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Newsletter: Why a crying newborn was on the state Assembly floor for late-night voting

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VIDEO | 00:46
Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks brings her newborn to late-night legislative session

Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland) asked to be allowed to vote remotely. She was denied so brought her infant with her to Sacramento and cast votes Monday on dozens of bills.

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Wednesday, Sept. 2, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

It was a surreal sight to behold, even nine months into the most surreal year in living memory: a lawmaker holding a swaddled, crying infant on the floor of the state Assembly just before midnight in the middle of a pandemic, making impassioned points on a housing bill while struggling to comfort the baby and adjust the cloth mask slipping down her own face.

It quickly became the kind of viral image that often doubles as an inspiration/outrage litmus test. Was this an uplifting, women-can-do-it-all moment, gleaming with girl-boss sheen? You know, the sort of thing that Hillary Clinton might share on social media with a flexed bicep “strong” emoji? Or was it an indictment of a clear failure in the system, showcasing how even in the literal halls of power in a state as progressive as California, working mothers still can’t get the accommodations they need?

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Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks on the Assembly floor late Monday night.

I can’t tell you how to feel. But here are some of the facts.

Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland) gave birth on July 26, meaning her daughter Elly was all of 36 days old on Monday night. Wicks had been on maternity leave as the Legislature was wrapping up its work for the year before Monday’s constitutional deadline, and she requested permission to vote remotely ahead of the critical, end-of-session votes.

It was an ask that was well within the realm of possibility. The same week that Elly was born in July, the Assembly had created a plan to allow the lawmakers most vulnerable to serious risks from the coronavirus to vote remotely by proxy. And over in the Capitol’s other chamber, the state Senate had numerous lawmakers participating remotely during the final days of the session.

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As any regular reader of this newsletter already knows, the coronavirus in the state Capitol is not some remote fear. Work in the state Senate was abruptly halted less than a week ago after a Republican lawmaker from San Diego County tested positive for the virus. That same day, a California Highway Patrol officer who had recently been in the building also tested positive. What’s less known are the risks that the coronavirus poses to infants and postpartum mothers. According to the CDC, evidence currently suggests that infants may be at increased risk of developing severe illnesses from infection.

But Wicks’ request was denied by Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood) because maternity leave was not considered a high-risk category, as my colleague Melody Gutierrez explains in her story.

[Read the story: “California lawmaker nurses infant between debates after being denied remote voting” in the Los Angeles Times]

So Wicks traveled to Sacramento from her district in Oakland to cast her votes, with the infant she’d been breastfeeding every two hours for the last four weeks in tow. One of the bills she came to vote on — a narrowly passed plan to remove a key hurdle that new parents and employees caring for sick family members say keeps them from using the state’s paid leave program — would not have moved forward without her vote.

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Wicks was the only Assembly member who asked to vote remotely during the final days of the session, so the specific conditions that would have been approved remain unclear. But a Rendon spokesperson said in a statement that “the bar of eligibility was always intended to be high, to ensure the protection of our legislative process.” Rendon’s decision drew sharp rebukes on social media and from fellow Democrats, as Melody observed in her story.

It can be difficult to square away all the contradictions at play. Here we are in 2020, four waves into the feminist movement in a forward-looking state that’s currently run by a governor with a “parent’s agenda,” in the most extraordinary of times. Yet the realities of a woman bringing a child into the world still can’t clear the bar of eligibility?

In an interview with KTVU on Tuesday afternoon, Wicks said she hoped the attention on her would open a broader conversation about the stress on families during the pandemic, particularly the low-income families and service workers doing their jobs far from the spotlight of the Legislature floor.

“We are all faced with incredible challenges right now during COVID-19,” she said. “I think what this has also showed us is our social safety net system is not prepared for this. We don’t value working families, we don’t value working parents. Especially new parents — we need better paid leave policies, we need affordable childcare, we need better paid sick days. “

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Update: Rendon issued an apology to Wicks on Tuesday night. Here’s his statement.

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

California will have a new COVID-19 reporting system in October. The announcement comes a month after a state public health database failure caused the distortion of COVID-19 test results across California and disrupted the state’s response to the pandemic. Los Angeles Times

Family and activists decry the shooting death of a Black man by L.A. County sheriff’s deputies: Monday’s shooting death of Dijon Kizzee, 29, has elicited fresh waves of outcry and outrage, and renewed calls for law enforcement transparency and that those involved be arrested and prosecuted. Los Angeles Times

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L.A. STORIES

L.A. County weighs the reopening of indoor hair salons and shopping malls. If county officials decide to lift the restrictions, the businesses would be allowed to operate at a limited capacity. Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles plans to spend nearly $10 million on a new program to help tenants threatened with eviction defend themselves in court, along with an additional $50 million to help poor residents amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Los Angeles Times

What would it look like if L.A. public transit was free? As ridership falls during the pandemic, the agency is convening a task force to study the possibility of going fare-ffee. CityLab

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Iconic ‘90s singers Monica and Brandy have ended their decades-long feud. And here is the 2,428-word story you need to really understand what happened. BuzzFeed News

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POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT

President Trump’s visit to Kenosha, Wis., exposed divides in the U.S. over race and policing ahead of the November vote. Small crowds of pro- and anti-Trump demonstrators gathered in a downtown shaken by a police shooting that last week left a Black man paralyzed and led to two fatal shootings in which an armed white teen has been charged. Los Angeles Times

President  Trump tours an area damaged during demonstrations in Kenosha, Wis.
President Trump tours an area damaged during protests in Kenosha, Wis.
(Associated Press)
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News analysis: Amid the coronavirus crisis, an unsatisfying end for California’s Legislature. Sacramento bureau chief John Myers debriefs us on the end of the session. Los Angeles Times

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is getting heat over a solo hair salon visit in San Francisco at a time when California businesses are limited by concern over the coronavirus. But Pelosi’s spokesman said she was complying with the rules as presented to her by eSalon. Associated Press

After Stanislaus County Supervisor Tom Berryhill’s death last week, his board seat could remain vacant until November. In the meantime, the remaining four Stanislaus County supervisors could face a deadlock because no tie-breaking measures are in place. Modesto Bee

EDUCATION

The University of California must immediately suspend all use of SAT and ACT test scores for admission and scholarship decisions under a preliminary injunction issued by an Alameda County Superior Court judge. Los Angeles Times

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HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT

California will let gas plants stay open as time runs low for climate action: After rolling blackouts, state officials voted to allow four fossil fuel power plants near Los Angeles to keep operating past 2020. Los Angeles Times

Firefighters are continuing to make progress in their battle against historic blazes, three of which now rank among California’s biggest wildfires ever. Los Angeles Times

CALIFORNIA CULTURE

Seven Bay Area counties reopened indoor malls, hair salons and barbershops with limited capacity this week. Indoor salon operations still remain closed in San Francisco and Alameda counties. San Francisco Chronicle

“If Fresno is to improve the economic situation of its Black community, it will need to be intentional.” The Fresno Bee Editorial Board on why choosing a Black-owned local business for a $224,000 contract (a drop in the bucket for Fresno’s $1-billion budget) for janitorial services at city bus facilities matters. Fresno Bee

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Apples are ripe for the picking, and Oak Glen has a plan for you to do it safely. Business owners are hoping tourists can be wooed as the rural San Bernardino community’s busiest season arrives. San Bernardino Sun

A poem to start your Wednesday: “Somewhere Holy” by Carl Phillips. Poetry Foundation

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Get our free daily crossword puzzle, sudoku, word search and arcade games in our new game center at latimes.com/games.

CALIFORNIA ALMANAC

Los Angeles: sunny, 80. San Diego: partly sunny, 73. San Francisco: partly sunny, 66. San Jose: partly sunny, 78. Fresno: sunny, 98. Sacramento: sunny, 89. More weather is here.

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AND FINALLY

Today’s California memory comes from Charles Stewart:

I lived in Richmond but spent summers with my rowdy semi-feral cousins who lived in the small community of Boulder Creek in Northern California. It was a tiny little town with a U.S. Post Office, bus depot, and some kind of store all operating out of the same wooden building on main street. There were no hiking trails or campgrounds in those days, just freedom. We explored the woods daily and when thirsty drank water from the creeks with our cupped hands. We stripped down to our underwear and played in a dammed up stream created by huge stones and collapsed foundations of eras gone by.

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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