Newsletter: The bills on Newsom’s desk

An Assembly committee meeting in May.
An Assembly committee practicing social distancing during a hearing in May.
(Associated Press)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Sept. 1, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

After a frenzied rush of late-night politicking, the California Legislature has officially finished its most extraordinary session in recent memory.

As our Sacramento bureau chief John Myers writes, it’s been “a remarkable, chaotic and uncertain year” for the Golden State and the people who govern it. Legislators are attending to a state in great crisis, with brutal fires, an ongoing pandemic and a coming “eviction cliff” all top of mind for lawmakers and the people they represent.

The coronavirus also hit the legislative body itself, forcing closures at the Capitol twice this year and shortening the time lawmakers had to craft and debate proposals. Over the past few days, quite a few Republican state senators were debating and voting on bills from home after being sidelined by exposure to Sen. Brian Jones (R-Santee), who tested positive for the coronavirus last week. Last-minute partisan fireworks erupted Monday night, after Senate Democrats voted to limit the number of speakers on each bill, infuriating Senate Republicans who argued that they were being silenced by the Democratic supermajority. Sen. Melissa Melendez (R-Lake Elsinore) called the move an expletive that I can’t print in this paper. There were some initial questions about whether the public expletive had been an accidental hot mic moment, but Melendez cleared up that speculation by reaffirming her statement on Twitter. More chaos in the upper chamber ensued, as the midnight deadline ticked ever closer. The motion to limit debate on bills was eventually rescinded just before 9 p.m., with a mere three hours remaining on the clock.

Here’s a look at where things stand on some of the most closely watched bills. None of the proposals approved in the statehouse are law yet. Their fate still hinges on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signature. Newsom has until the end of the month to sign (or not sign) the legislation at hand.

  • Coronavirus protections: There are quite a few coronavirus-related proposals heading to Newsom for approval, including bills to add sweeping new labor protections for hotel, janitorial and airport employees, allow cash-strapped Californians to borrow more money from their retirement accounts without tax penalties and award high school diplomas to students who were unable to finish the final months of the school year due to the pandemic. Read my Sacramento colleague Melody Gutierrez’s story on COVID-19 protection bills for a deeper look at what those proposals entail.
  • A path forward for prison firefighters: Formerly incarcerated Californians who braved fire lines while in prison have long been legally barred from becoming full-time, year-round firefighters with the state — and numerous counties and cities — after their release because of their criminal records. It’s a system that my columnist colleague Erika Smith has termed to be “one of California’s most notorious wrongs.” This proposal would allow individuals who have successfully worked in one of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s fire camps to petition a judge to quickly expunge their records and waive parole time, clearing their way to suit up again.
  • Diversifying corporate boards: As you might recall, the state passed a law two years ago that requires publicly traded, California-based companies to include women on their corporate boards. Modeled on that 2018 law, this new proposal would require companies to have at least one board director from an underrepresented community by the close of 2021, with the number increasing in 2022 based on the size of the board. (What qualifies as underrepresented? Self-identification as Black, African American, Hispanic, Latino, Asian, Pacific Islander, Native American, Native Hawaiian, or Alaska Native, or as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.)
  • Eviction protections: An emergency bill to protect pandemic-burdened renters from eviction through January 2021 as long as they pay 25% of their rent during that period passed late Monday night, and Newsom signed into law just before midnight. The proposal hastily emerged on Friday, and was seen as a compromise with landlord groups that opposed another bill that would have kept tenants from being evicted if they did not pay any rent as late as April. Tenant rights advocates were disappointed that the new proposal does not prevent all evictions.
  • Police reforms: A flurry of bills regarding police accountability and oversight were introduced in the weeks after George Floyd’s death, but many failed to advance. One of the last remaining reform bills — a measure aimed at providing more oversight of sheriff’s departments — passed late Monday night.
  • Allowing duplexes on most single-family parcels: A hotly contested bill that would require local governments to permit duplexes on parcels now largely restricted to one house failed to move forward. It passed the Assembly late Monday night, but died when the year’s legislative session came to an end before the Senate could take it up for a vote.

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


August was the deadliest month of the COVID-19 pandemic in California, even as the state makes steady progress in reducing infections, hospitalizations and deaths, data show. The August death toll came after hospitalizations had peaked in late July, when the state reported 7,170 patients being treated for COVID-19. In August, hospitalizations have dropped steadily, hitting 3,940 this week — the fewest since mid-June. Los Angeles Times

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LAUSD enrollment decline continues during online learning, with an unexpected drop of 6,000 kindergarteners. The decline in kindergarten enrollment — especially in the school system’s lowest-income neighborhoods — was about three times as large as in recent years. Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles and Airbnb have launched a new system meant to help the city ferret out and remove illegal listings from the online platform, a step that L.A. officials say is crucial to enforcing its restrictions on renting out homes for short stays. Los Angeles Times

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Republicans see California as a perfect foil as the campaign intensifies. The bashing has only just begun. Politico

Gov. Newsom names a new state parks director amid wildfires and budget challenges. Armando Quintero, a veteran park ranger and water manager, succeeds Lisa Mangat. Mercury News

“I have lost my ability to speak, but not my agency or my thoughts. You and your team have doctored my words for your own political gain.” California activist Ady Barkan fired back after Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise shared a video on Twitter that spliced Barkan’s quotes together to make it sound as though Barkan persuaded Joe Biden to defund police departments. Barkan has ALS and speaks with the use of a device that reads his eye movements; Scalise is the second-ranking House Republican. Washington Post


L.A. County prosecutors filed 20 more counts of sexual assault and groping against Ron Jeremy on Monday, after dozens of additional women contacted law enforcement following the adult film star’s arrest in late June. Los Angeles Times


Full containment may be in sight for the three major lightning-sparked wildfires burning in Northern California. Crews could contain the SCU Lightning Complex fire as early as Thursday, and the other two next week. San Francisco Chronicle


At the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the sea animals are doing great, but business is tanking. The aquarium missed its entire summer tourism season, and its finances are in such dire straits that more than a third of its staff has been laid off or furloughed. Los Angeles Times

A penguin named Rey looks out at the Kelp Forest exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium
A penguin named Rey looks out at the Kelp Forest exhibit next to senior aviculturist Kim Fukuda at the closed-down Monterey Bay Aquarium.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

South Coast Plaza, Orange County’s renowned upscale shopping center, reopened for in-person shopping Monday as California relaxed some business restrictions put in place to stem the spread of the coronavirus. Los Angeles Times

Zoom rides the pandemic to another quarter of explosive growth. The company reported that its revenue for the May-July period more than quadrupled from the same time last year to $663.5 million (Patrick Soon-Shiong, the owner of The Times, is an investor in Zoom.) SFGate

How Big Sur’s Dolan fire turned California’s most scenic route into a smoldering ghost highway. The fire prompted a closure of Highway 1 in the area, cutting inhabitants of the mountain region off from the rest of the state, while blocking the area’s ever-present tourists from flocking to its winding way. San Luis Obispo Tribune

Very important Central Valley news: Miley Cyrus’ new dog is a stray who was found at a fire station west of Highway 99. Per the story, the bulldog “took a long, winding road from Fresno to the celebrity.” Fresno Bee

A poem to start your Tuesday: “September” by Joanne Kyger. Poetry Foundation

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Los Angeles: partly sunny, 78. San Diego: partly sunny, 73. San Francisco: sunny, 66. San Jose: partly sunny, 82. Fresno: sunny, 98. Sacramento: sunny, 93. More weather is here.


Today’s California memory comes from Mercy Ruiz:

When I was a young girl in the early 1970s, the swimming pool at nearby Obregon Park in East Los Angeles was our favorite place to go. Every day my cousins and I would watch the clock until it was time for the pool to open. Then, we would grab our towels and race to the park. We would run in, get our clothes bag, change into our swimsuits and turn in our clothes bag for our “safety pin.” Alas, we could jump in the pool and swim until time was up and everyone had to get out of the pool.

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.