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Today’s Headlines: California lawmakers want to know if oil companies are ‘ripping off’ drivers

A man holds the nozzle of a gas pump as he fills his tank.
David Pippenger puts gas into his rental car at a Mobil station in Westchester in May. California lawmakers announced an inquiry into the steep increase in gasoline prices in the state.
(Al Seib / For The Times)
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By Elvia Limón and Amy Hubbard

Hello, it’s Tuesday, June 21, and here are the stories you shouldn’t miss today:

TOP STORIES

California lawmakers focus on steep gas prices

With gasoline prices still stinging Californians at the pump, Democratic Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon has announced a legislative inquiry to determine if oil companies are “ripping off” drivers.

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Combined with the highest inflation rate in four decades, California’s highest-in-the-nation gas prices remain a volatile political issue in the midst of an election year, and Republican lawmakers continue to attack the Legislature’s Democratic leadership for failing to take quick action to provide relief.

Rendon said the Assembly select committee would consider what measures the state could enact to reduce gas prices. Committee hearings are expected to begin in the coming weeks and could run through November. Meanwhile, President Biden said he would decide by the end of the week whether to order a holiday on the federal gasoline tax.

More politics

  • The two Republican candidates in Alabama’s U.S. Senate primary runoff can each boast that at one point they had Donald Trump’s endorsement. In other races, Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser is facing voters amid growing concerns about crime. Here’s what to watch in today’s primaries.
  • The House Jan. 6 committee plans to show in its fourth hearing that President Trump’s then-Chief of Staff Mark Meadows “had an intimate role … in this plot to put pressure on [Georgia] state legislators and on elections officials.”
  • Facebook removed a campaign video by U.S. Senate candidate Eric Greitens because the ad showed the Republican brandishing a shotgun and declaring that he was hunting RINOs, or Republicans in Name Only.

Sign up for our California Politics newsletter to get the best of The Times’ state politics reporting and the latest action in Sacramento.

This new California coronavirus wave isn’t sticking to the script

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In the last two years, COVID-19 has followed a predictable, if painful, pattern: When coronavirus transmission has surged, cases, hospitalizations and deaths have too. But in a world awash in vaccines and treatments, and with healthcare providers armed with knowledge gleaned over the course of the pandemic, the latest wave isn’t sticking to that script.

Despite wide circulation of the coronavirus, the impact on hospitals has been relatively minor. Even with the uptick in transmission, COVID-19 deaths have remained fairly low and stable. And this has occurred even with officials largely eschewing new restrictions and mandates.

But today’s environment is not necessarily tomorrow’s baseline. The coronavirus can mutate rapidly, potentially upending the public health landscape and meriting a different response.

Stay up to date on variant developments, case counts and vaccine news with Coronavirus Today.

A TV star accused of asking a child for naked pictures has an unlikely ally

Dr. Bruce Hensel’s decades-long career at NBC came to a halt in 2019 when he was accused of trying to solicit naked pictures from a 9-year-old girl, according to records submitted to the California Medical Board earlier this year. Hensel was arrested in November 2019 on suspicion of communicating with a minor for a sexual purpose, and faces up to 18 months in prison if convicted.

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In the years since, Hensel has sought a plea deal that would allow him to avoid registering as a sex offender, according to three people with knowledge of the case who spoke on the condition of anonymity. And he’s picked up an unlikely ally: former Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley, who over the last year has emerged as one of the leading voices in the movement to recall current D.A. George Gascón. Cooley’s decision has angered many prosecutors and recall supporters, who say his actions are hypocritical.

In eastern Ukraine, some stand against their defenders

At the outset of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Russian planners unleashing forces on the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv expected a populace that would celebrate their arrival, welcoming them as liberators. Instead, hundreds of thousands enlisted to fight the Russians. Those who didn’t carry a gun worked with agencies or on their own to prepare food, medical supplies and Molotov cocktails to defend their cities.

Yet in many cities and towns around the eastern Ukrainian region known as the Donbas, it’s the Ukrainian forces who now often face sullen acceptance of their presence. That there are some Russian sympathizers in the area comes as little surprise, some say: The Russian border is so close that many people have links on both sides. Also, historically, coal mines and other industries drew workers from Russia to settle in the Donbas. Those who remain in the area are likely to have pro-Russian leanings.

The U.S.’ first gay mayor didn’t expect to be an LGBTQ rights icon

Gene Ulrich may be the most famous gay man you don’t know by name. Ulrich will turn 78 in July, and his life bookends the trajectory of gay rights in America. He served in the military before gay people were allowed. He married his partner, Larry Fowler, 43 years before Missouri would recognize it. He adopted a son.

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He also set an LGBTQ first when he was elected mayor of Bunceton, Mo., in 1980. So how did he pull it off? Perhaps that $1.2 million he got in grants to fix up the city helped. Or perhaps townspeople simply remembered Ulrich as someone who grew up alongside them.

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PHOTO OF THE DAY

A flower garden and an unexploded rocket.
Near a flower garden, a piece of a rocket protrudes from the ground. The photo was taken recently in Lysychansk, Ukraine. More photos of the Ukraine war from Marcus Yam.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

CALIFORNIA

A bill to repeal California’s anti-loitering law divided sex workers and advocates. It’s now up to Gov. Gavin Newsom. Senate Bill 357 would rescind the misdemeanor law against loitering in public for the purpose of engaging in prostitution. Newsom now has to sign or veto the bill, or allow it to become law without his signature.

One of Elon Musk’s children is petitioning to change their last name, citing a desire to cut ties with the Tesla CEO. Vivian Jenna Wilson cited gender identity as a reason for the name change and “the fact that I no longer live with or wish to be related to my biological father in any way, shape or form.” The teen is one of five children Musk shares with writer Justine Wilson.

A dozen brown pelicans were released into the wild after a mass stranding event in Southern California. The reasons for thousands of birds being beached are unclear, but several of the pelicans needed sheltering at local wildlife care centers earlier this spring.

A woman has pleaded not guilty to murdering her three children. Court records reviewed by The Times and the Orange County Register included allegations that Liliana Carrillo was suffering from postpartum depression and was increasingly paranoid and delusional after failing to take prescribed medication. Carrillo admitted in a TV interview last year to drowning her young children in a Reseda apartment.

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NATION-WORLD

Hundreds of homeless people die in extreme heat each year. Meanwhile, temperatures are rising nearly everywhere because of global warming, combining in some places with brutal drought to create more intense, frequent and longer heat waves. The past few summers have been some of the hottest on record.

President Rodrigo Duterte’s daughter has taken the oath as Philippine vice president. The electoral triumphs of Sara Duterte and President-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr. have alarmed left-wing and human rights groups because of their failure to acknowledge the massive human rights atrocities that took place under their fathers, including late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

Leftist President-elect Gustavo Petro faces challenges in delivering the changes he’s promised to Colombians. Petro has proposed pension, tax, health and agricultural reforms and changes to how Colombia fights drug cartels and other armed groups. But his coalition has only about 15% of the seats in Congress, which will force him to make deals, curb some reforms or even ditch others.

Clela Rorex has died. She endured death threats after issuing the nation’s first same-sex marriage licenses. Rorex was a newly elected Boulder County clerk when a gay couple denied a marriage license elsewhere sought her help in March 1975. In the end, she issued a total of six licenses to gay couples before Colorado’s attorney general at the time ordered her to stop.

HOLLYWOOD AND THE ARTS

Out: Drake as a romantically wronged rapper. In: Drake as romantically wronged house diva. Drake’s seventh studio album, “Honestly, Nevermind” — composed almost entirely of sleek, airy club music jams in which he does as little rapping as he ever has — marks an undeniable change in course, even if the 35-year-old remains lyrically preoccupied with the petty romantic grievances that have always fueled his songwriting.

“Crash” writer-director Paul Haggis was arrested in a sexual assault case in Italy. The filmmaker reportedly stands accused of sexually assaulting a young, non-Italian woman, who has pressed charges.

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Days after her TV show ended, Wendy Williams was already eyeing her next gig. The longtime talk show host — the show’s last episode aired Friday with just a video shoutout to its namesake — plans to return to the microphone in podcast form.

“Lightyear’s” Alisha Hawthorne is breaking new ground for Pixar. She wasn’t part of the original pitch. The earliest visions of the story paired Buzz with a fellow Space Ranger and pilot with whom he also shared a romantic relationship. But that approach was scrapped when the director realized he didn’t think Buzz worked in romantic situations.

BUSINESS

Producers for “Chosen One” made their first public comments after two of their actors were killed. They called the deaths and injuries of cast and crew members the result of an “unfortunate accident.” Two actors on the Netflix series, an adaption of the comic “American Jesus,” were killed and six other cast or crew members were hurt after the van they were riding in crashed on Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula.

Crypto investors’ hot streak has ended as a harsh “winter” descends. As prices plunge, companies collapse and skepticism soars, fortunes and jobs are disappearing overnight, and investors’ feverish speculation has been replaced by icy calculation, in what industry leaders are referring to as a “crypto winter.”

OPINION

California needs more housing and good jobs. There’s a bill to create both. If you care about solving the housing crisis and want California lawmakers to put the interests of the whole state over the demands of the few, then keep your eye on Assembly Bill 2011 by Assemblymember Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland).

Forty years ago, Vincent Chin was killed. My mother passed along her grief, and a lesson about America. I was only 10 years old at the time, writes author Jane Kuo. At that age, I still interpreted the world through my mother. She was telling me America was not so welcoming. She was telling me America was not so great after all.

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SPORTS

Amy’s story: After escaping domestic violence, a sportswriter’s ex-wife is speaking out to help others. Amy Kaufman, ex-wife of sportswriter Jonah Keri, shares her story of domestic violence. Kaufman is a domestic violence counselor in Montreal now. She hopes her story will help others better understand victims.

How Alex Morgan, Liz Cambage and Ali Krieger are solving a problem facing women in sports. Female athletes often use social media to work around limited traditional media exposure, forge strong bonds with fans and earn endorsement money.

After a “devastating” failure, former 400-meter champ Michael Norman is seeking winning form. Norman is trying to shake off a disappointing Tokyo Olympics, and disrupted training because of the pandemic and injuries, ahead of summer meets.

ONLY IN CALIFORNIA

A person sits atop a boulder next to a waterfall splashing into a pool below.
Rainbow Pool, Yosemite National Park.
(USDA Forest Service)

In honor of the first day of summer, here’s a great guide to finding swimming holes, ICYMI. The Times in April gathered nine magical swimming holes for hot-weather splashing — including, pictured above, Rainbow Pool in Yosemite.

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The pool features a waterfall. It’s found along the South Fork of the Tuolumne River, and in the stagecoach days, the site was a toll stop. It was later the location of a popular resort, which burned down in 1958. Today, the Rainbow Pool day-use area is a picnic spot managed by the Stanislaus National Forest. Read about eight other swimming holes; there’s an interactive map, so you can see what’s nearest you, plus websites and other info.

FROM THE ARCHIVES

A metal and concrete structure under construction.
October 1933: The central planetarium dome takes shape at Griffith Park.
(Los Angeles Times)

Eighty-nine years ago this week, on June 20, 1933, ground was broken for Griffith Observatory. The observatory and planetarium would open two years later. The facility was the vision of Griffith J. Griffith, who gifted the city of L.A. with $100,000 to build an observatory atop Mt. Hollywood. He was inspired by a visit to the research observatory at Mt. Wilson, where he gazed through its 60-inch telescope. He was quoted as saying: “Man’s sense of values ought to be revised. If all mankind could look through that telescope, it would change the world!”

We appreciate that you took the time to read Today’s Headlines! Comments or ideas? Feel free to drop us a note at headlines@latimes.com.

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