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Lawmakers and veterans call for Assemblyman Randy Voepel’s removal following his response to the U.S. Capitol riot, the battle over gig workers is continuing in court and more in our weekly roundup of news from Sacramento.
Assemblyman Randy Voepel has for the last few years been arguably the lowest-profile member of San Diego’s state legislative delegation.
But that changed this week thanks to Voepel’s reaction to the deadly Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, in which he likened the Capitol riot last week to “Lexington and Concord. First shots fired against tyranny. Tyranny will follow in the aftermath of the Biden swear in on January 20th.”
He seemed to walk that back a bit in a statement he posted on Twitter Monday. Voepel wrote that he does not “condone or support the violence and lawlessness that took place … The loss of life, theft of government property, and blatant disregard for law and order is reprehensible and unnecessary.”
Voepel gained some attention in Capitol circles when he first entered the Legislature, thanks to a communications staffer who gave the assemblyman a hilarious, GIF-heavy social media profile. But that staffer has since moved on, and Voepel is known mostly for his quirkiness – including a colorful tie collection – and his deeply conservative politics.
A college student noted those two traits in an op-ed she wrote for Times of San Diego, when she described lobbying Voepel on a bill she supported and he, sitting at a desk with a sign that said “ask me about my cats,” reduced her to tears in front of her mother as the conversation devolved into Voepel hypothesizing that she’d be kidnapped and dismembered on an upcoming trip to Mexico she had planned.
His most notable legislative effort to date has been a push to create a pilot program allowing state employees to bring their infants to work. Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed that bill in 2019 because he disagreed with the way it would have been implemented, but directed the state’s HR agency to develop its own pilot program.
He introduced his first bill of the new session this week, a measure that would allow employees to request flexible work schedules of four 10-hour workdays and would exempt their employers from having to pay overtime on those days.
The Sacramento Bee reports that a group of veterans and national security experts, including elected officials like Carlsbad Councilwoman Cori Schumacher, have demanded in a letter to the Legislature that Voepel be expelled from office.
“These words are an explicit glorification of the insurrection and direct incitement of further violence. Assemblymember Voepel is both an elected official and a veteran of the U.S. military. We believe that he has violated his sworn oath and must be held accountable,” the letter says, according to the Bee.
Voepel’s office did not respond to an interview request.
Worker classification in the gig economy is one of the rare issues that is being addressed and updated by the courts, the Legislature and at the ballot box all at once – often with confusing, conflicting results.
This week alone, there were two big legal developments in the ongoing battle between apps and the drivers they contract with, and we got a glimpse of how the implementation of Prop. 22, approved by voters in November, is playing out locally.
A group of gig workers and the SEIU labor union filed a petition this week in the California Supreme Court seeking to invalidate Prop. 22, which exempted app-based drivers from AB 5, a state law limiting when companies can classify workers as independent contractors.
The filing argues the measure is unconstitutional because it improperly limits the Legislature’s ability to create workers’ compensation benefits, and that it violates a rule limiting ballot initiatives to a “single subject.”
“Although this is admittedly not the typical ‘single subject’ case, the amendment provision of Proposition 22 is a classic example of combining unrelated provisions in a way designed to intentionally deceive voters,” the petition says. “Proposition 22 was presented as a measure specifically to benefit app-based drivers by allowing them to be classified as independent contractors rather than employees.” But because of the way the measure is written, the petitioners argue, “the voters will have absolutely no understanding that a ‘yes’ vote is a vote to severely limit the Legislature’s authority to authorize collective bargaining for app-based drivers.”
The same court that will consider that petition released another big decision this week: It said that its earlier Dynamex ruling, which set the stage for AB 5 and Prop. 22, is retroactive – meaning it applies to companies and potential violations that happened even before the ruling came out.
“The ABC test articulated in Dynamex was within the scope of what employers reasonably could have foreseen,” the court wrote, referring to the three-part test laid out in the decision that determines whether a worker should be considered an employee.
Meanwhile, for now, Prop. 22 is the law of the land, and KPBS reported on one of the ripple effects playing out locally as result: A San Diego-based delivery driver for Vons said his job has been eliminated so the company can instead use app-based drivers who it will not have to hire as employees. “Albertsons contends Prop 22 had nothing to do with the changes it had made to its business model,” KPBS reports. Vons and Albertsons are making similar changes in Los Angeles.
San Diego Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, who wrote AB 5 and campaigned against Prop. 22, welcomed the labor union suit seeking to invalidate the measure.
“Prop. 22 not only created a permanent underclass of workers in California — it stripped the Legislature of its power to step in and improve working conditions for hundreds of thousands of app-based workers,” she wrote in a statement. “The State Supreme Court should have an opportunity to weigh in on whether corporations can use the initiative process to write their own laws with artificial barriers designed to block elected representatives from doing their job.”
Gonzalez knocked Gov. Gavin Newsom last week for congratulating DoorDash on its IPO.
“The Governor is proud of Door Dash. I am proud of the hard working delivery drivers that made the company successful despite being underpaid,” she wrote.
Which brings us to …
Between the DoorDash kerfuffle and Newsom’s selection of Assemblywoman Shirley Weber to become secretary of state – a role Gonzalez had been aggressively campaigning for – things are likely a little tense between Gonzalez and Newsom.
But Newsom still has another statewide appointment to make – he must replace Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who will leave if confirmed to a role in President-elect Joe Biden’s cabinet. And the Democratic Legislative Women’s Caucus is urging Newsom to select a woman – and pitched Gonzalez among its preferred candidates.
“Specifically, the caucus urges the governor to consider Senator Anna Caballero, former Senator Martha Escutia, Assemblywoman Rebecca Bauer-Kahan, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, Assemblywoman Eloise Reyes, and Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton,” the group wrote in a letter to Newsom this week.
Gonzalez graduated from UCLA School of Law and has been an active member of the State Bar since 2014. Her spokeswoman, Sami Gallegos, said Gonzalez intentionally went inactive for a period before that when she led the local labor council to avoid the impression that she was a legal representative for any individual union.