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Newsletter: Last call for the legislative session

Outside the Statehouse Capitol, in Sacramento, in 2015.
(Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Friday, Aug. 28, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

The discovery of a coronavirus case in any workplace is a scary and disruptive event, sparking a frenzied rush to sanitize, isolate and contact trace.

But it’s particularly disruptive when the workplace in question happens to be the state Capitol during the frantic last week of a legislative session — as was the case when state Sen. Brian Jones (R-Santee) tested positive for the virus on Wednesday, leading the state Senate to abruptly cancel the day’s session.

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Jones’ coronavirus diagnosis further complicated the already frantic last week of the Legislative session. On Thursday, nearly every Republican in the California Senate was barred from the state Capitol and required to vote remotely, as all but one of their delegation had been in proximity to Jones on Monday or Tuesday.

Aug. 31 — this coming Monday — marks the end of the legislative session, meaning lawmakers now have just four days left to attend to the hundreds of bills at hand. A quick California civics refresher: The California Constitution limits the passage of most bills after Aug. 31 in even-numbered years, and after mid-September in odd-numbered years. After the legislative session ends, the governor then has a month to sign (or not sign) said bills into law.

Here’s a few things to watch as lawmakers head into the weekend, with lots of high-stakes decisions ahead.

Housing: California’s housing crisis was top of mind for many residents long before the pandemic. But months of job losses and financial turmoil have only intensified the issues, and another major looming deadline has made action even more urgent: The state’s COVID-19 eviction moratorium is set to expire at midnight on Sept. 1, if other action is not taken before then. Without protections in place, tenants, landlords and housing advocates fear a wave of evictions in the coming months, with millions of Californians at risk of losing their homes during an ongoing pandemic.

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The bill to watch here is AB 1436. As my colleague Patrick McGreevy explains in his story, the proposal would block evictions of renters who missed payments during the COVID-19 “emergency period,” which would end 90 days after the state of emergency order is lifted or April 1, 2021, whichever occurs first. Landlords would also be allowed mortgage forbearance under the legislation.

[Read the story: “No deal yet in Sacramento to help struggling California renters” in the Los Angeles Times]

Another housing bill to watch is SB 1120, which would require local governments to permit duplexes on parcels now largely restricted to one house, in effect eliminating single-family zoning that dominates in most suburban residential neighborhoods. Multiple other bills dealing with affordable housing and homelessness were already sidelined for the year in committee.

Law enforcement reforms: More than a dozen bills regarding police accountability and oversight were introduced in the weeks after George Floyd’s death sparked a national protest movement. But as my colleague Anita Chabria explains in a new story, the session is poised to deliver a much more modest law enforcement reform agenda than many expected.

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[Read the story: “Many California police reform efforts have stalled despite push from George Floyd protests” in the Los Angeles Times]

Several bills, including a proposed law to require fellow officers to intervene if they witness excessive force and a plan to streamline oversight boards of sheriff’s departments, have already failed to advance. According to Anita, the modest showing “underscores the challenges of sweeping police reform even in a liberal state like California, where polls show wide support for some of the measures.”

One contentious bill that’s still in play is SB 731, which would create a statewide system to strip bad officers of their badges. SB 731 has caused particular consternation for the state’s law enforcement unions, which largely contend that they don’t oppose having a system to track and ban problematic officers, but argue that in a session already shortened by the virus, the reforms have not had the public hearings and scrutiny of a normal session.

On Thursday, unions representing Los Angeles and San Francisco officers asked the governor to call a “special session” of the Legislature on policing before passing reforms, which would allow for more time beyond the Aug. 31 deadline. A Newsom spokesperson told my colleagues that the governor had no plans to call a special session at this time.

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And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

Millions of Californians who are out of work during the pandemic will soon receive a $300 weekly supplemental unemployment benefit retroactive to Aug. 1, state officials said Thursday. The Federal Emergency Management Agency approved California’s application for $4.5 billion to cover at least three weeks of supplemental benefits after a $600 weekly payment expired last month. Los Angeles Times

Preparing for the “third wave.” Even as California finally begins to see declines in COVID-19 deaths and hospitalizations, health officials and experts are beginning to prepare for a potential third surge of coronavirus cases fueled by two groups that already have been hit hard: low-wage essential workers and young people.

The summer spike in COVID-19 has started to ease, and governments soon will need to consider how they might begin to reopen the economy further. Gov. Gavin Newsom is expected to outline his plans on Friday. Los Angeles Times

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NBA players have agreed to resume the postseason, although Thursday’s slate of playoff games was postponed while the league and players continued to work out details of the restart, a person with knowledge of the decision confirmed. Los Angeles Times

Note: Some of the sites we link to may limit the number of stories you can access without subscribing.

L.A. STORIES

L.A. County’s outgoing CEO will receive $1.5 million and security in a settlement over alleged “unrelenting and brutal” harassment from Sheriff Alex Villanueva. The settlement and allegations are the latest in a lengthy series of clashes and tense relations between the sheriff and other county leaders since his surprise 2018 election victory over predecessor Jim McDonnell. Los Angeles Times

Sachi Hamai and Sheriff Alex Villanueva
Sachi Hamai, L.A. County’s outgoing chief executive, has been the target of Sheriff Alex Villanueva’s anger for several months, ire that led to concerns for her personal safety, according to a letter sent to county supervisors.
(Los Angeles Times)
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An L.A. teacher had to flee her home amid threats after wearing an “I Can’t Breathe” shirt on the first day of online classes. A parent shared a screenshot of the teacher on social media, unleashing nearly two weeks of turmoil as a national divide over race and policing infiltrated a high school in suburban Woodland Hills. Los Angeles Times

The coronavirus has turned once-bustling downtown L.A. into a ghost town. Can downtown recover? Los Angeles Times

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POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT

President Trump accepted the Republican nomination Thursday night before a packed crowd on the White House South Lawn, delivering a storm of angry broadsides and false charges against Democratic nominee Joe Biden as he sought to reframe the November election as a choice rather than a referendum on his first term. Los Angeles Times

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CRIME AND COURTS

The city of Beverly Hills made a decision that has civil liberties advocates scratching their heads. The city will prosecute protesters for curfew violations, even though L.A. County has declined to take such cases to court. Los Angeles Times

HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT

Orange County is expected to receive the green light for in-person learning at all schools just before Labor Day if it continues to remain off the state’s watchlist. Los Angeles Times

CALIFORNIA CULTURE

Businesses fear they’ll be blamed for COVID-19’s spread. They are mounting fierce campaigns in Congress and statehouses for measures to protect them from lawsuits over infections, hospitalizations and deaths related to the pandemic. Los Angeles Times

“It’s the world’s smallest studio apartment, and there’s no loft option.” For some Napa fire evacuees, “home” now means an RV. Napa Valley Register

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A poem to start your Friday: “To the States” by Walt Whitman. Poetry Foundation

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CALIFORNIA ALMANAC

Los Angeles: partly sunny, 87. San Diego: sunny, 80. San Francisco: partly sunny, 67. San Jose: sunny, 84. Fresno: sunny, 98. Sacramento: sunny, 96. More weather is here.

AND FINALLY

Today’s California memory comes from Kristina Olsen:

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I was the projectionist at the Fox Venice Theater in the ‘70s. We had old ‘30s-style carbon arc projectors, like having a little sun burning inside the housing. It got really hot in the summer up in the booth. Every Thursday back then was samurai movie night. I noticed that there was always a point in the films where the warriors would sit down to have sake and say in subtitled text, “That’s good sake!” When our shift was done at 1 in the morning, the rest of the staff and I would run down to the beach and dive into the waves to cool down. In the dark we’d get tumbled with sea water up our noses. Then suddenly we were cold and we’d go back to my place and laugh and drink sake till dawn.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints, ideas and unrelated book recommendations to Julia Wick. Follow her on Twitter @Sherlyholmes.


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