Political Playback: California Capitol News You Might Have Missed

Political Playback: California Capitol News You Might Have Missed

PHOTO State Controller Malia Cohen
WRITTEN BY
 BO TEFU AND ANTONIO RAY HARVEY | CALIFORNIA BLACK MEDIA

State Controller Malia Cohen “Cautiously Optimistic” After Gov. Newsom Signs 2024-25 Budget

California State Controller Malia Cohen said she is “cautiously optimistic” after Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the 2-24-25 state budget on June 29.

Cohen, who serves as the state’s chief fiscal officer, said the agreement Newsom signed balances the budget, closing a $45 billion shortfall.

Cohen said although the budget will continue to support critical programs and services most Californians rely on, “its impact on economically disadvantaged communities is yet to be determined.”  

“I commend Governor Newsom and the Legislature for including tools in this budget that would further protect the fiscal integrity of the budget in future years,” Cohen continued.  “I look forward to providing California taxpayers and the Governor and the Legislature critical audit services to ensure that the money appropriated is used for its intended purpose.”

According to the Governor’s office, the budget will also maintain $22.2 billion in reserves at the end of the fiscal year.

Newsom called the agreement “responsible.”

“Thanks to careful stewardship of the budget over the past few years, we’re able to meet this moment while protecting our progress on housing, homelessness, education, health care and other priorities that matter deeply to Californians,” Newsom wrote in a statement. “I thank the Legislature for their partnership in delivering this sound and balanced plan.”

Asm. Corey Jackson Calls Asm. Bill Essayli a “Bully” After Assembly Floor Spat
Last week, Assemblymember Corey Jackson (D-Riverside) called Assemblymember Bill Essayli (R-Corona) a “bully” after a verbal spat between the lawmakers in the State Capitol’s Assembly chambers.

The incident occurred on June 27 during a hearing for Assembly Bill (AB) 1955 – also called the “Support Academic Futures and Educators for Today’s Youth Act.” That bill calls for prohibiting school districts and employees from disclosing information about a student’s gender identity or sexual orientation without the student’s consent. 

Jackson had to be restrained from approaching Essayli on the Assembly floor after the Republican who represents the 63rd District made provocative comments. Both lawmakers are from Riverside County.

Jackson told Essayli who was a few rows in front of him, “You better watch yourself,” as he was being held back by fellow members of the Assembly, including Isaac Bryan (D-Ladera Heights) and Tina McKinnor (D-Inglewood).

Bryan, McKinnor, and Jackson are members of the California Legislative Black Caucus (CLBC).

“I am going to leave it as it is and move on. He is who he is,” Jackson told California Black Media (CBM) after the incident,” “Hopefully, it doesn’t happen again but sometimes (Essayli) becomes a bully, and sometimes bullies don’t back down until you force them to.”

Authored by Assemblymember Chris Ward (D-San Diego), AB 1955 passed off the Assembly floor with a 61-16 vote. The bill – supported by the California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus — now advances to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk for his approval or veto. 

Before the vote, the fracas started after Essayli and Chair Jim Wood (D-Healdsburg) were having a contentious back-and-forth about the former prosecutor’s conduct during the debate. Essayli opposed the bill.

Wood told Essayli that he was out of order for bringing up his legislation AB 1413, which he introduced last year. The bill that died in January would’ve required schools to notify parents if their child identified as transgender. 

“By the way, I am tired of being interrupted by you,” Essayli said, pointing his finger at Wood. “You do not interrupt them (Democrats).” 

Moments later, Jackson reacted to a comment directed at him by Essayli. It is still unclear what was said, and neither party would comment on it. Essayli emailed a statement to CBM concerning the matter, sharing his perspective of Jackson’s action.

“In a free society we don’t silence minority viewpoints, and we certainly don’t resort to threats of violence,” Essayli told CBM. “Mr. Jackson’s conduct was beneath the office he holds and a disservice to the People we represent.”

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Californians Will Vote on “End Slavery in California Act” on November Ballot 

The California Senate voted 33-3 to approve Assembly Constitutional Amendment 8 (ACA 8), a proposition that would end involuntary servitude in state prisons.  

The state senate approved the ballot measure June 27, two years after a similar measure was rejected. ACA 8 would mostly impact all prisons in the state that currently use slave labor and indentured servitude as a punishment for crime.

The same day, the bill’s author and California Legislative Black Caucus (CLBC) Chair Lori Wilson made amendments to the legislation before the Senate voted 68-0, clearing the measure to appear as a ballot proposition for voters to decide in the November elections.

ACA 8 is part of a 14-bill package sponsored by the CLBC to implement policy recommendations from the state-funded reparations task force. 

“It is a testament to our collective resolve to correct historical wrongs and ensure that every individual in California is treated with the dignity and respect they deserve,” said Wilson.

“Now, as we look ahead to the November 2024 ballot, let us continue to work with the same spirit of determination and unity that has brought us to this moment,” she said.

A section of California’s Constitution state, “slavery and involuntary servitude are prohibited.” However, state law makes an exception for incarcerated individuals.

Inmates can earn as much as 48 cents per hour for working as technicians. Inmates working as firefighters earn approximately $5.80 per day to contain fires statewide. 

Lawrence Cox, a former inmate and policy fellow with nonprofit Legal Services for Prisoners with Children said forced labor prevents inmates from focusing on rehabilitation. He shared in front of the senate committee that California designates approximately 65,000 work assignments to inmates, including high risk job tasks. 

Cox was incarcerated for 17 years and shared that he was often forced to work and had no right to refuse dangerous work assignments.

“I have been forced to work jobs and had jobs where I couldn’t get out,” said Cox. “When I wanted to take my on-site college courses to complete my degree, forced labor was prioritized over my rehabilitation.”

Depending on the outcome of the vote, the anti-slavery measure requires the state to pay inmates minimum wage $16 per hour for their job assignments. The California Department of Finance estimated that it would cost the state $1.5 billion to pay inmates at minimum wage. 

If approved, California will join Alabama, Colorado, Oregon, Tennessee, Utah and Vermont in outlawing indentured servitude.

Jamilia Land, a Sacramento-based advocate who contributed to drafting ACA 8 and serves as Coordinator of the End Slavery in California Act Coalition, called the passage of ACA 8 “exciting news.”

Encouraging all Californians to support the measure, Land said, “In November, voters will have the opportunity to support the End Slavery in California Act directly at the ballot box. Stay informed and help spread awareness on ways to contribute to ending slavery in California. Visit our website at www.abolishslavery.us to join the effort.”

ACA 8 was passed without requiring the approval of Gov. Gavin Newsom. The amendment qualified for the November ballot on June 28, the last day to finalize propositions for the November ballot. 

Gov Newsom: $20 Fast Food Minimum Wage Hike Is Paying Off as Jobs Multiply in Industry

Fast food restaurant jobs in California have increased since the state implemented a $20 minimum wage for workers in that industry.

Data shows that California has added more than 20,000 jobs in the fast-food industry since the beginning of this year, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). 

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill (AB) 1228 into law in September 2023. The legislation increased the minimum wage for over 745,000 fast food workers to $20 per hour. The bill also facilitated the creation of the Fast Food Council, a group that empowers workers to voice their concerns regarding working conditions, including health and safety standards. The new minimum wage took effect on April 1 this year. 

Supporters of the legislation say the bill was implemented to mitigate the loss of jobs in the fast-food industry during the COVID-19 pandemic. The governor acknowledged labor unions for contributing to the state’s economy and helping to protect the quality of life for workers. 

“All our progress on higher wages and better benefits for working people – it’s not just about the hourly pay rate. It’s about building a dignified and respectful future where everyone is included in our growth,” said Newsom. 

“We are a state that gives a damn about fast food workers – who are predominantly women – working two and a half jobs to get by,” he said.  

However, critics argue that the bill would harm franchisees, resulting in job losses. Data released by the BLS contrast statistics published by the California Business and Industrial Alliance (CABIA), which stated that the fast-food industry lost 10,000 jobs. The CABIA stated that the wage increase forced fast food companies to cut labor costs to keep business afloat. 

Report: Californians Released From Prison Most Likely to Be Male, Middle Aged and Black

According to a policy brief titled, “California Prison Programs and Reentry Pathways,” African Americans and Native Americans constitute the majority of individuals being released from correctional facilities in California.

The Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) report evaluated the outcomes of programs helping to reduce recidivism by addressing the needs of imprisoned people since 2005. Those programs, administered by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), evaluated the education, employment, and rehabilitation of people released between 2015 and 2019. The programs aimed to address a concern raised by The Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) in a state audit: most people needing in-person re-entry and rehabilitation programs often do not have access to adequate services and resources. 

The state audit focused on three key areas — education, employment, and rehabilitation. According to the report, a total of 185,310 people were released from prison. In 2015, only 46% of released prisoners had participated in at least one program. However, approximately 64% of released prisoners took part in at least one, a steep increase since the previous decade. 

The report indicated that California prisons released as many as 40,000 prisoners each year in the last decade. Among these released groups, the average prisoner was a middle-aged male estimated to be around 37 years old. Black and Native American men were the two most represented groups among the inmates released from prisons in California. Although Black people have only made up about 6% of California’s population over the last decade, they represent 25$ of released prisoners. 

Mixed Reactions: California Leaders Respond to Governor’s State of the State

California Gov. Gavin Newsom made a commitment to protect democracy and denounced political pandering in a 29-minute pre-recorded broadcast of his State of the State Address.

His office released the video and text on June 25.

Newsom stated that his Republican opponents use cynicism to create misleading narratives that hinder progress on homelessness, health care, women’s reproductive rights, substance abuse and public safety, among others.

“The distorted prism of political pandering means cutting health care benefits and telling a woman she’s not in charge of her own body. When it comes to reproductive rights, their lies are designed to control,” said Newsom. 

“Their draconian policies are driving women to flee across state lines, as fugitives from laws written by men more than a hundred years ago,” he added.

Democrats, Republicans, advocates and activists gave the Governor’s annual message mixed reviews.

NAACP California Hawaii State Conference President Rick L. Callender said in a statement that the “Black and Brown” population of California continues to struggle in many of the areas Newsom outlined in his message.

“We must not forget the inequity which exists in every area. We need to increase the minimum wage to accommodate the rising cost of living.” Callender wrote. “We need to ensure that our school reforms include making sure that Black and Brown students safe in schools from racist bullying, that electric vehicles are accessible to Black Californians, and that reparations for Black descendants of slaves are a top priority.”

Newsom’s decision to release a recorded video through social media didn’t go over smoothly with some lawmakers in Sacramento.

Senate Minority Leader Brian Dahle (R-Bieber) and Assembly Minority Leader James Gallagher (R-Yuba City) held a press conference in front of the State Capitol the next day.

Dahle said the Governor was “​​claiming victory for failures and sowing partisan division” without providing “a plan for the future.”

The Republican lawmakers also blasted Newsom’s decision to not deliver his address in front of lawmakers.

“Newsom saying that ‘California is a state that gives a damn’ to then not even have the decency and respect to deliver the State of the State to the Legislature reeks of hypocrisy,” said Sen. Dahle. 

Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Inglewood), the vice chair of the California Legislative Black Caucus (CLBC)  praised the governor’s message, posting on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, “Governor Newsom is right.”

“California is strong and resilient,” continued Bradford. “Our people are the secret ingredient of our success. We are aggressively addressing the challenges we face while working to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to achieve their own California dream.”

Newsom pushed back on his critics and pointed out that the state and Legislature are focused on, “an agenda of freedom over fear. It is not only achievable; it’s inevitable.”

Recently, Newsom allocated $500 million to local governments, a once off payment requiring county officials to invest in programs addressing homelessness. Previously, the State did not require local governments to track their programs. 

This year, the governor has implemented policies that require local governments to demonstrate results for homelessness programs and initiatives.

“The success of accountability in the housing space is why we are adding similar oversight on homelessness. We’re requiring cities and counties to account for how they spend taxpayer dollars to get people off the streets and sidewalks, out of tents, and into housing,” said Newsom. 

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