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What’s left for California lawmakers to tackle in their final month

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Andrew Nixon
/
CapRadio

The Legislature has already approved new gun restrictions, but big battles remain over mental health treatment, COVID-19 vaccines and more.

California state lawmakers face a veritable mountain of bills to sort through when they return to the Capitol on Monday from a month-long summer recess.

While they’ve already passed new gun restrictions and a few bills to expand access to abortion, some big legislative battles remain before lawmakers adjourn at midnight Aug. 31.

Here are some of the high-profile debates to come before lawmakers adjourn later this month:

CARE Court

Among the most high-profile bills left to consider is Newsom’s proposal known as the Community Assistance, Recovery and Empowerment (CARE) Court program, which would allow police and family members of people with severe mental illnesses to petition for court-ordered evaluation and treatment.

Newsom has said it is “inhumane” to allow people to live on the streets and refuse help when it is offered. His office estimates the program, when fully operational, would provide housing and services to up to 12,000 people annually.

The proposal, which is being run by Democratic Sens. Tom Umberg of Santa Ana and Susan Eggman of Stockton, has divided Democrats and some local government officials, who argue the state lacks housing and behavioral health infrastructure to support the program. Civil and disability rights groups say the program would deny people the right to have autonomy over themselves and their treatment. They also argue it would disproportionately harm Black, indigenous and other people of color.

Social media & kids

Social media companies could be sued for damages related to features that prosecutors deem “addictive” to children under a bill authored by Assembly members Jordan Cunningham (R-San Luis Obispo) and Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland).

The California Chamber of Commerce and a tech lobbying group that represents Snapchat and Meta — the parent company of Facebook and Instagram — oppose the legislation. In a letter to lawmakers, the coalition warned the bill’s passage “would make social media unavailable to adolescents in California.”

The bill has been watered down from a previous version, which would have allowed parents to sue social media companies.

Safe injection sites

A controversial proposal would allow San Francisco, Oakland and Los Angeles to set up supervised sites for people to consume illegal drugs. The sites would provide clean needles and information for drug treatment. Medical personnel would be on hand in case of an accidental overdose and participants would be shielded from prosecution.

The bill’s author, San Francisco Democratic Sen. Scott Wiener, argues it would stem a growing number of drug overdoses and prevent the spread of diseases such as HIV and hepatitis, which can spread through shared needles.

Opponents, including law enforcement groups, say it would allow local governments to turn a blind eye to illegal drug use and lacks incentives to get people into drug treatment.

A similar bill cleared the Legislature in 2018 but was vetoed by then-Governor Jerry Brown over concerns that safe injection sites would not reduce drug addiction and threats by the Trump administration to sue over the program.

Abortion access

While Newsom has already signed bills meant to shield abortion patients and providers from being prosecuted in other states and to prohibit insurance companies from charging out-of-pocket costs for the procedure, lawmakers are considering a number of other measures to expand abortion access following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade.

Remaining bills include a measure to create a website to help people understand their reproductive rights and access abortion services. The bill would also create an abortion fund to provide grants to organizations that help people find and pay for care. The state budget approved by lawmakers and Newsom in June includes funding for both.

Lawmakers in June also placed a proposed constitutional amendment on the November ballot which, if approved by voters, would enshrine the right to reproductive freedom in the state’s constitution.

COVID-19

One bill to watch would allow children between the ages of 15 and 17 to get vaccines, including for COVID-19, without their parents’ consent or knowledge. A previous version of the bill would have allowed children as young as 12 to get vaccinated. The bill faces an uphill climb to passage after some Democrats withheld support in its most recent vote.

Another measure would allow the California Medical Board to discipline physicians for spreading false information about COVID-19, including about the safety and effectiveness of vaccines.

Collective bargaining for legislative and fast-food workers

A pair of bills would extend collective bargaining rights and other workplace protections to hundreds of thousands of workers in California.

The first would create a state council to negotiate wages, working conditions and hours for the more than 550,000 fast food workers in California.

The bill is a priority for labor groups including SEIU and Fight for $15, who argue that low wages and long hours keep many fast food workers in poverty. Opponents of the bill argue it would single out the fast food industry and hurt small business franchisees.

Another labor bill involves lawmakers’ own staffers. And while the Legislature is largely supportive of unions, lawmakers have shot down several proposals in recent years to allow collective bargaining rights for Capitol staffers. Legislative workers often cite long working hours without overtime pay and pressure to use paid time off to volunteer for their lawmakers’ campaigns.

The current proposal is backed by three dozen lawmakers, a signal that this may be the year capitol workers’ union wishes become reality.

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