Sacramento Report: The Other Coronavirus Bar Problem
Lawmakers urge the Supreme Court to let law school grads practice law in the absence of upcoming bar exams, California teachers fire back at President Trump over school reopenings and more in our weekly roundup of news from Sacramento.
The pandemic-driven debate about whether recent law school graduates should be allowed to start practicing without taking the California bar exam heated up this week, and even drew in a prominent state lawmaker from San Diego.
Dozens of graduates urged the California Supreme Court during a Tuesday hearing to implement a so-called “diploma privilege” system permitting them to practice given the uncertainty surrounding when the next exam will be held and the potential health risks if the two-day test has to be held in person while COVID-19 continues to spread.
The Supreme Court had previously ordered the State Bar to delay the exam typically held in July until early September and make every effort to hold it online. The court later said it may move the test, which more than 9,000 people have signed up to take, to early October.
Amid this maneuvering, deans of the state’s American Bar Association-accredited law schools recently threw their support behind their recent graduates being granted immediate licensure without passing the bar exam, as is normally required.
Early Thursday, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez tweeted that she also backed diploma privilege and urged other supporters to sign a petition she created asking the supreme court and state bar to act.
“The unavailability of the State Bar examination shouldn’t block these graduates from pursuing their dreams and starting their careers after sacrificing so much already in the attainment of their law degree,” reads the petition posted on a website paid for by Gonzalez’ campaign to become secretary of state in 2022.
Gonzalez and Assemblyman Mark Stone also sent a letter to the state Supreme Court on Thursday requesting it grant “diploma privileges” to recent graduates “for a reasonable period of time, until they can safely and securely study for, and take, the California Bar Exam.”
But as many commenters pointed out, what the letter appears to be advocating for is known as “provisional licensure,” not diploma privilege, because it would still require graduates to eventually pass the bar exam.
Gonzalez responded later Thursday on Twitter: “To be clear. … I am supporting any and all efforts to deal with the situation that California law student graduates find themselves in. We must push the Supreme Court to accept #DiplomaPrivilegeNow then push who that covers. I want broad coverage.”
If California were to grant to diploma privilege, it would not be the first state to do so in recent months. Utah, Oregon and Washington have already gone that route, while other states have adopted provisional licensure approaches.
– Lyle Moran
California Teachers Challenge Trump Over Reopening
If “freedom fries” taught us anything it is that Americans are true innovators in the art of politicization. When even a French fry can be turned into politics you might think the American political art form has nowhere left to go. Mais non!
Next up: the reopening of that often-overlooked cornerstone, the American public school system.
President Donald Trump, in his normal manner – you supply the adjectives – entered into the debate this week by demanding that all schools reopen in the fall. The question of reopening schools was already carrying so much heat it was drifting beyond the realms of logic, but Trump’s declaration buried any chance for a nuanced conversation about … The Facts.
The California Teachers Association fired back (played right into his gambit?) on Wednesday. “California cannot reopen schools unless they are safe,” read a letter addressed to Gov. Newsom and the Legislature, as EdSource reported.
That’s perfectly reasonable. The only problem is that no one can agree on what “safe” means.
Some research has suggested that very young children, from third grade and younger, very rarely spread coronavirus, the New York Times reported this week. Those 18 and younger are also less likely than adults to spread the virus, NPR has reported.
Denmark, for instance, reopened schools without seeing an increase in its outbreak.
Because COVID-19 is so novel – it operates less like the flu than we previously believed – these realizations are just coming to light. And they are shifting our ideas, hopefully, about what is considered safe.
There’s also another question about safety to be grappled with. Educators have long held up the fact that school is the safest place for some of the most vulnerable children in the community. The safety of those students will absolutely be put at risk the longer schools are closed.
As the camps of left and right regress further into their binary narratives, these nuances may be lost in the public square. Who says art is not powerful, friends!
San Diego Unified has chosen a unique way to solve the problem. Both teachers and district administrators acknowledge they’re not qualified to say what is safe in a public health emergency of monumental proportions, board vice president Richard Barrera told me. The district is convening a panel of scientists and experts from UC San Diego, who will help decide when and if it’s actually safe to go back to school.
– Will Huntsberry
Coronavirus Hits Home for the Legislature
The week began with the announcement that Assembly hearings are being postponed, after several people in the Capitol tested positive for COVID-19, including Assemblywoman Autumn Burke.
A spokesman for Assembly speaker Anthony Rendon declined to tell the Los Angeles Times whether the other four cases within the Capitol were lawmakers, but Assemblyman Tom Lackey confirmed on Twitter that he’s been hospitalized after contracting the virus.
Many Republican lawmakers who’ve been advocating for the reopening of businesses similarly criticized Rendon, and suggested the Assembly should get back to work.
“Shutting down the legislative work for the people of CA is not the solution,” Assembly Republican leader Marie Waldron, who represents Escondido, wrote on Twitter. “Protocols and safety measures (including technology) can be added to ensure better safety but not allowing the legislative business to go on is basically handing more power to the Governor.”
Vox traced the explosion in cases statewide to a few factors: the relaxation of social distancing policies, inconsistent precautions across counties and big outbreaks in Los Angeles and Imperial counties.
The Los Angeles Times, meanwhile, visited rural Modoc County, the only remaining county with no recorded cases.
– Sara Libby
Golden State News
- In a lovely essay, a former senior adviser to Gov. Gavin Newsom explains he stepped down to cope with depression and anxiety, and urges officials to pour more resources into mental health treatment. (Cal Matters)
- George Will (!) argues Joe Biden should pick Rep. Karen Bass, a former state Assembly speaker, as his running mate. (Washington Post)
- The California Highway Patrol’s first Black commissioner says he wants to diversify its ranks. (Sacramento Bee)
- California is suing the Trump administration over its new policy on student visas. (NBC News)