Political Playback: California Capitol News You Might Have Missed

Political Playback: California Capitol News You Might Have Missed

PHOTO Screenshot from the California Governor FB page post on April 17.
WRITTEN BY
 BO TEFU, JOE W. BOWERS JR. AND TANU HENRY | CALIFORNIA BLACK MEDIA

Gov. Newsom: Calif. Organized Retail Crime Task Force Seizes Guns, Stolen Goods

On April 17, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office announced that the California Highway Patrol Organized Retail Crime Task Force arrested 474 people and seized 160,000 stolen goods valued at $4.2 million. The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office worked alongside the task force to conduct 185 investigations. In the previous week, the task force also recovered over 400 stolen vehicles and 30 firearms linked to crimes in different regions.

In a statement, Newsom says he backs legislation that expands criminal penalties and supports police efforts to tackle retail theft and car burglaries. The state has also hired more police since Newsom announced the Real Public Safety Plan last year, a strategy to prevent crime in California.

“California will continue to lead more takedowns and make more arrests to keep our communities safe,” said Newsom.

Overall, the state has invested $1.1 billion in public safety and crime prevention operations. The task force has recovered stolen goods worth $42 million since it was created in 2019.

California Highway Patrol Deputy Commissioner Troy Lukkes said that the task force will continue to work with law enforcement to dismantle organized crime rings and hold criminal networks accountable for their actions.

“Keeping the public safe is at the heart of everything we do. These criminals have a negative impact on California’s businesses and our communities,” said Lukkes.

Gov. Newsom’s public safety plan is the largest investment in law enforcement and crime prevention operations in the history of California.

Sen. Bradford’s Bill Establishing Black-Serving Colleges Designation Clears Senate Committee

In a significant bipartisan move, legislation proposed by Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Inglewood) aimed at acknowledging institutions excelling in educating and serving Black students has passed the Senate Education Committee with a unanimous 6-0 vote.

Historically, Black students in California and nationwide have been underrepresented in higher education. Senate Bill (SB)1348 seeks to rectify this inequity by introducing a state-level designation, spotlighting public and private colleges and universities actively prioritizing Black student success.

"SB 1348 will focus attention on the disparities that exist for Black students in higher education," commented Sen. Bradford in a recent press release. “By creating a seal of excellence that recognizes the colleges and universities in California that are doing the most to support Black student success, we can recognize their important efforts and encourage others to take similar steps to improve overall outcomes.”

In addition, according to Bradford, “This legislation will also provide a simple way for the prospective students or their parents to know which colleges and universities have created environments where Black students are holistically embraced, enriched and empowered.”

The legislation outlines criteria for institutions to qualify as a Black-Serving Institution, including enrollment thresholds, mandatory Black student success programs, and robust African American studies offerings.

Advocates for SB 1348 underscore its significance. Dr. Keith Curry, President of Compton College, voiced support, saying, “It is important that we, as institutions of higher education, make bold statements and commit ongoing resources to improving student outcomes for all post-secondary education students, but most notably Black and African American students.”

Dr. Thomas A. Parham, President of California State University, Dominguez Hills, applauded Bradford's initiative, recognizing the potential impact of a Black-Serving Institution designation in advancing support networks and elevating Black excellence on campuses.

Also supporting the bill are the California Federation of Teachers AFL-CIO, California State University, Office of the Chancellor, and the Campaign for College Opportunity.

SB1348 has been referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee for further deliberation.

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Governor’s Budget Proposes Cuts to State Preschool Funding; LAO Offers Alternatives

The 2024-25 fiscal year budget now being proposed by Gov. Gavin Newsom brings significant changes to state preschool funding, aiming to better align investments with projected program expenses. Recently, the non-partisan Legislative Analyst's Office (LAO) also weighed in with its recommendations.

The Governor's plan includes a one-time reduction of $569 million in State Preschool funding, split between the Proposition 98 General Fund and non-Proposition 98 sources. This reduction, according to Newsom’s office, is justified by anticipated underutilization of previously allocated funds.

In contrast, the LAO suggests a $138 million reduction in Proposition 98 funding starting in 2023-24, reallocating funds from prior expansions and lower-than-expected costs. For 2024-25, the LAO recommends a $78 million increase in Proposition 98 funding, considering collective bargaining agreements and potential enrollment growth.

Another noteworthy aspect of the budget proposal is the continued support for the ongoing expansion of transitional kindergarten (TK). The budget allocates $3.1 billion for TK programs, reflecting the multi-year plan to ensure all four-year-olds have access by the 2025-26 school year. This aspect of the Governor's proposal aligns with the LAO's recommendations.

While Newsom’s budget proposal attempts to achieve fiscal responsibility, some areas have raised concerns. The budget assumes flat enrollment for state preschool, which may not reflect reality and could make it difficult for programs to allocate resources effectively.

Another point of contention is funding for children with disabilities. In 2022, California mandated that 5% of state preschool slots be reserved for children with disabilities, who require higher funding rates. While the initial plan called for gradual increases in this percentage, the 2023-

24 budget package delayed those increases. Newsom’s proposal partially addresses the additional funding needs created by this delay, but only allocates money from the non-Proposition 98 General Fund, leaving a gap in Proposition 98 funding the Legislature may need to address.

In the coming months, the Legislature will have the opportunity to debate the Governor's budget proposal, consider LAO's budget recommendations, and potentially adjust funding levels for the state’s preschool programs.

Attorney General Bonta, Secretary of State Weber Announce Voter Rights Lawsuit

California Attorney General Rob Bonta and California Secretary of State Shirley N. Weber filed a lawsuit against the Orange County city of Huntington Beach for amending that city’s voter identification law.

Bonta and Weber announced the lawsuit on April 15 at the California Department of Justice Office in Los Angeles.

The lawsuit states that officials recently amended Measure A of the local charter, giving the city authority impose voter ID laws in the 2026 municipal elections. Under this legal framework, the city requires additional identification from voters before they can exercise their right to vote.

Both Bonta and Weber said that voter ID requirement is unlawful, and it conflicts with existing state law.

“The right to freely cast your vote is the foundation of our democracy and Huntington Beach’s voter ID policy flies in the face of this principle,” said Bonta.

Huntington Beach City officials ignored warnings from the Attorney General and Secretary of State and the voter ID law was placed on the ballot and was passed by Huntington Beach voters.

“Not only is it a solution in search of a problem, but laws like these are also harmful to California voters, especially low-income, the elderly, people of color, those with disabilities, and young voters,” Weber said.

A letter was sent last year by the Attorney General and Secretary of State requesting Huntington Beach drop the proposal. The letter states that the new law would suppress voter participation while failing to provide any discernible local benefit.

“We’re asking the court to block Huntington Beach’s unlawful step toward suppressing or disenfranchising voters,” Bonta said.

Current California state election law has comprehensive voter ID requirements to prevent voter fraud, Weber said. Election laws should ensure that eligible voters can cast their vote without hardship.

In California, when people register to vote, they must provide proof of identity under state law. Only name and address are required to verify the identity of voters. To avoid confusion, only certain election workers can challenge a person’s eligibility to vote based on well-supported claims.

“The California Department of Justice stands ready to defend the voting rights that make our democracy strong,” Bonta said.

California Officials Praise Launch of Service Corps Career Development Program for Youth

Last week, federal and state officials commemorated the launch of a new professional development program for California Service Corps Alumni.

The public-private partnership was created to provide early career job opportunities for young people that worked in the service force. The state’s service force consists of Californians For All College Corps, California Climate Action Corps, Californians For All Youth Jobs Corps, and AmeriCorps California.

California Chief Service Officer Josh Fryday said that the skills of the service force alumni are critical to California’s workforce.

Victor Dominguez, President and Chief Executive Officer of YMCA of Metropolitan Los Angeles said that the program will empower California’s youth to live up to their potential.

“Together, we can create a pipeline of outstanding, diverse talent and most importantly, a pathway to upward mobility for those who deserve it most,” he said in a statement.

Wade Crowfoot, California Natural Resources Agency Secretary, said that the program will be impactful for young professionals seeking careers in public service.

“California’s greatness has always been driven by its people. Now, young leaders are stepping up across California to confront climate change and other key challenges,” he said.

The program will help the state meet its workforce needs to further economic opportunity and development statewide. Alumni will be paired with jobs that align with their skills, qualifications, and professional experience. The young career hopefuls will be given the chance to network with future employers and mentors in priority sectors such as education, trades, and climate.

Tony Thurmond, California State Superintendent of Public Instruction, said that young educators of the service force helped support the needs of the state’s Department of Education.

Many of the service force members, “are a critical pipeline to provide our students across California the diverse, talented educators and mental health school counselors they deserve,” Thurmond stated.

Several alumni recalled that working for the state’s service corps ignited their passion for education. The experience also helped them understand the need for diversity and cultural competence in the classroom.

AmeriCorps California alumnus Abelardo Juarez said that serving as a tutor sparked his passion for education and helped him gain hands-on experience in the classroom.

“The experience made me realize that we need more men of color in the classroom, which became another piece of encouragement to pursue a career in education,” Juarez said.

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