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Read about the latest decisions at the state Capitol and how they impact your life (Fridays)
Prosecutors’ decision not to charge the officers who shot Stephon Clark has put AB 392 in an even more intense spotlight, Sen. Ben Hueso lays out his case for his public records bill – but gets some key facts wrong in the process and more in our roundup of news from Sacramento.
In many ways, Assemblyman Todd Gloria’s bill aimed at preventing a repeat of San Diego’s lackluster response to the 2017 hepatitis A crisis seemed like a safe bet: Even the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, whose foot-dragging and reluctance to share information was the impetus for the bill, has signed on to support it.
But, as Lisa Halverstadt reported this week, the bill has provoked the ire of an unexpected group – one that has shown formidable capacity to agitate in the Capitol before: vaccine opponents.
The bill, to be clear, does not actually mention vaccines.
But anti-vaccine groups are alarmed by this provision (emphasis mine):
if the local health officer knows or has reason to believe that any case of the diseases made reportable by regulation of the department, or any other contagious, infectious or communicable disease exists, or has recently existed, within the territory under that health officer’s jurisdiction, the health officer may issue directives to other governmental entities within that jurisdiction to take any action the health officer deems necessary to control the spread of the communicable disease.
On Facebook, a member of the group Parents United 4 Kids wrote that the bill could compel mass vaccinations:
I watched the press conference where Todd Gloria and Toni Atkins announced the bill. Nathan Fletcher (Lorena’s husband) stood at the podium and told the story about the swine flue scare when he was an Assemblyman. He said that, back then, they didn’t have the authority to mass vaccinate children. He implied that this bill would change that.
After our story published, Gloria wrote on Twitter: “I’ll work with anyone to improve my legislation but let me be clear: science and public health will guide amendments to #AB262, not misinformation and fear.”
Gloria is not the only legislator who’ll be hearing from vaccine opponents this session.
Parents United 4 Kids and other groups are already taking aim at two other pieces of legislation – one of which doesn’t even exist yet.
SB 483 by Sen. Richard Pan, who wrote the 2015 law that got rid of personal belief exemptions for children attending public schools, just has generic placeholder language at the moment. But as the number of medical exemptions for vaccine requirements has surged in the wake of the 2015 law, Pan has expressed interest in changing the rules around medical exemptions, as inewsource reported last year. Vaccine opponents assume SB 483 is that attempt, and have distributed scripts online that people can read to their legislators to register their disapproval.
A new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that examined a 2018 California measles outbreak suggests unnecessary medical vaccine exemptions are causing problems.
SB 421, also written by Pan, would create a “Children’s Cabinet of California,” a group of several officials whose offices interact with children in some way.
That bill does not mention vaccines, either, but it’s included in the script Parents United 4 Kids posted, urging its supporters to rally against it.
A bill by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber would change the standards for when police can legally deploy deadly force, and its supporters say the need for it was driven home in a heartbreaking way this week.
The Sacramento district attorney announced last weekend she would not press charges against the police officers who killed Stephon Clark, an unarmed black man, in his grandmother’s backyard. Soon after, Attorney General Xavier Becerra said that his office’s independent investigation of Clark’s death did not warrant any criminal charges.
Weber’s bill, AB 392, would change police standards so that they are authorized to deploy deadly force only when it is necessary to prevent imminent death or serious bodily injury.
The current law guiding when police can kill was written in 1872, and allows police to legally kill people who are fleeing.
“We are disappointed and frustrated – but not surprised – by the recent decision of the Sacramento district attorney not to press charges against the officers involved in the shooting death of Stephon Clark,” the California Legislative Black Caucus, which is chaired by Weber, said in a statement. “We’ve seen this same outcome repeated over and over statewide and nationally for years.… The fact that Stephon Clark, another unarmed black man, was killed at the hands of law enforcement, with no accountability, illustrates why we need immediate reform.”
The DA’s announcement has sparked a flurry of support for Weber’s measure:
San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliott and Sen. Ben Hueso have both begun to lay out what they say is the need for SB 615, Hueso’s bill, sponsored by Elliott, that would make it much harder for members of the public to sue to enforce the Public Records Act.
Filing suit against an agency is currently the only recourse a member of the public has if the agency withholds records improperly or fails to respond to a request at all. If the member of the public can prove that the records should have been delivered, the agency must pay that person’s attorney’s fees. The possibility of that payment is essentially the only motivation an agency has to follow the law.
SB 615 would require that members of the public “meet and confer” with an agency before filing suit, and would institute a much higher bar for the collection of attorney’s fees – the public must not simply show that the records were withheld illegally, but that the agency did so knowingly and willfully. Attorneys told me that standard would be basically impossible to meet.
In an op-ed, Elliott says the bill is needed because public records request to the city have surged in recent years.
“The bill still allows lawyers to hold public officials accountable for withholding documents — and to recover their costs — just not when a judge rules that an innocent mistake was made. And with ‘meet and confer,’ innocent mistakes should all but disappear,” Elliott writes.
The Public Records Act already requires public agencies to assist members of the public in narrowing or focusing requests in order to facilitate the delivery of records.
In an interview with KPBS, Hueso also emphasized the increase in requests to public agencies as a driver of the bill.
“The idea is to provide people in the community with information, but not necessarily reward people that are simply looking to sue a government agency,” he said.
But Hueso also said some things that were simply not true.
He told KPBS that his office regularly receives public records requests and works very hard on them. That’s a bizarre statement, given that members of the state Legislature are exempt from the Public Records Act.
Hueso also brings up “punitive damages” in discussing the bill. The Public Records Act does not award punitive damages – which are monetary penalties imposed on top of attorney’s fees. Nor does Hueso’s bill propose instituting them.
Yet, he told KPBS: “And frankly, there will be more punitive damages against an agency … if they fail to provide that information to the public willingly and knowingly. And I think that’s a much stronger requirement, that if there is willful conduct on behalf of a city to not provide this information to the public they will be punished under my bill.”