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In a new piece for The Atlantic this week, I looked at how Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez has helped set the Democratic Party agenda with her measures on paid sick leave, diapers and vaccines.
One little story that got left on the cutting-room floor: Turns out, before Gonzalez was an outspoken pol in the Assembly, she was just … an outspoken pol at an assembly – a school assembly, that is.
As a student government member in seventh grade, Gonzalez was chosen to ask a question during a school assembly where then-Rep. Ron Packard was visiting. She was supposed to ask something routine, like what his favorite book was when he was growing up. Instead, she pressed him on why he didn’t support equal pay and the Equal Rights Amendment.
“Of course, I got in trouble,” Gonzalez said. “But we’ve been talking about (pay equity) for that long. And that was still late in the game. Here we are, still talking about this.”
Here we are indeed.
Gonzelez is a co-sponsor of AB 1017, which would institute certain measures to eliminate pay inequity, like barring employers from seeking job candidates’ salary histories. AB 1017 is scheduled for a hearing Monday in the Senate Appropriations Committee.
• Another equal pay measure advanced this week: SB 358 by Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, passed out of an Assembly committee with bipartisan support. Whereas AB 1017 addresses issues that come up during the hiring process, this bill deals with issues that arise for people already in established positions. It would bar retaliation for workers who discuss pay issues, and would create an avenue to challenge pay discrimination based on wages paid to others in the same workplace doing substantially the same work.
“If signed into law, it would be the strongest equal pay law in the nation,” says Jackson’s office.
Atkins Stops the Assembly’s Bully
Bullying isn’t tolerated in Speaker Toni Atkins’ house.
This week, while presiding over the Assembly Labor and Employment Committee, Assemblyman Roger Hernandez, D-Baldwin Park, inexplicably cut off debate over a bill to raise the minimum wage and index future wage hikes to inflation.
Hernandez cut off a witness, and then prevented Assemblyman Matthew Harper, the committee’s ranking Republican, from commenting on the bill.
“You’re inappropriate and out of order,” Hernandez snapped at the Huntington Beach Republican.
After the bill passed on a 5-2 vote, Harper responded, “Mr. Chairman, the cutoff on debate is completely embarrassing.” Hernandez replied: “You’re out of order, you’re out of order, you’re out of order.”
To ensure that Harper complied, the labor committee chairman ordered the sergeant-at-arms to strip Harper of his microphone.
Assemblyman Jim Patterson, the only other Republican member of the committee, said that the exchange was one of the worst committee blowups in years.
“As a Republican in Sacramento, I have had my microphone silenced by committee chairs who don’t want to hear my dissenting views,” Patterson tells Voice of San Diego, “but the disrespectful actions of Assemblyman Roger Hernández yesterday went way too far.”
It didn’t take long for the speaker to get involved. Atkins called both men into her office this week and made clear that all members have a right to be heard.
“The speaker believes that all members of the Assembly have the right to ask questions and voice their opinions on legislative matters while in committee and on the floor,” Atkins’ office said in a statement. “Mr. Hernández acknowledged his oversight to Mr. Harper and expressed regret.”
Hernandez’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
This isn’t the first time Hernandez has gotten into trouble. In 2012, he admitted to driving under the influence, although a jury later found him not guilty. The same year, a former girlfriend alleged that Hernandez was “physically, verbally and emotionally abusive” even threatening to “whip” her. The woman eventually dropped the lawsuit.
Atkins’ swift response is a departure from her predecessor. Last year, Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez, R-Lake Elsinore, claims that Hernandez called her derogatory name on the Assembly floor. Then-Speaker John Perez did nothing about it.
“When one is held accountable for their actions, behavior changes,” Melendez tells Voice of San Diego. “Bad behavior continues when it’s condoned and allowed without repercussions, as is the case with Mr. Hernandez.”
Watch video of the incident, courtesy of KQED’s John Myers.
Hostile Amendments: How to Kill a Bill
While the Assembly Labor Committee showcased a hostile chair, the Assembly Governmental Organization demonstrated an acceptable form of hostility: hostile amendments.
Considered the “vice committee,” the Governmental Organization Committee has jurisdiction over tobacco, alcohol and gambling, which means its members usually have a close relationship with the corresponding interest groups. Committee members often find themselves in a political pickle: how to serve their campaign contributors without publicly allying themselves with Big Tobacco.
This week, when state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, brought forward his bill to regulate e-cigarettes, a majority of committee members needed a politically palatable way to defeat the bill.
“No tobacco company representatives testified against SB 140 on Wednesday, and official bill analyses do not record them in opposition,” the Sacramento Bee noted. “But lobbying disclosure forms show both Altria and RAI weighed in on SB 140.”
To defeat the bill, Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced, the chair of the committee, proposed a set of hostile amendments to strip the bill of its original intent to reclassify e-cigarettes as tobacco products.
“You don’t have nicotine without tobacco,” a frustrated Leno argued. If the hostile amendments were approved, Leno said his coalition of sponsors would walk away from the bill. “It is no longer our bill.”
The committee backed the amendments. Leno’s coalition walked away. The bill died.
Chavez Bill Lets Water Agencies Streamline Reports
Gov. Jerry Brown went on a bit of a bill-signing binge Monday, signing 13 measures into law, including AB 149 by Assemblyman Rocky Chavez, which streamlines major reports water agencies have to file at the end of each decade.
Every five years, water agencies have to do a big report on their water supplies and water demands, including long-term projections to try to ensure we have enough water.
Water agencies are also expected to report on the progress they’ve made to comply with a 2008 law that requires a 20 percent reduction in per capita urban water use by 2020.
Chavez’s measure pushes back the deadline for the 2020 supply and demand reports from Dec. 31, 2020 to July 1, 2021, so water agencies can details how well they met reduction goals in the reports. Before the change, both reports would have been due Dec. 31, 2020. The changes, according to water agencies, allow the five-year supply and demand reports to have more accurate data. A similar fix was made to allow extended reporting time for the next supply and demand reports, which will be called 2015 Urban Water Management Plans, even though they’re not really due until summer 2016.
The San Diego County Water Authority, which supported the legislation along with other large water agencies, has said it is on track to meet its 20 percent reduction by 2020 goals.
— Ry Rivard
Aaron Harvey Talks Racial Profiling in Sacramento
Earlier this year, I told the story of Aaron Harvey, a San Diego man who was part of an explosive case in which San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis was charging a group of young men under an obscure law – some of them in connection with a crime she admitted they played no role in. Harvey was one of those men, and faced life in prison over a bunch of Facebook posts and photos until a judge tossed the case against him.
Harvey told me in March that throughout his life growing up in San Diego’s Lincoln Park, he’d been stopped by cops over 50 times without being charged with a crime. Those stops helped land him in the CalGangs database, which documents gang members.
This week, Harvey told his story to state lawmakers as they consider Assemblywoman Shirley Weber’s AB 953 to combat police racial profiling. Harvey lives in Weber’s district. Weber’s bill would create uniform policies for law enforcement agencies to collect data on traffic stops, and establish a board to analyze the data to help address problems.
“I know that the insane number of interactions I have had with law enforcement is a direct result of racial profiling. These countless illegal searches and seizures I have endured have degraded me as a human and violated my civil rights,” Harvey said during the hearing, according to the ACLU of Northern California’s blog.
San Diego police only started re-collecting data on traffic stops after our investigation revealed they’d stopped. An independent review of whether the department engages in racial profiling is being conducted by a San Diego State professor.
Imagining Our Pot-Filled Future
The Law and Policy Lab at Stanford Law School thinks it’s only a matter of time until legal marijuana comes to California, and has published a paper outlining the various policy considerations at play, including “the choice of state agency to regulate legalized marijuana, the tax regime in California for legalized marijuana, and finally the effect of legalized marijuana on labor relations.”
One issue the paper identifies as a stumbling block: California’s notoriously high bar for making changes to state taxes. The authors say that since marijuana tax structures in Washington and Colorado haven’t been around long enough to study, California would be well served by a flexible plan for taxing marijuana – which would be hard to set up under the state’s inflexible tax laws.
• In a blog post for Reason, the Union-Tribune’s Steven Greenhut compares the push to legalize marijuana in California to same-sex marriage: “the battle already is over. It’s just a matter of time before the political and legal systems recognize it.”
• An aide to state Senate leader Kevin de Leon is in trouble for accepting $85 in marijuana products from a lobbyist, Buzzfeed reports. The aide didn’t technically break any laws, but the optics aren’t great.
Golden State News
• Republican Assembly leader Kristin Olsen really wants everyone to know she disapproves of Donald Trump’s remarks on immigrants – she just really doesn’t want to use the words “Donald Trump.” (Other legislators were unafraid to call The Donald out by name.) (L.A. Times)
• Gov. Jerry Brown is at his Jerry Browniest in this interview with a Catholic publication about Catholicism and environmental protection. (America)
• A stretch of Interstate 15 is one step closer to being dubbed the Tony Gwynn Memorial Freeway. Assemblyman Brian Maienschein’s bill designating the name change passed the Assembly this week.
• The right-to-die bill, inspired by Californian-turned-Oregonian Brittany Maynard, is dead. The bill would’ve allowed doctors to prescribe life-ending medication to terminally ill patients. Maynard, a young woman with brain cancer who moved to Oregon to receive life-ending medication, testified in favor of the bill via video after her death. (AP)
• A state audit finds that California is not “accurately and promptly identifying firearm owners in the State who are prohibited from owning or possessing a firearm due to a mental health-related event.”
Ry Rivard contributed to this report.