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Sacramento Report: Stops and Starts for Police Accountability Measures

The single-payer health care mess keeps getting messier, state officials are brainstorming ways for pot business owners to bank safely and more in our weekly roundup of news from Sacramento.

It was a big week for Assemblywoman Shirley Weber’s ongoing efforts to address law enforcement misconduct, particularly in minority-heavy communities.

On Wednesday, San Diego activist Aaron Harvey testified in Sacramento in support of Weber’s bill to reform California’s flawed gang database. Harvey was arrested in 2014 and faced life in prison for a crime prosecutors admitted he didn’t take part in. They tied him to the crime using a novel legal theory because of his inclusion in the gang database.

Sacramento Report logoHarvey has for years insisted he is not a gang member, and is listed in the database as a result of living in a certain neighborhood, and other trivial factors like being caught wearing certain colors or talking with friends and neighbors who are also in the database.

“Many in law enforcement have argued that oversight of CalGang would jeopardize public safety. Well, in the name of public safety, we need to stop the arbitrary use of CalGang and other shared databases by law enforcement to prevent cases like mine,” Harvey told the Senate Public Safety Committee.

Harvey noted that the bill would also create an advisory board that would include a member who had been impacted by inclusion in the database, and a family member of someone impacted by the database. “Having those impacted by gang labeling on this committee brings much lived experience that has been missing from the decision-making process.”

Weber’s bill would also give oversight control of CalGang to the state Department of Justice, and would require periodic audits. (Disclosure: My husband works for the Department of Justice.)

On Thursday, California’s Racial and Identity Profiling Advisory Board met in San Diego to provide updates on the implementation of Weber’s AB 953, a law passed in 2015 that requires law enforcement officers across the state to collect data on who they stop.

Nancy Beninati, a representative from the attorney general’s office, said implementation of the law has been delayed a bit as the new attorney general, Xavier Becerra, gets up to speed and meets with stakeholders.

Beninati said the latest draft of regulations should debut “in the very, very near future” but couldn’t give an exact date.

At the end of April, nine law enforcement agencies from across the state, including the San Diego Sheriff’s Department and SDPD, took part in a field test in which they collected data for more than 2,800 stops. It took two and a half minutes to complete the form, on average, but that was using a rudimentary online survey, said Beninati.

Some members of the public expressed concern that officers simply guess at a person’s race. One suggested scanning people’s driver’s licenses, which contain much of the info officers are supposed to input.

A San Diego defense attorney, Coleen Cusack, said data collection shouldn’t stop once the traffic stop is over, but should continue into the courtroom.

“Five and a half million criminal filings in 2016, out of those 4.5 million were infractions. That means 4.5 million who don’t have the benefit of counsel,” said Cusack. “That’s where the injustice that happens in these profiling cases continues. … We need data collection to continue in the Superior Court in terms of the case outcomes that are happening as a result of these stops.”

Banking on a Better Pot System

Marijuana might be legal in California, but banks and other financial institutions are still off limits to marijuana business owners. That’s because marijuana remains illegal in the eyes of the federal government. No access to banks means pot businesses go without basic finance operations, like opening a checking or savings account, wiring funds or accessing lines of credit.

State Treasurer John Chiang, who’s also a candidate for governor, formed the Cannabis Banking Working Group to explore options for banking and regulating a budding industry that some expect to produce more than $6 billion in sales by 2020. Its members include officials from the banking and cannabis industries, as well as politicians and law enforcement officials. The group met in San Diego on Friday.

Chiang said the lack of banking options have made paying taxes, paying vendors and employees, and granting benefits, such as health insurance, more difficult.  Businesses have also been forced to deal in cash, often leaving workers left to carry money in duffle bags, an invitation for violent crimes.

Oceanside resident Gregg Marte, who runs a medical marijuana distribution company, told the group that several weeks ago, two men had pointed a gun in his face and ran off with five pounds of marijuana and $2,000 in cash.

“You know what, take it. My life is more important than the flower and that money,” Marte said.

Chiang said business owners shouldn’t have to decide between their safety and profit.

“Most of these problems are related to the cash-only economy that resulted in the cannabis industry’s inability to access money handling systems routinely available to other businesses,” Chiang said.

Colorado, which legalized recreational marijuana in 2014, is a few steps ahead.

Panelist Sundie Seefried, CEO at Partner Colorado Credit Union, led the creation of a banking system for Colorado’s cannabis industry. So far, through Seefried’s system, her credit union currently banks more than $80 million each month and $1 billion a year for Colorado’s marijuana industry.

But it remains impossible to bank with a marijuana business and remain totally compliant with federal laws. Seefried pointed out that one Colorado credit union was shut down by federal regulators for banking with cannabis businesses.

Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, who represents Orange County’s coastal communities, attended the meeting and spoke against federal enforcement against marijuana businesses that are legal in their home states, calling it “a great disaster for the wellbeing of our country and the freedom of our people.”

Rohrabacher introduced a bill in February barring the Justice Department from enforcing federal marijuana laws in states that have already legalized recreational marijuana use. The bill is under review in the House.

After Chiang’s group wraps its tour, it will write a report of various options and solutions to remedy the marijuana banking issues.

Next steps will be up to state entities like California’s Department of Business Oversight and the Cannabis Regulatory Agency, the federal government and the banking and cannabis industries, said Marc Lifsher, communications director for Chiang.

“Were trying to solve the problem but we don’t have any direct regulatory control,” Lifsher said.

Jonah Valdez

Three San Diego Republicans, Six Bills Signed Into Law

Though many of the most high-profile bills of this session are still being debated, some have already passed and are being signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown. Among the batches of bills the governor signed over the last few weeks are six bills from three San Diego lawmakers. (Warning: Dense policy ahead.)

AB 4 by Assemblywoman Marie Waldron lets counties notify voters via text or email if their voter registration info has been changed.

Bifurcation, a common practice in family law cases, lets a court resolve some issues in a case, and save other issues for later. AB 369 by Waldron allows a final order in a bifurcated family law proceeding regarding child custody or visitation rights to be appealable immediately.

AB 308 by Assemblyman Brian Maienschein updates the rules surrounding the types of notices and descriptions required when a property is the subject of a probate hearing.

AB 309 by Maienschein updates the rules allowing property identified in a person’s will to be moved into a trust.

SB 153 by Sen. Joel Anderson would change wording in the Probate Code relating to fraud.

SB 333 by Anderson would “clarify the ability of all beneficiaries of an irrevocable trust to petition the court for a modification or termination of the trust,” according to a Senate committee analysis.

Single-Payer Is Kind of a Mess Right Now

When Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon made the controversial decision to hold SB 562, Sens. Ricardo Lara and Toni Atkins’ bill to institute a single-payer health care system in California, he expressed hope that the bill could be revived next year once some big holes were filled in – like how the multibillion-dollar price tag would be paid.

But now Atkins is suggesting that “ultimately it may take a ballot measure to put a system in place” if a deal can’t be worked out in the Legislature. Last month, The Intercept explained why establishing a single-payer system in California would almost have to be decided by a ballot measure.

“We just have to figure out what is the best way forward,” Atkins told the Sacramento Bee. “It’s an issue ripe for discussion.”

Meanwhile, The Intercept this week detailed some big fractures among the coalition backing single-payer.

Golden State News

• Less than a year from the June primary, California Republicans are lacking for statewide candidates. (San Francisco Chronicle)

• California’s bar exam and what to do about its abysmal passage rates has been an ongoing tension for the past year. The latest news: “the California Supreme Court has decided to strip the Committee of Bar Examiners of its authority to decide the minimum score needed to pass the exam.” (Above the Law)

• Ahead of San Diego’s Pride weekend, Sen. Toni Atkins has written an op-ed on her Gender Identity Act bill, which “makes it easier for people to obtain state-issued identity documents that accurately reflect their gender presentation” and creates a new nonbinary gender for IDs. (Union-Tribune)

• Gov. Jerry Brown and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg are leading a coalition of cities, counties, states and businesses that plan to uphold the Paris climate deal. (New York Times)

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