of the state that would be required to reach two-thirds voter approval. Supporters of ACA 13 insist it’s unfair for an amendment (like Prop. 13, for example) to pass with a simple majority if it imposes a higher threshold for passing something else. This argument is at odds with history. In 1879 the Legislature wrote a constitution that required a two-thirds vote to approve bonded indebtedness, then approved the constitution by a simple majority vote. That has always been the law in California.

Perhaps ACA 13, which would have to go on the ballot for voter approval, wasn’t looking like a winning strategy for the tax-and-spend crowd, because on Tuesday, the governor and the Legislature filed their lawsuit to try to knock TPA off the ballot before the election.

This outrageous attempt to block voter approval of TPA may backfire. Now voters will hear even more about the measure’s key provisions, such as requiring all new state taxes passed by the Legislature to go on the ballot for voter approval. Voters will be happy to hear that TPA restores the two-thirds vote threshold for local special taxes, and that it clears up muddy definitions that allow taxes to be mislabeled as “fees.” Voters will also like TPA’s transparency requirement that ballot labels must not only state clearly that a tax increase is a tax increase, but also disclose how the money will be spent.

By filing a “pre-election challenge” to TPA, big spending politicians have revealed themselves as being panicked that it will pass. Polling – both private and public – shows that Californians have about had it with higher taxes, especially when those higher taxes are not accompanied by more or improved levels of public services.

Click here to read the full article in the OC Register

Gov. Newsom Signs New Law Raising Fast Food Minimum Wage To $20

‘We’re seeing more and more of these automated kiosks pop up, and this is why’

A bill to raise the fast food minimum wage to $20 an hour in California was signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom Thursday, with the new wage change to take effect in January 2024.

Assembly Bill 1228, authored by Assemblyman Chris Holden (D-Pasadena), became one of the most contentious bills this session during the summer, with only a compromise between the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and fast food companies managing to keep the bill alive earlier this month.

Originally, the bill had planned to raise the minimum up to $22 an hour and hold franchise corporations accountable for labor law violations at individual locations. In addition, thanks to a new Fast Food Council created from a new law signed last year (AB 257), benefits like paid leave and predictive scheduling would be introduced. Faced with drastically increased costs, fast food companies took action. The number of electronic kiosks instead of cashiers swiftly climbed across the state, with a ballot referendum that would overturn AB 257, as well as put the law on hold until at least November 2024, getting enough signatures earlier this year.

With both sides ready to take even more drastic action, and the end of the legislative session looming, lawmakers brought together unions and fast food companies to work a compromise. Earlier this month, it was agreed the AB 1228 would be altered to have minimum wages for fast food workers going up to $20 an hour rather than $22 starting in April 2024, with local governments prohibited from raising them even further. The raise would only apply to chains with 60 or more nationwide locations and would not apply to chains that also operate an on-site bakery, such as Panera Bread.

The Fast Food Council, meanwhile, would be able to raise the minimum wage each year through 2029, but would no longer have the power to set workplace standards, only recommendations. They would also be prohibited from implementing paid leave, vacation, predictive scheduling, and other standards wanted by the SEIU and other unions.  Also under the agreement, Franchise corporations would no longer be held for labor law violations at individual locations.

With a compromise reached, AB 1228 passed both the Assembly and Senate on September 14th, albeit with divisive votes of 53-17 and 32-8 respectively. This led the way for Governor Newsom to sign the bill into law on Thursday.

“California is home to more than 500,000 fast-food workers who – for decades – have been fighting for higher wages and better working conditions,” said Newsom at the signing on Thursday. “Today, we take one step closer to fairer wages, safer and healthier working conditions, and better training by giving hardworking fast-food workers a stronger voice and seat at the table.”

AB 1228 signed into law

Assemblyman Holden added, “Today, we witnessed the signing of one of the most impactful fast food wage laws that this country has ever seen. We did not just raise the minimum wage to $20 an hour for fast food workers. We helped a father or mother feed their children, we helped a student put gas in their car, and helped a grandparent get their grandchild a birthday gift. Last month, when we were knee deep in negotiations, hundreds of workers slept in their cars and missed pay days to come give their testimony in committee and defend their livelihood. Sacrifice, dedication, and the power of a government who serves its people is what got us to this moment. My goal for AB 1228 was to bring relief and solutions where they were needed and together with my colleagues and Governor Newsom, that is what we have done. Thank you to the SEIU and all who supported this important effort. We, as a state, should be proud.”

Despite some praise for the bill, others responded to the bill in a more negative light on Thursday. Many pointed out that the higher wages would only further push companies to hire less people overall and could lead to the pull out of several locations because of the higher costs.

“The worst parts were thankfully taken out of the bill,” explained fast food restaurant consultant Linda Medina. “The liability part was a no-go and what they wanted to put on these locations was harsh. They forget that these aren’t these big corporations running them directly. They are franchises, and the risks can be similar to running a stand alone restaurant. Pushing higher wages on them is pretty bad.”

Click here to read the full article in the California Globe

Oakland Target Closure Could Limit Pharmacy Access For Many Locals

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) — Target announced on Tuesday that is closing three Bay Area stores: one in San Francisco, Pittsburg and Oakland.

The Target near downtown Oakland at 27th Street and Broadway is set to close by mid-October.

“I’m sad. What about the seniors? I do home care and (my client) lives right here,” says Helen Walton, pointing to an apartment complex near the Target store. “I take care of all her business, her prescriptions, everything here.”

Walton says filling the prescriptions will be the hard part because there are not many other options within walking distance. A sign posted inside the store directs customers to visit the CVS pharmacy located one mile away.

Target claims that retail theft is the main reason behind the decision to close the stores.

“Target tries to operate on pretty low margins. And if theft is a big problem in a neighborhood, that could be the difference between a profit and a loss,” explains Robert Chapman Wood, Professor of Management at San Jose State University.

He says discount drugstores are facing other pressures as well.

“The pharmacy business has been going through changes, which are not very transparent to ordinary people. A lot of pharmaceutical fulfillment is being done by pharmacy benefit managers, usually controlled by the insurance company,” he says.

According to Professor Wood, that means insurance companies are filing prescriptions by mail, which could prove to be more profitable. He doesn’t know how that may be impacting the Target-CVS Pharmacy partnership, but he believes it is putting pressure on large discount drugstores.

“The drugstore part of the drugstore has traditionally been a high margin area. And to the extent that those are under pressure, the insurance companies trying to do the fulfillment themselves, that could be a big problem for the drugstore business,” says Wood.

“We live in corporate America. So ultimately, everything is driven by a profit motive, and not everything is driven by the social motive,” says Professor Balaraman Rajan. He teaches business and economics at Cal State East Bay.

Professor Rajan says Target can’t be faulted for closing stores, since it is primary responsibility is to stakeholders. He adds, but in a city like Oakland, which is facing rising crime and increasing store closures, the pressure falls on the city to do more. Such as managing the decreasing number of pharmacies.

“The city can take action so that it is more welcoming to these corporates, more welcoming to these retailers. Because, ultimately, if there are no facilities out there, you won’t have a thriving population there. It is all connected,” says Rajan.

Click here to read the full article in ABC News

California Governor Signs Law Barring Schoolbook Bans Based on Racial, Gender Teachings

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill Monday to ban school boards from rejecting textbooks based on their teachings about the contributions of people from different racial backgrounds, sexual orientations and gender identities.

Newsom called the measure “long overdue.”

“From Temecula to Tallahassee, fringe ideologues across the country are attempting to whitewash history and ban books from schools,” Newsom said in a statement. “With this new law, we’re cementing California’s role as the true freedom state: a place where families — not political fanatics — have the freedom to decide what’s right for them.”

The bill takes effect immediately.

The topic of banning and censoring books has become a U.S. political flashpoint, cropping up in statesaround the country. Many of the new restrictions enacted by conservative-dominated school boards have been over textbook representations of sexuality and LGBTQ+ history.

The California bill garnered heightened attention when a Southern California school board this summer rejected a social studies curriculum for elementary students that had supplementary material teaching about Harvey Milk, who was a San Francisco politician and gay rights advocate.

A 2011 state law requires schools to teach students about the historical contributions of gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.

Newsom threatened the school board with a $1.5 million fine and the board later voted to approve a modified curriculum for elementary students that met state requirements.

The new legislation bars school boards from banning instructional materials or library books because they provide “ inclusive and diverse perspectives in compliance with state law,” according to a press release from Newsom’s office.

The bill cleared the state Legislature after intense debates about what role the state should have in curricula approved by local districts and how lawmakers can make sure students are exposed to diverse and accurate portrayals of history.

Newsom also signed a bill Monday to increase penalties for child traffickers.

Democrats in the Assembly Public Safety Committee blocked the proposal earlier this year. Some lawmakers initially opposed it because they were concerned it could inadvertently punish victims of child trafficking.

Click here to read the full article in AP News

California Becomes the First State to Mandate Gender-Neutral Bathrooms In Schools by 2026

Governor Newsom signed the bill alongside a flurry of others supporting LGBTQ+ Californians over the weekend.

Public schools across California will be required to have gender-neutral bathrooms by July 2026, adding another layer of protections for the state’s LGBTQ+ students.

Although some cities and school districts across the country have added gender-neutral bathrooms, the bill Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law on Saturday makes the Golden State the first to require it in schools statewide.

The legislation was among a trio of bills supporting LGBTQ+ youth that became law in recent days, including a new requirement for schools to provide “cultural competency” training to staff members on LGBTQ+ issues, and the creation of a task force that will identify LGBTQ+ students’ needs across the state and push forward initiatives to support them.

“California is proud to have some of the most robust laws in the nation when it comes to protecting and supporting our LGBTQ+ community, and we’re committed to the ongoing work to create safer, more inclusive spaces for all Californians,” Newsom said in a statement. “These measures will help protect vulnerable youth, promote acceptance, and create more supportive environments in our schools and communities.”

The bills passed in the midst of the country’s educational culture wars, where LGBTQ+ issues have increasingly become a target.

Eight states — Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Iowa, Idaho and North Dakota — ban transgender students from using their preferred bathrooms and facilities in K-12 schools, according to the Movement Advancement Project, a think tank that tracks LGBTQ+ policies and data nationwide. Florida takes such policies one step further, making it a criminal offense for transgender people to use bathrooms that differ from their sex assigned at birth.

California’s new law has its roots in such an effort. In 2021, the Chino Valley Unified school board introduced a resolution to bar transgender students from accessing their preferred bathrooms — a move that was soon criticized by state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, who warned the district that its attempt clashed with state law.

That resolution ended up failing. And in its wake, Thurmond joined the bathroom bill’s author, Sen. Josh Newman, a Fullerton Democrat, as a sponsor.

“This didn’t seem like a matter of anything more than basic fairness and equity,” Newman said. “My hope is that this bill makes life just a little bit easier during a time of life that’s hard for everybody, but especially hard for young people going through all of the issues and processes involved with finding oneself.”

Newman said that in the lead-up to writing the bill, he heard countless testimonies from students who — worried about being bullied or called out by another student or staff member — didn’t use the bathroom for the entire school day. He heard stories of urinary tract infections and severe anxiety. And all the while, school boards across the state roiled over who should be allowed to use which bathrooms, locker rooms and school facilities.

“From seventh through ninth grade, I avoided using the bathroom at my school,” a high school student told the state’s Safe School Bathroom Ad Hoc Committee, a group created by the California Department of Education in 2021. The student, who is referred to as Sam, spoke in a February 2023 news release published by Newman’s office. The only all-gender restroom at my school was exclusively for teachers, was kept locked, and was located behind the desks of administrative staff. To use that restroom, I would have had to come out as transgender to the faculty — something I was not ready to do.”

Though California schools were previously required to give students access to the restrooms they prefer, they were not mandated to provide gender-neutral facilities. This new bill changes that, requiring all school districts, county offices of education, and charter networks to have at least one gender-neutral restroom at each school site.

People across the country are divided on the issue, with 31% of Americans opposed to laws that would require transgender individuals to use public restrooms that match the gender they were assigned at birth, according to a 2022 survey by the Pew Research Center. And while 28% of Americans neither support nor oppose such policies, 41% are in favor of them.

Click here to read the full article in the Mercury News