Good morning and happy Monday! Welcome to the new week!
CCPOA WANTS TO BE AN ‘800 POUND GORILLA” AGAIN
The bad news keeps coming for California correctional officers.
They took a pay cut amid a pandemic that has infected more than 3,500 prison employees, killing nine.
The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation announced Friday it will close a state prison in Tracy, affecting 469 correctional officers’ jobs, in what could be the first of two closures under Gov. Gavin Newsom.
And some officers feel targeted by the recent public outcry over police killings.
Against that backdrop, their union president announced a new initiative this month to try to regain the political might for which the California Correctional Peace Officers Association was once known.
“Today, we recognize that it is time for us to return to the days of old, when we had a much larger footprint in California politics and were referred to as the ‘800-pound gorilla in the rooms,’” president Glen Stailey said in this month’s edition of union publication Peacekeeper.
Shortly after his announcement in Peacekeeper, the union posted a political ad online that showed crosshairs over a photo of Black Democratic state lawmaker Reggie Jones-Sawyer, chairman of the Assembly Public Safety Committee.
Jones-Sawyer has supported a range of changes to the criminal justice system including proposals to eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for drug possession, prohibit discrimination against ex-prisoners and bolster rehabilitation programs.
The union took down the ad after the media reported on it and advocacy groups raised concerns about promoting violence, but CCPOA has only accelerated its spending to help Jones-Sawyer’s opponent, Efren Martinez, in the race for the Los Angeles-area seat. The union’s political action committee has spent about $420,000 on the race in the last two weeks alone.
The politics of public safety in California have changed since the 1990s, when the union reached its pinnacle while pushing tough policies amid a spike in crime. Some experts question whether Stailey’s push — which his announcement suggests will take a similarly tough stance on crime — can find success today.
“They’re not going to get traction in today’s society without the political backing of the people,” said Robert Hawley, a labor relations expert who used to teach at McGeorge Law School. “They need to turn the corner somehow on what’s happened with the electorate in the last few years.”
The state’s violent crime rate is historically low, affecting fewer than 500 per 100,000 residents, down from its 1992 peak at twice that rate, according to a Public Policy Institute of California analysis of FBI and Department of Justice data.
Public sentiment has been changing, with voters approving ballot initiatives in the last six years allowing some low-level crimes to be reclassified from felonies to misdemeanors and expanding early release from prisons for good behavior.
For a moment, the correctional officers’ union seemed poised to move in the same direction.
Last September, union officials traveled to Norway with Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation leaders to tour the country’s dormitory-style institutions, considered models of the rehabilitative approach.
The shift appears to have been short-lived. Stailey, who went on the trip, said in this month’s announcement that the union is “headed into a different direction.”
Read more in Wes Venteicher’s story today on the union’s plans to reassert itself in state politics.
A LONG DRIVE TO THE EV STATION
It’s a long drive to just about anywhere Gary Wright needs to go. A rancher in the far northeastern corner of California, he sometimes has to drive nearly 100 miles, one-way, to get to where his cattle graze. It’s 36 miles to Klamath Falls, Ore., for a significant errand run.
There are only a few gas stations along the routes through the forests and high deserts in Modoc County — let alone electric vehicle charging stations. There are none near the rangeland where Wright’s cattle graze.
So he was baffled when Newsom announced last week that California would require all new passenger cars and trucks to be electric or “zero-emission” by 2035 to combat climate change.
Newsom’s directive signaled the governor was moving more aggressively on climate change during one of the hottest years in California, and with wildfires consuming nearly 4 million acres — the most in modern history. But his order comes with significant challenges for rural California and the Central Valley, where many people drive all day for work, not just to commute, and traveling long distances is a necessity.
Electric vehicle companies say battery technology is improving, but as it stands, the best electric car batteries currently on the market have a range of no more than 250 miles. There are few options for electric pickups like the ones Wright would need to haul equipment and livestock trailers over long distances.
“It’s not practical at all,” Wright said. “It’s almost a joke to me. I just can’t fathom anybody thinking that’s a reality.”
State officials and environmental groups say the 15-year runway in Newsom’s executive order gives the state plenty of time to make it work for everyone. They say more options for pickups are coming on the market, battery technology is rapidly improving, and the vehicles are growing cheaper as demand increases. Power companies and electric car manufacturers also are already working aggressively to install charging stations across the state, even in its remote corners.
But concerns about low income and rural areas not having access to charging infrastructure are well-founded, a Sacramento Bee analysis of state data shows. The state will need to make a significant investment if rural or low-income Californians will be able to make the switch to zero-emission vehicles by 2035.
The number of electric vehicle charging stations is multiplying in California, but areas without a high concentration of wealth continue to lag behind the rest of the state, including the vast rural stretches of Northeastern California and much of the Central Valley.
There is a significant correlation between income and the prevalence of fully public charging stations in a community, according to a Bee analysis of Department of Energy and census data.
In ZIP Codes where the median household income is above $100,000, there are about 115 public charging stations per 100,000 residents. That’s much higher than the 55 charging stations per 100,000 residents in cities where median household incomes are between $50,000 and $74,999.
Read more in today’s story by The Bee’s Ryan Sabalow and Phillip Reese.
LAWMAKERS PEN LETTERS TO INSURERS
Nearly three dozen California lawmakers have signed on to a pair of letters to insurers Aetna and United Healthcare, calling on them to cover non-invasive prenatal testing for all pregnant people.
Currently, the two insurers cover “older, less accurate” screening tests that can cause pregnant people “additional costs, undue stress and unnecessary referrals to specialists for further testing that could put fetuses at risk,” according to a statement put out on behalf of the lawmakers.
The letters point out that there exists disparity in access to safe screening.
The California Department of Public Health found that white and Asian pregnant people were more than twice as likely to gain access to non-invasive prenatal testing than were Black and Latina pregnant people, by a rate of 39% to 17%.
“In other words these minority families without access to (non-invasive prenatal testing) are 22% more likely to miss a Down Syndrome case during pregnancies, and miss the chance to prepare themselves as stated above,” the letters state.
The letter continues by stating that “providing equitable access to the most accurate and consistent prenatal screening, including (non-invasive prenatal testing) options, regardless of insurance plan, socioeconomic level, race, or ethnicity is paramount to reducing California’s maternal health disparities.”
BECERRA DECLARES VICTORY IN LEGAL CHALLENGE
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra on Friday afternoon declared victory after Education Secretary Betsy DeVos abandoned a rule that would have would have allowed COVID-19 relief funds to be “siphoned” away from K-12 public schools.
DeVos on Friday issued a letter confirming her department would no longer defend or enforce the rule.
“Time and time again, the Trump Administration has tried to subvert the rule of law, robbing those most in need of critical resources,” Becerra said in a statement. “Here in California, we haven’t stopped fighting and today’s concession by the Department of Education is a win for children in our state and all across the country.”
The decision comes a month after a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction against the rule, with U.S. District Judge James Donato writing at the time that the U.S. Department of Education’s reasoning was “’interpretive jiggery-pokery’ in the extreme.”
QUOTE OF THE DAY
It is true…many undocumented workers pay more in taxes than Donald Trump.
But, Donald Trump did pay more in taxes than Mexico paid for his wall, so there’s that.
– Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, via Twitter
Best of the Bee:
Two and a half weeks after Labor Day weekend, California officials are seeing a “concerning” uptick in coronavirus cases and predicting a rise in hospitalizations through October, Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said Friday, via Sophia Bollag.
Some Californians may have an easier time accessing treatment for mental health conditions like anxiety, PTSD and addiction under a bill Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law Friday, via Sophia Bollag.
A new report from the California Budget and Policy Center shows unemployment rates for Latinos, Blacks, Asian Americans and other Californians of color continue to exceed jobless rates for white residents, via Kim Bojórquez.