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Assemblywoman Shirley Weber takes a stand, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez bats a thousand and anti-vaxxers continue to strike.
There was high drama in the Capitol this week.
Gov. Jerry Brown threatened water wasters with $10,000 fines. Anti-vaxxers stormed the Capitol in droves. But Assemblywoman Shirley Weber stole the show.
During the Assembly Education Committee’s Wednesday hearing, the San Diego Democrat gave an inspired speech in support of her bill to require that student achievement be used as a factor in job evaluations of teachers and school administrators. Weber’s bill is one of several competing proposals for a comprehensive revision to the state’s teacher evaluation rules.
“Unlike the current way of doing things, AB 1495 would structure our evaluations around student achievement and help teachers improve their classroom outcomes,” Weber said.
Weber, who is considered one of the legislature’s most knowledgeable members on education issues, lined up support from several of the state’s leading education groups, including EdVoice, StudentsFirst and Students Matter. But her bill had one very powerful opponent: the California Teachers Association.
That opposition from the state’s teacher’s union was enough to kill the bill on a 3-2 vote — with fellow Democrats Kevin McCarty and Tony Thurmond opposed and Republicans Rocky Chavez and Young Kim backing Weber. (Other members abstained from voting, which meant the bill didn’t have enough votes in favor to move on.)
The hearing was shocking on several fronts. First, it’s rare for a member of the majority party to have one of their priority bills – on their expert subject matter – fail in committee. Even if members are opposed to the bill, they’ll commonly pass the bill out as a courtesy.
Second, Weber’s not a far-right ideologue that views the California Teachers Association as “the worst union in America.” Rather, she’s been featured frequently in the CTA’s magazine and received the California Federation of Teachers‘ endorsement for her re-election.
Finally, she’s chair of the Assembly Budget Committee, a position that gives her influence over every lawmaker’s pet project or legislative agenda.
The fight over AB 1495 reflects a growing divide among California Democrats over how to respond to Vergara v. California, the pending challenge to the state’s teacher tenure and dismissal process. On one side, those loyal to the state’s teacher’s union have refused to cede any ground, while others, such as Weber, view Vergara as “a wake-up call.”
“If we are not about improving the lives of children,” asked a frustrated Weber, “then what the hell are we doing? … What am I going to do after 40 years of working in a system I am frustrated by? Just go along to get along?”
Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez went 4-for-4 in passing bills out of committee this week.
On Monday, the Assembly Utilities and Commerce Committee approved Assembly Bill 1266, which targets the executive compensation of Southern California Edison.
The same day, the Assembly Transportation Committee approved her legislation that would implement a new statewide motor voter program. Under Assembly Bill 1461, the Department of Motor Vehicles would automatically register all eligible residents to vote anytime they apply for or renew their driver’s license. By Wednesday, the bill moved out of the Assembly Committee on Elections and Redistricting on a 5-2 vote.
Gonzalez had no trouble convincing her colleagues on the Assembly Judiciary Committee to help provide legal support to as many as 1.5 million immigrants living in California that are subject to President Obama’s immigration program. Assembly Bill 1462 would provide funding to non-profit organizations to provide legal services to applicants to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans programs.
By mid-week, Gonzalez’s legislative agenda was quite literally earning cheers in the Capitol. On Wednesday, the Assembly Committee on Education unanimously approved her bill to make cheerleading a high school sport. Assembly Bill 949, known as the California High Schools Expanding Equality Respect and Safety Act, or CHEERS Act, would bring new rules, safety standards and the ability for cheerleaders to earn physical education credit.
For those keeping score at home, Gonzalez hasn’t lost a committee vote this year.
Anti-vaxxers lost another committee vote this week in their fight over mandatory immunizations.
On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved Senate Bill 277, which would eliminate the personal belief exemption for school vaccinations, on a 5-1 vote. Sen. Joel Anderson, the lone vote against the bill, was the immediate hero of dozens of angry parents that mobbed the Capitol in opposition to the bill.
But, the anti-vax crowd may want to reevaluate their lobbying tactics. In advance of Tuesday’s vote, some anti-vaxxers began following – borderline stalking – the every move of lobbyist Jodi Hicks of DiMare, Brown, Hicks & Kessler, who is working to pass the bill.
Tweets that have since been removed tracked Hicks’ every move around the Capitol and lobbed vicious and conspiratorial attacks at the top lobbyist. Major advocacy groups are worried that social media trolls are undermining their efforts to defeat the bill.
“While we will use all appropriate advocacy tools to make our case, and we certainly share the frustrations of those in opposition to this measure, CCA strongly condemns inappropriate actions, personal attacks or threats of any kind,” Dr. Brian Stenzler, president of the California Chiropractic Association, said in a vague reference to the incident. “There is no place for such ineffective, counter production and unacceptable activities in advocacy.”
This isn’t the first time that Hicks has been personally targeted with grand conspiracies. Last year, the Sacramento Bee made much ado about her daughter appearing in campaign mailers for State Sen. Richard Pan, the author of this year’s vaccination bill.
Voice of San Diego’s Andy Keatts reports that the State Water Resources Control Board has outsourced enforcement of stormwater pollution to private attorneys from the Coast Law Group.
In an interview with La Opinion, Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León accused the media of a “double standard” for Latino politicians. “If a white politician has an event at Walt Disney Concert Hall its fine, nobody says anything,” de Leon said of his elaborate swearing-in ceremony, “but if a Latino politician has an event there, then it is very bad, you have to do in the Barrio.”
Political analyst Tony Quinn looks at the state’s dismal voter turnout among Latino voters. “According to Political Data Inc., California’s premier analysts of voting behavior, only 1,317,000 Latinos cast ballots in 2014, or just 15 percent of the total, a huge drop not only from presidential year Latino turnout but even from comparable non-presidential years.” (Fox and Hounds Daily)
Don’t take bribes. That helpful public service announcement comes from a vague yet popular Tweet from State Sen. Joel Anderson. “Donating to an elected official in reference to a bill is a bribe,” Andersoon tweeted. “I will return your donation and ask that you not contact me again.” A spokesman for Anderson’s office said that the tweet came in reference to blogs suggesting financial rewards for elected officials based on votes.
Last week, Sara Libby shared a glossary of Sacramento speak – the “technical, insider-y language of the Capitol.” Jon Ortiz of the Sacramento Bee adds “crowd-out” to the list of hot buzzwords in California politics. The term refers to when government services are diminished due to rising pension obligations. Expect to hear the term in conjunction with former San Diego City Councilman Carl DeMaio’s statewide pension reform initiative planned for next year’s ballot.