Ciara Hamilton (center left) and Liz Medrano (center right), who both lost family members in police shootings, testify on AB 392. / Photo courtesy of the California Assembly

Assemblywoman Shirley Weber’s landmark bill to change the rules guiding police use of deadly force took a step forward this week, but we’re still not much closer to knowing what the ultimate set of standards – if any even pass – will look like.

That’s because even some of the Democrats who voted to advance the bill said they want to see further changes, and because a competing bill backed by law enforcement agencies announced significant amendments that could make it more attractive to some lawmakers.

Weber’s bill, AB 392, had its first hearing this week before the Assembly’s public safety committee. The hearing drew a packed house.

“The pendulum has swung too far in one direction such that we aren’t protecting and holding accountable those who are taking life from our community members,” said Assemblywoman Rebecca Bauer-Kahan, as CALmatters reported. “I do have serious concerns that the text of this (bill) swings the pendulum too far in the other direction, because the sanctity of the life of our law enforcement is equally as important.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Anna Caballero, author of a competing bill backed by law enforcement agencies, announced several amendments to SB 230 that would require departments to maintain use-of-force policies, require that officers only use force they believe proportional to the seriousness of the offense and clarify rules surrounding when officers may shoot a fleeing suspect. On that last issue, though, the bill would appear to still allow officers to deploy deadly force against a fleeing suspect even if that person did not pose an immediate threat to officers or others. The bill says such force would be justified if “the officer reasonably believes the fleeing suspect to have committed a felony that threatened or resulted in death or serious bodily harm.”

AB 392 now moves on to the Assembly’s rules committee; SB 230 will be heard by the Senate’s public safety committee on April 23.

Sara Libby

The Big Political Spender You’ve Probably Never Heard of

When you think of the big political spenders in San Diego, you might think of labor unions or the Lincoln Club. But the little-known Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, which oversees horseracing at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, certainly deserves to be included in the mix.

Over the last two decades, the thoroughbred club has pumped about $813,000 into the campaigns of Republicans and Democrats alike, primarily for Assembly and state Senate, but also governor. Since 2011, Sen. Toni Atkins has received more than any other member of the San Diego delegation — $17,550 between her campaign and ballot measure committees, according to an analysis of the records by VOSD.

The group also spent about $830,000 on lobbyists over the last two decades.

Naturally, the thoroughbred club’s representatives in Sacramento have spent most of their time on gambling-related pieces of legislation. In 2016, for instance, they joined with various horseracing and labor groups to argue that their industry had the exclusive right to internet poker, not the state’s casino tribes. They pointed to a tribal gaming agreement approved by voters that “directly resulted in a 40 percent decline in racing industry revenues.”

That bill ultimately failed, in part, because the major casino tribes couldn’t come together and agree on whether internet poker was good for their business.

In the last session, the thoroughbred club’s lobbyists also targeted bills that dealt with alcohol advertising and the minimum wage, which could have affected their bottom line.

The Del Mar racetrack has seen better days. As KPBS noted in 2017, it has suffered from declining attendance. Campaign finance records reflect this. In the legislative session beginning in 2007, the thoroughbred club spent about $100,000 on political campaigns. In the session beginning in 2015, it spent about $49,000.

Through a spokesman, the thoroughbred club declined to comment on its political spending over the years, but sent VOSD a statement: “As the thoroughbred racing industry is an essential part of California’s economy, creating thousands of jobs – including many union positions – as well as supporting tourism, hundreds of local small businesses, preserving family farms and hundreds of thousands of acres of working open space across the state, Del Mar Thoroughbred Club tends to support causes and candidates that recognize the importance and the need for the continued vitality of our unique business.”

Jesse Marx

Bill Requiring Schools to Vet Educators Dies – Again

A teacher accused of raping a student in Escondido went on to work as a substitute in Vista and Murrieta. A Sweetwater choir director who school officials believed groped and harassed students went on to work part time at Lakeside Middle School. A teacher found to have abused students in Oceanside was hired by a private school in Clairemont. And a Junior ROTC instructor who resigned from Coronado abruptly after harassment accusations got a job in Sweetwater soon after.

A bill by state Sen. Mike Morrell to require school districts to conduct thorough background checks on employees and prohibit those entities from knowingly hiring an educator with a history of sexual misconduct died in Legislature this week – again.

SB 709, the Sexual Abuse-Free Education Act, was re-introduced by Morrell this year in an effort to fulfill a federal mandate requiring states to enforce laws that ensure schools inquire about whether educators have a history of sexual abuse.

The bill would have required schools to conduct background checks on all school employees, including non-certified staff like coaches, teacher’s aides and volunteers.

Its language was heavily amended by the Senate Education Committee and California teachers unions in so that background checks would only apply to certified employees.

That committee would not hear the bill this year without the same changes, so Morrell said he pulled the bill rather than agreeing to changes he felt were inappropriate.

“The amendments water it down,” Morrell said. “If you let the amendments water it down, non-certified employees like teacher’s aides, coaches and others won’t get in trouble for this.”

California Sen. Connie Levya, chair of the senate education committee, told Voice of San Diego that the committee and teachers unions worried about employee due process and agreed “the original version was not workable.”

Terri Miller, president of Stop Educator Sexual Abuse Misconduct and Exploitation, helped draft the bill.

She said she is disappointed that the committee and teachers unions decided to gut the bill because doing so leaves California students vulnerable to predatory teachers who are passed between school districts.

Kayla Jimenez

Golden State News

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