Sacramento Report: A Harsh Spotlight on the State Gang Database
Suspense day will decide hundreds of bills’ fates, a personal look at aid in dying, drought restrictions are easing and more in our weekly digest of news from the Capitol.
Thursday was a big day for efforts to reform the secretive state gang database, CalGang.
CalGang provides law enforcement officers access to data about an individual’s gang ties.
First, an explosive audit outlining the database’s failings dropped. The audit was spurred by questions from San Diego Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, who notably revealed in a legislative hearing how her son had once been threatened with inclusion in the gang database during a traffic stop.
The audit found that CalGang “cannot ensure individuals’ rights to privacy, that people can be entered in the database without proper substantiation and that people are kept in the database long after their names should have been purged.”
Also on Thursday, a bill by Weber that would address some of the problems identified in the audit passed the Senate Appropriations Committee.
AB 2298 would require the state to notify people when they’re added to the database, creates a mechanism for people to challenge their inclusion, requires that certain data be sent to the Justice Department and mandates that people be removed from the database three years after they’re added if they haven’t been convicted of a gang-related crime during that time.
“I think based on conversations with others, this report will take us even further than my bill in terms of moving the gang database into an era of greater oversight,” Weber told me.
‘The Suspense Is Killing Me’
Thursday and Friday were big days for hundreds of bills being held in the so-called suspense files in both the Assembly Appropriations Committee and the Senate Appropriations Committee. Any bills with a significant price tag get parked in those files, until lawmakers move some forward and kill others in one fell swoop.
Dan Walters at the Sac Bee believes the process is unnecessarily secretive:
The “suspense file” ritual exemplifies perpetual efforts of those in the Capitol to do what they do with minimum exposure to the public, occasionally interrupted by spasms of procedural reform, which inevitably erode into further sneakiness.
San Diego Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez is chair of the Assembly Appropriations Committee. She’s been tweeting the process of poring through all the bills.
— Lorena Gonzalez (@LorenaSGonzalez) August 6, 2016
Perhaps unsurprisingly, 10 of Gonzalez’s bills made it through the Senate version of the committee, including her resurrected effort on farmworker overtime, a bill to eliminate gender bias in workers’ comp payouts, bills to protect janitors and nail salon workers and one to make diapers more affordable.
There are many decisions still left to be made, but some of the bills from San Diego lawmakers that did not make it out alive include a bill from Assemblyman Brian Maienschein that would have increased reimbursement rates for Denti-Cal providers, and one from Assemblyman Brian Jones to exempt Olympians’ winnings from taxes.
A Personal Look at Aid in Dying
The law that allows Californians with terminal illnesses to obtain life-ending medication was a long time coming. First, the fight over whether to approve it dragged into a special session. Then came the wait to see whether Gov. Jerry Brown would veto it. Then, another wait until it went into effect.
Aid in dying became legal in California on June 9.
In an essay this week, VOSD contributor Kelly Davis describes how her sister, after suffering with ALS, took advantage of the law and ended her life about a month after it went into effect.
In describing the process, Davis does a great job melding the personal – eating pizza and taking photos with her sister before her final moments – with the policy side, like the family’s inability to obtain the actual drugs prescribed, and the sting of opponents’ less-than-factual arguments against the aid-in-dying bill.
The Associated Press followed up on Davis’ story, and some versions of that post referred to Davis’ sister’s final gathering as a “suicide party.” That unfortunate description is a good reminder that the California bill includes an important provision: It allows those who take advantage of it to avoid having “suicide” included in their death certificate. Their disease, after all, is what led to their death.
• Over at Time, a California woman who’s a devout Christian with Stage IV cancer explained how her decision to take advantage of the new law fits in with her faith.
“I think when you look at a personal experience, governing doctrines from a church don’t seem to matter nearly as much,” she writes of sharing her experience with lawmakers who struggled over the bill because of their religion.
Water Authority Wants State to Intervene in SDG&E Standoff
The San Diego County Water Authority is making some moves to get in the power game.
One of its plans is to buy power from the Hoover Dam to save on electricity costs. The only problem: It doesn’t have any power lines of its own, and it wants San Diego Gas and Electric to deliver the power using its lines. SDG&E wants to charge the Water Authority more than it’s willing to pay. So, the Water Authority plans to ask the state Legislature for help getting the low rate it wants, Ry Rivard reports:
In 2000, the Water Authority received broad legal authority to buy and sell electricity and natural gas. The purpose of the initial legislation seemed pretty clear at the time, according to Water Authority representatives involved in the discussions. The bill was intended to allow the Water Authority to “own and operate works for supplying its member agencies with gas and electricity.”
While SDG&E is known for tenacious lobbying in Sacramento, the Water Authority bill passed at a time when the power company was very unpopular. In 2000, SDG&E’s rates had doubled as California’s experiment with deregulated electricity markets came flying apart.
Now, the Water Authority wants to lawmakers to force SDG&E to charge the low rate from SDG&E. That would be unnecessary, though, if SDG&E simply agreed.
Voters Will Weigh Bilingual Education, Otra Vez
The Sacramento Bee details the goals behind Prop. 58, the bilingual education measure that would roll back many of the restrictions of Proposition 227, passed in 1998. Prop. 227 made it much harder for schools to establish bilingual programs that help English-speakers learn Spanish, and vice-versa.
Bilingual programs do still exist – Mario Koran recently highlighted the successful program at Sherman Elementary in Sherman Heights, and noted that students there “are acquiring English at a faster rate than students who are placed in English-only classrooms” The test scores posted at Sherman “contradict the assumption that the most effective way to teach students English is by placing them in English-only classrooms” – the central idea behind Prop. 227.
In a recent San Diego Union-Tribune op-ed, Ron Unz, the Silicon Valley millionaire who funded the campaign for Prop. 227, defended the law, arguing that test scores for English-learners shot up after Prop 277 went through. But that information is misleading. Test scores did rise in the early 2000s – for all students, not just English-learners, Koran pointed out in a piece for New America: “Test scores rose for all student groups rose in the five years after Prop. 227 took effect. But that hid the fact that the achievement gap between English-learners and native English-speakers went virtually unchanged during that time.”
• Koran also examined AB 2150, co-written by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, which would help relieve some of the enormous burdens parents face when trying to qualify for free preschool.
Drought Restrictions Are Easing, Drought-Shaming Not So Much
As California’s drought starts to ease, various agencies are relaxing their water-conservation rules.
But, just like it was hard to understand the new restrictions as they were imposed – can I water my lawn on a Monday? – it’s similarly confusing to understand what measures are being relaxed, Ry Rivard reported:
Some restrictions remain in place across the state: People can’t water their lawns so much that water runs into the street. Restaurants still can’t serve customers water unless customers first ask for it. Homeowners associates are still prohibited from taking action against homeowners who stop watering their lawns during the drought.
Some local agencies have eased restrictions, meanwhile, while the state has not. In Encinitas, for instance, showers at city beaches are back on after being turned off last year to save water. But showers at state beaches are not turned back on.
Even as certain restrictions are being lifted, drought-shaming is still going strong.
This week, Mother Jones profiled a Central Valley couple who owns some of the world’s biggest food companies, including Pom Wonderful, Halos, Fiji Water and Wonderful Pistachios: “Having shrewdly maneuvered the backroom politics of California’s byzantine water rules, they are now thought to consume more of the state’s water than any other family, farm, or company. They control more of it in some years than what’s used by the residents of Los Angeles and the entire San Francisco Bay Area combined.”
Golden State News
• With more immigrants from Central American seeking refuge in the United States, immigration courts are strapped for interpreters who can speak rare ancient Mayan languages. (L.A. Times)
• California’s trees are dying, and it’s only getting worse. (CalMatters)
• A lawyer who’s a member of the Palo Alto Planning and Transportation Commission says she’s resigning her post and moving because she and her husband, a software engineer, can no longer afford the insanely high cost of living there. (Medium)
• A look inside the fight to extend the state’s landmark law to curb greenhouse gas emissions. (Associated Press)
• Both sides in the fight over statewide marijuana legalization says the Obama administration’s decision this week to keep the drug classified among the most dangerous drugs underscores their point. Marijuana lobbyists are gaining clout in the state Capitol. (Sac Bee, KQED)