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As final legislative frenzy approaches, abortion rights in California return to the spotlight

Assemblymember Buffy Wicks speaks while other women stand behind her.
Assemblymember Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland) was author of a bill to protect women from criminal and civil liability in the case of a miscarriage, self-induced or criminal abortion or due to a pregnancy-related infant death.
(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

California lawmakers return to the state Capitol next week for the final month of the legislative session that, with the November election looming, could produce greater protections for abortion providers, as well as a new legal avenue to provide court-ordered treatment for homeless individuals with severe mental illness.

The traditional end-of-session frenzy comes after some significant actions already taken by the Democrat-controlled state Legislature this year, including a new gun-control law already signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom that authorizes private citizens to sue anyone who imports, distributes, manufactures or sells illegal firearms in California.

The Legislature in June approved a proposed constitutional amendment, which California voters will decide in November, to explicitly protect a person’s right to an abortion in the state in response to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe vs. Wade.

As always, lawmakers also must sort through a grab bag of bills that could have a major, or at least tantalizing, impact on the lives of Californians.

Sen. Monique Limón (D-Santa Barbara) is shepherding legislation to make public the pay scales at thousands of companies in California, a controversial measure facing steep opposition from business interests.

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Assemblymember Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens) has a proposal to make California the fifth state to legalize human composting, and a bill for which Assemblymember Evan Low (D-San Jose) is an author would allow the state medical board to discipline doctors who spread disinformation about COVID-19.

Expanding abortion protections and access

Perhaps the most controversial bill affecting abortion rights in California, by Assemblymember Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland), would protect pregnant people from criminal and civil liability in the case of a miscarriage, self-induced or criminal abortion or due to a pregnancy-related infant death.

During a Senate hearing on the bill in June, Wicks said the measure would protect women from unjust prosecution and legal jeopardy. She said the legislation “will reinforce existing state protections to ensure that no one in California, whether you are a California resident or coming from out of state, will be prosecuted for ending a pregnancy or experiencing a pregnancy loss whether it be stillbirth, miscarriage or abortion.”

Opponents of the legislation, including the California Catholic Conference and California Family Counsel, claimed that the bill would legalize infanticide in some cases — an assertion that Wicks said was absolutely false.

With California expecting an influx of women from states restricting or outlawing abortion — Newsom already has declared California to be a “true sanctuary” for those seeking abortion or providing abortions — lawmakers also will be considering measures to increase the number of abortion providers in the state.

Legislation by Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) would allow more nurse practitioners to provide abortions, which she said would help “prepare California for a reality without the protections of Roe v. Wade.”

A separate bill by Assemblymember Jim Cooper (D-Elk Grove) would require medical licensing boards to expedite applicants who demonstrate that they plan to provide abortion services.

CARE Court

California lawmakers also will consider Newsom’s proposal that would compel homeless people into court-ordered treatment for mental illness and addiction.

In March, the governor announced his proposal for the Community Assistance, Recovery and Empowerment Court program, known as CARE Court which, he said, would send an estimated 7,000 to 12,000 people who have substance abuse and psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia, into treatment.

Under the proposal, family members, behavioral healthcare providers and first responders could ask a civil judge to initiate a CARE plan for eligible individuals who lack the ability to make that decision for themselves.

Shortly after Newsom announced the proposal, homeless advocates criticized the plan as coercive and said it would strip individuals of their personal liberties.

Legislation to enact the program passed unanimously in the state Senate in June, and is expected to glide through the Assembly in August.

Red flag for revenue

Although it’s never wise to panic over state revenue fluctuations in a single month, the numbers for June were not ideal. State tax revenues in June came in nearly $2.4 billion below the projections for the month — which in turn caused revenues for the entire 2021-22 fiscal year to end up $2.2 billion below the Newsom administration’s forecast.

H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for the governor’s budget office, said it was driven almost entirely by a drop in personal income tax receipts, most likely because wealthy Californians paying their taxes quarterly expect to earn less investment income because of the lower-than-expected performance on the stock market.

He emphasized that it will take a few more months to determine if there is any major cause for concern, as far as state revenue. Knowing that an economic downturn may be on the horizon, Newsom used this year’s budget surplus to build up the state’s reserves, pay down debt and focus on one-time expenditures rather than costly new programs that will require sustained funding, Palmer said.

Still, trouble may be lurking on the horizon. On Thursday, the federal government announced that the U.S. economy had two straight quarters of no growth, triggering new fears about an impending recession. Inflation also has risen faster than it has for decades, prompting the Federal Reserve’ to continue raising interest rates to bring it back down.

UCLA economist Lee E. Ohanian said California is particularly susceptible to dips in the economy, since 40% of the revenue the state receives from personal income taxes comes from the top half of 1% of high income earners.

“California’s tax system is really hardwired to generate revenue booms when markets going up and to generate revenue crashes when the stock market is going down,” Ohanian said. “The economy could be slowing down, and that’s associated with bad stock performance. So, it could mean trying times for California.”

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California politics lightning round

— The Newsom administration on Wednesday unveiled a proposal to downsize the state’s plan for tunneling around the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to deliver water more easily to Southern California. Instead of two tunnels, the state would use a single gigantic tunnel aimed at making water exports more reliable but with significant costs to the delta farm economy and possibly its fragile ecosystem.

— The recent spike in gasoline prices took the greatest financial toll on Black and Latino Californians, though more than half of all adults in the state reported suffering at least moderate economic hardship, according to a new poll by the Public Policy Institute of California.

— Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton endorsed Rep. Karen Bass in the Los Angeles mayoral race Thursday, characterizing Bass as “a proven leader who will bring Angelenos together to solve problems while championing women’s rights and opportunities for young people.”

Max Gomberg, the climate and conservation manager for the California State Water Resources Control Board, is calling it quits. Gomberg said he no longer believes Newsom and his administration are willing to pursue the sorts of transformational changes necessary in an age of growing aridification.

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