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Mad dash at California Capitol as big deadline looms

An image of protestors outside the California Capitol building in Sacramento
Fred Greaves
Supporters of Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice rally on the west side of the Capitol on April 26, 2022.

The California Capitol is busy with advocates, lobbyists and lawmakers as a key bill deadline approaches on Friday.

The California State Capitol is abuzz with hearings as lawmakers rush to act on high-profile crime and homelessness bills ahead of a key Friday legislative deadline — but when it comes to rebates for skyrocketing gas prices, all’s quiet on the Western front.

Here’s what went down in Sacramento on Tuesday:

— Crime: Music boomed across the Capitol lawn as hundreds of crime victims rallied to urge Gov. Gavin Newsom and legislators to invest billions of dollars in crime prevention programs in the revised state budget lawmakers must pass by June 15.

  • One of their legislative priorities: a bill from Democratic state Sen. Nancy Skinner of Berkeley, which passed a key committee Tuesday and would eliminate some hurdles for survivors to receive money from the state’s Victim Compensation Board, such as requiring them to cooperate with law enforcement.
  • Tinisch Hollins, executive director of Californians for Safety and Justice, told me: “For most victims, no matter what community they come from, we’ve heard time and time again that the process of cooperation is traumatic for them and often they don’t feel heard.”

Another bill that cleared a key committee: Democratic state Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco’s proposal to ban law enforcement agencies from using sexual assault survivors’ DNA for any purpose other than identifying the perpetrator.

  • Co-sponsoring the bill is San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin, whose February announcement that San Francisco police used a survivor’s DNA to arrest her in an unrelated crime sent shock waves across the nation and sparked a USA Today investigation that revealed the department had been cross-checking victims’ DNA for more than seven years.
  • Boudin told me that his appearance at the Sacramento press conference alongside state lawmakers had nothing to do with the recall election he faces on June 7: “I’m focused every single day on doing the right thing, on making San Francisco safer and finding ways to ensure that we’re putting the justice back in the criminal justice system.”

Meanwhile, a pair of Democratic and Republican-led bills to, respectively, toughen and repeal Proposition 47, a 2014 ballot measure that reduced penalties for certain theft and drug offenses, failed to advance. And a proposal to protect workers from employer spying was tabled before its hearing today.

— Homelessness and mental health: Newsom’s controversial proposal to create a framework for courts to compel people with serious mental illnesses and substance use disorders into treatment cleared its first legislative hurdle — but will face another today.

  • One big concern: Housing. “The bill explicitly says you can order housing, so if a court can order housing, how are we going to ensure that the housing is prioritized?” asked Andy Imperato, executive director of Disability Rights California.
  • The quality of housing matters, too: A stunning yearlong San Francisco Chronicle investigation found that despite the city spending millions of dollars to house its most vulnerable residents in dilapidated hotels, 25% of 515 tracked tenants died, 21% returned to homelessness, 27% left for an unknown destination and 25% found stable homes.

— Gas rebates. Newsom’s proposals to pause the diesel sales tax and gas excise tax, both of which face end-of-week deadlines to take effect by July, appear to be dead, as the Legislature has yet to introduce any bills on the matter.

  • Democratic Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins of San Diego and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon of Lakewood told me in a statement that Newsom’s proposal would amount to just $15 per driver — including millionaires — and reduce critical infrastructure funding. “We are working through our budget process and keeping an eye on revenues, so that we can offer a workable plan for easing the inflationary pinch that Californians are feeling. We stand ready to act as soon as the governor joins us in supporting a plan that provides stronger relief for California families.”

Republican lawmakers slammed Democrats for running out the clock on gas relief, while Democrats’ vaccine working group called on the GOP to denounce the “far-right extremists” who protested outside of two legislators’ homes over the weekend.

Copyright 2022, CalMatters