More Than a Million Undocumented Immigrants Gained Driver’s Licenses in California

On a recent night, by the Miramar Reservoir in San Diego County, a man named Erwin sat at a picnic table scrolling through dozens of texts from his wife. He read aloud her warnings about police patrolling a road near their home.

“‘There’s a lot of cops out tonight,’” he read. “Cops everywhere.’ ‘Be careful; lots of cops.’ ‘Too many cops.’ 

“Every time I want to get a burger or juice or anything like that and I leave the house, she will text me ‘There’s a lot of cops. Be careful,’” Erwin explained. “It’s a reality that we live in. We adapt our life and our every day to it.” 

Erwin, who asked not to use his last name for fear of deportation, is a 27-year old business manager, husband and father of a 6-month-old baby girl. He’s also a Congolese immigrant whose visa expired. His wife, a U.S. citizen, fears what would happen if police stop him. 

Although California is a sanctuary state — with protections for immigrants who lack documentation authorizing them to be in the United States — there are loopholes and law enforcement sometimes works with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Beyond that, Erwin worries a traffic stop might escalate. “Believe me, in my country, I would never have to worry about getting pulled over and being scared that they’re going to shoot me,” he said. 

Erwin wants to swap his foreign driver’s license for a California one.

“Before I didn’t have a family, so I could risk it,” he said, “but now I have my family and I drive my kid everywhere we go. So I decided to get right and get the driver’s license, so it’s less of an issue if I get pulled over.”  

A license to drive

Erwin has made multiple attempts to obtain an AB 60 driver’s license. It’s a special license that lets undocumented California residents legally drive, but with federal limitations.

Proponents say the special license was a boon to immigrants and the state’s economy. But critics, and even some immigrant advocates, say it has drawbacks and risks, since law enforcement and immigration officials can access it. Nevertheless the state is expanding its flexibility, giving IDs  to more undocumented residents.

California lawmakers first passed AB 60, called the Safe and Responsible Drivers Act, in 2013, as part of a broad effort to adopt more inclusive policies toward immigrants, to decriminalize their daily lives and maximize their contributions to the economy, experts said. 

Since the law took effect in 2015, more than a million undocumented immigrants, out of an estimated 2 million, have received licenses, and more than 700,000 have renewed them. 

Besides California, 18 other states have followed suit. 

“With AB 60, what we did was recognize the needs of many hard-working immigrants living here and contributing so much to our great state,” said Luis Alejo, the former Assembly member from  Watsonville who authored the bill. Now he is a county supervisor for Monterey County. 

Undocumented immigrants in California contribute $3.1 billion a year in state and local taxes; nationally they contribute $11.7 billion in taxes, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, a Washington D.C. research entity.  

New legislation signed in September will make other California ID’s available in January to undocumented immigrants who don’t drive or who can’t take the driver’s test. Backers of that measure say residents most likely to benefit are the elderly and people with disabilities. 

“IDs are needed for so many aspects of everyday life, from accessing critical health benefits, to renting an apartment,” said Shiu-Ming Cheer, deputy director of programs and campaigns at the California Immigrant Policy Center, a sponsor of the law. 

Experts say more flexible ID laws may do more than help people on an individual level. Eric Figueroa, a senior manager at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said licenses enable undocumented immigrants to look for better jobs and gain better protections from employers trying to steal or withhold wages.

“It helps build the economy broadly — by unlocking people’s potential — and it helps the workers by giving them more options,” he said.

Erwin uses family connections to remotely renew his Congo license — a privilege he noted not everyone has. Being able to drive allowed his family to move to a better neighborhood and him to find better employment in a suburb about 25 miles away, he said. 

No one has studied how many people have garnered better jobs as a result of the special licenses. Alejo said many of his constituents describe “profound economic impacts,” but he agrees more research is needed. 

Some opponents of the licenses say their economic benefits are likely negligible. Instead it is encouraging illegal migration to California, they say, which further strains the state’s budget to provide education and other services. 

More than that, it makes undocumented residents too comfortable, critics argued. 

Before the special licenses, immigrants said they feared routine traffic stops and drunk-driving checkpoints, where their vehicles could be impounded for not having a driver’s license. Many also could face deportation proceedings after being contacted by police. 

“Community members used to share that they always used to have to buy beat-up cars because they always knew it would get impounded,” said Erin Tsurumoto Grassi, policy director at Alliance San Diego, a community organization focused on equity issues. 

“Folks were always losing their vehicles because they didn’t have a license. They didn’t have the ability to have a license,” she said. 

Some opponents of the special license law claimed it would make roadways less safe, because some immigrant drivers wouldn’t be able to read traffic signs in English. 

But a 2017 study by the Immigration Policy Lab at Stanford University showed those safety concerns were speculative. The rate of total accidents, including fatal accidents, did not rise and the rate of hit-and-run accidents declined, which likely improved traffic safety and reduced overall costs for California drivers, researchers said. 

The study, which documented a 10% decline in hit-and-run accidents, ran in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in April 2017. 

“Coming to this as scientists, we were immediately shocked by the absence of facts in this debate,” said Jens Hainmueller, a Stanford political science professor and co-director of the lab. “Nobody was drawing on any evidence; it was more characterized by ideology.” 

Other research by Hans Lueders, a postdoctoral research associate for the Mamdouha S. Bobst Center for Peace and Justice at Princeton University, found AB 60 did not improve insurance premiums nor increase the share of uninsured drivers.

Are license holders safe?

Questions persist about whether the special licenses make recipients easier targets for immigration enforcement.  

Some immigrant advocates initially opposed the new licenses because they looked different from other driver’s licenses. On the front of the cards’ upper right side is “Federal Limits Apply” instead of the iconic gold bear of California. On the back the cards say: “This card is not acceptable for official federal purposes.” 

Alejo said legislators had intended to protect people from immigration enforcement, so they wrote certain protective measures into the original AB 60 bill. They added language prohibiting state and local government agencies from using the special license to discriminate against license holders or for immigration enforcement.

Yet some advocates point to reports of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement accessing the databases of state and local law enforcement agencies and of state departments of motor vehicles. 

In December 2018, the ACLU of Northern California and the National Immigration Law Center published a report detailing multiple ways federal immigration agencies get access to motor vehicle records. After that, the California Attorney General’s Office implemented new protocols to protect immigrants’ DMV information from ICE and other agencies. 

A chilling effect

Dave Maass, director of investigations at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said there is always going to be a risk someone will misuse data on undocumented people.

“I wouldn’t say that people should feel 100% safe,” he said.” I would just say that the risk has been lessened quite a bit … but that does not mean the risk has totally gone away.”  

In recent years there has been a large drop-off in the number of immigrants applying for AB 60 licenses. According to the Department of Motor Vehicles, 396,859 immigrants applied for the licenses in fiscal 2014-15, but only 68,426 applied in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2022. 

Advocates said that may be because most people who wanted a license applied for it already,  or because education and outreach about the law have lessened over the years. 

Cheer said news of ICE accessing California databases could have a chilling effect on  immigrants’ willingness to interact with government. 

“It does create more of a trust deficit with government agencies whenever there is a story about ICE having access to California databases or information in California databases,” she said. 

Being seen

On the other hand, there’s an added benefit to the new licenses, Cheer said: immigrants now have a feeling of being included and acknowledged as residents of California. 

“I feel like that’s a very important psychological piece, in the sense of ‘This is who I am. I have an ID to show you who I am,’” she said. 

Erwin said he carefully weighed the possibility that he would be effectively giving ICE his home address against wanting to have the proper paperwork, so there would be no excuse for a police officer to escalate a traffic stop with him. He decided one risk was worth reducing the risk of the other.

For some immigrants, the passage of the license law didn’t come soon enough.

Dulce Garcia, an attorney and advocate for immigrants, recently described at a San Diego public forum on immigration enforcement what happened when police stopped her brother who was undocumented. 

Police cited Edgar Saul Garcia Cardoso for driving without a license and when he appeared in a courthouse in January 2020 to face the consequences, ICE detained and deported him, within hours, to Tijuana, she said.

There he was kidnapped, held for ransom and tortured for eight months, Garcia said. 

Click here to read the full article at CalMatters

California Air Board Official Received Nearly $500K Payout Last Year When He left Agency

The former executive officer of the California Air Resources Board received almost $500,000 in added pay last year — the vast majority for unused leave — when he left the agency. That additional money helped Richard Corey more than triple his total compensation from the previous year, according to data The Sacramento Bee acquired from the State Controller’s Office. Corey worked 37 years for the board, called CARB, and was appointed executive officer in 2013. He “accrued considerable vacation, personal leave and holiday time,” agency communications official David Clergen said in an email. In 2022, he took home $623,238.

Corey did not respond to an email requesting comment. He left the agency in June. Three months later, he joined AJW, a company that advises clients on issues related to energy, the environment, and navigating government regulations. When reached by phone, an AJW representative offered to send Corey an email instead of transferring the call. It is not usual for government employees to leave their jobs with large payouts. In 2018, the state paid out nearly $300 million for banked time off, a Los Angeles Times analysis of payroll data found. The newspaper found more than 450 state workers who pulled in six-figure checks when they left their jobs that year. The value of leave is based on an employee’s salary level at the time it is cashed out, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office, which advises the Legislature on fiscal and policy issues. The analyst’s office reported the state’s total leave balance liability was $3.9 billion in 2018-2019.

Click here to read the full article at the Sacramento Bee

Wealth Tax Push Faces Uphill Fight

Sacramento lawmaker joins other blue states in new effort to get rich to pay fair share.

SACRAMENTO — Even in progressive California, passing a new tax on ultra-rich residents is a long shot. But a Democratic lawmaker is trying again, this time flanked by similar efforts in other blue states.

San Jose Assemblymember Alex Lee plans to introduce a bill that would impose new taxes on California’s “extremely wealthy,” at a rate of 1.5% on those worth more than $1 billion starting next year, and at 1% for those worth more than $50 million starting in 2026.

If passed, the tax would affect 0.1% of California households and would generate an additional $21.6 billion in state revenue, according to Lee.

“This is all in the spirit of making those who are not paying their fair share pay what they owe,” Lee said, pointing to a ProPublica report that exposed how the world’s richest people use legal loopholes to avoid paying income taxes, instead amassing wealth through assets like stocks that are not taxed unless sold.

Lee’s proposed tax focuses on a person’s “worldwide wealth” — not just their annual income — including such diverse holdings as stocks and hedge fund interests, farm assets and art and collectibles. It’s similar to proposals progressive Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) championed during the 2020 presidential campaign, and to a plan President Biden floated last year that never passed Congress.

In the absence of a federal wealth tax, the State Innovation Exchange, a progressive nonprofit, and the State Revenue Alliance, which works with labor groups to call for taxing rich people, gathered a handful of states to create policy as part of the “Fund Our Future” campaign. The California bill was announced as a joint effort on Thursday alongside officials promoting similar wealth taxes targeting capital gains and “unrealized gains” in Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, New York and Washington.

“States are leaning into their power. They’re reminding us that states are the laboratories of democracy,” said Charles Khan, who serves on the advisory committee for the State Revenue Alliance.

But the initiative faces an uphill battle in California despite the Democratic stronghold in the state Legislature. Similar attempts by Lee have failed before, and Gov. Gavin Newsom has shown no signs of supporting such a measure.

Newsom parted with his own party last year when he came out against Proposition 30 on the November ballot, which would have raised income taxes on the richest Californians and used the money to subsidize electric vehicles and suppress wildfires. The governor said that plan was “fiscally irresponsible” and criticized Lyft for bankrolling it, calling it a “cynical scheme to grab a huge taxpayer-funded subsidy” because ride-hailing companies must add more electric vehicles to their fleets.

Another measure that would have raised taxes on California’s richest to fund pandemic public health programs also lacked Newsom’s support, prompting organizers to keep it off the 2022 ballot.

In the Legislature, past attempts at a wealth tax have not made it far. Last year’s version was basically dead on arrival and did not get taken up for a vote in a single committee.

But Lee believes the legislation is more likely to succeed this time, in part because of California’s projected $22.5-billion budget shortfall. Revenue from the proposed tax would go to the state general fund.

“This is how we can keep addressing our budgetary issues,” he said. “Basically, we could plug the entire hole.”

Lee said the national push also helps thwart concerns that California’s richest will leave to avoid new taxes, as more states could do the same. “It’s a ‘they can run but they can’t hide’ situation,” he said.

A report by the nonpartisan California Policy Lab found that there’s “little evidence that wealthy Californians are leaving en masse,” but the threat of such a loss remains.

That’s because California’s progressive tax structure makes the state budget disproportionately dependent on the wealthiest residents, who are largely to thank for the state’s flush years even during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The bill is supported by the California Federation of Teachers and opposed by the California Taxpayers Assn.

California Taxpayers Assn. President Robert Gutierrez said the state should not jeopardize losing its top earners at a time of economic uncertainty. He also questioned the fairness and practicality of a first-of-its-kind tax on assets and total wealth.

“When would the state determine the tax on stocks, whose value can change dramatically from minute to minute? Would California’s tax auditors travel around the globe every year to attempt to locate and verify the value of one-of-a-kind artwork, vehicles, iconic Hollywood props and other items whose market value can’t be known with any degree of certainty?” he said. “Would wealthy individuals stay in California and wait for these questions to be answered?”

But Emmanuel Saez, an economics professor at UC Berkeley, said the initiatives can work successfully and make a significant difference in “restoring tax justice.”

“Our current tax system, both at the federal and state levels, fail to tax the enormous wealth amassed by billionaires. Billionaires can keep profits inside their businesses, and if they don’t sell their stock, they can avoid the individual income tax. If they retire in Florida and sell their businesses then, they will never pay income taxes in the state where they built their fortune,” he said. “Relative to their true economic income, billionaires end up paying a lower tax rate than the rest of us.”

Click here to read the full article here in the LA Times

$5 Million for Each Longtime Black Resident? S.F. Has a Bold Reparations Plan to Consider

A century after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., and lamented how “the Negro still is not free.”

“One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity,” he said during his 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech from the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

King could have been describing today’s San Francisco, a 47-square-mile city that’s home to more than 60 billionaires and at least 7,000 homeless people, around 40% of whom are Black, despite Black people representing only 5% of the population.

Right up until he was assassinated in 1968, King argued that economic justice was integral to racial justice. The idea is at the core of a draft proposal the San Francisco African American Reparations Advisory Committee presented to city leaders last month.

The Board of Supervisors created the committee, also called AARAC, in December 2020, amid a national racial reckoning. The board’s legislation, while innovative, was also narrow, allowing city leaders to reject or outright ignore the committee’s work.

What happens next will show whether San Francisco politicians are serious about confronting the city’s checkered past, or are simply pretending to be.

While California was never officially a slave state, slaveholders were protected here, and the committee’s research reveals that segregation, systemic oppression and racial prejudice born from the institution of slavery had a profound impact on the city’s evolution.

In the 20th century alone, San Francisco was a Ku Klux Klan stronghold, barred Black people from settling in certain areas, kept them out of city jobs and demolished the Fillmore, a Black neighborhood and commercial district, leaving it vacant for decades.

“Centuries of harm and destruction of Black lives, Black bodies and Black communities should be met with centuries of repair,” AARAC chair Eric McDonnell told me. “If you look at San Francisco, it’s very much a tale of two cities.”

AARAC’s draft proposal includes a number of financial recommendations. There’s one that will especially get folks talking.

AARAC calls for one-time, lump-sum reparations payments of $5 million to each eligible recipient. The amount could cover the “the economic and opportunity losses that Black San Franciscans have endured, collectively, as the result of both intentional decisions and unintended harms perpetuated by City policy,” the draft states.

To qualify for the payments, residents must be 18 at the time the committee’s proposal is enacted, and have identified as Black or African American on public documents for at least 10 years. They may also have to prove they were born in the city between 1940 and 1996, have resided in San Francisco for at least 13 years, and be someone, or the direct descendant of someone, incarcerated during the war on drugs.

To put that in perspective, the state reparations task force, which will issue its own proposal is June, believes that Black Californians may be due $569 billion for housing discrimination alone between 1933 and 1977.

The wealth disparity is not the result of bad fortune. The period of urban renewal that began in the 1950s remains one of the most damning examples of how local government stole wealth from Black communities by razing them, and then ensured they never recovered. As AARAC’s report highlights, most of San Francisco’s formerly redlined neighborhoods — where residents were deemed ineligible for federal housing loans between 1933 and 1954 — are low-income neighborhoods undergoing gentrification now.

While San Francisco isn’t unique in having systematically distributed its riches along racial lines, the city’s status as a liberal bastion makes it a powerful testing ground for undoing these damages, AARAC vice chair Tinisch Hollins told me.

“This reparations process gives us a chance to look at the many ways, not just economically, that harm can and should be repaired,” Hollins said. “And even though San Francisco has passed policies that touch on the legacy of slavery, we have needed something that goes toward quantifying that harm.”

As for next steps, the committee will submit its final proposal to city leaders in June. Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin told me he hopes his colleagues will approve AARAC’s recommendations.

“There are so many efforts that result in incredible reports that just end up gathering dust on a shelf,” Peskin said. “We cannot let this be one of them.”

As King described in his “I Have a Dream” speech, America was founded by white men who wrote a fraudulent “check” that promised that all men would enjoy the “unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Click here to read the full article in the SF Chronicle

The California Legislature is Back: Five Key Questions

A soaring homeless population. A bitter battle with the oil industry over gasoline prices. A spending plan for a state with the world’s fifth-largest economy as threats of a recession hover.

There’s a lot for the California Legislature to deal with this year — and it made little headway Wednesday, its first day back at the Capitol since swearing-in a new class of members last month. The brief floor sessions in the state Senate and Assembly focused more on the dearly departed than the challenges ahead.

The slow start to the legislative session is nothing new, but it does leave plenty of time for reflection. Here are some key questions for the year to come:

What will be the Legislature’s priorities? 

By the afternoon, Senate and Assembly staff reported that just two new measures had been introduced in each house. (More than 140 were already submitted last month.) With a bill introduction deadline of Feb. 17, committee hearings and votes for most proposals are still months away.

So until then, floor sessions are mostly an opportunity for lawmakers to check in — and receive their per diem, the supplemental $214 paid daily to legislators for housing and living expenses, as long as they don’t leave Sacramento more than three days at a time.

The first floor sessions on Wednesday, for example, lasted about a half hour each in the Senate and Assembly, largely taken up by speeches memorializing friends and family who had died. Assemblymember Greg Wallis, a Bermuda Dunes Republican who won his seat by 85 votes, made his inaugural appearance on the floor; his race had not yet been called in time for the ceremonial swearing-in on Dec. 5.

In an interview, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon said housing issues would remain a central focus for the Legislature this session, including accountability for the billions of the dollars that California has spent on homelessness and development programs in recent years.

“Housing is the 10,000-pound gorilla that won’t go away,” the Lakewood Democrat said.

Rendon said he would also like to build on the momentum of a sweeping package of legislation passed last year to address climate change by tackling how transportation, the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in California, contributes to the problem.

“Climate change is something we’ve been a leader on as a state,” he said. “We have to make sure we don’t fall behind again.”

How much impact will the budget deficit have?

Looming over the Legislature’s plans this year is the possibility of an economic downturn. Its fiscal and policy advisory office estimates a $24 billion budget deficit, and Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is set to unveil his preliminary spending plan next week, has also been urging caution for months.

Legislative leaders are projecting optimism about California’s ability to weather any revenue shortfalls, pointing to the tens of billions of dollars that now sit in state reserves. Sen. Nancy Skinner, a Berkeley Democrat who leads the Senate budget committee, said that while it may not be the time to create any more new programs, California’s finances are sound.

“With the type of surplus we had last year,” nearly $50 billion that was mostly directed to one-time expenditures over the next several years, Skinner said, “we have the space right now to make some adjustments to those if necessary.”

But if the economic picture grows gloomier in the months ahead, lawmakers may be forced to downsize their boldest policy ideas.

Sen. Susan Eggman, a Stockton Democrat, said this session was the right time to step back and examine whether new programs that the state has launched in recent years are working as intended.

“This session should be about a lot of oversight,” she said. “We still have ambitious packages, but we’re all very conscious of the price tags.”

What about the oil special session?

While Newsom continues to go after the oil industry — his office published a press release last week highlighting “Big Oil’s top lies” — there have been no significant developments on his “price gouging penalty” proposal since it was formally introduced a month ago.

The details of the penalty that Newsom wants to impose on oil companies for excessive profits, not to mention the special session in which the measure is being considered, remain elusive. But Rendon said the Legislature still plans to take up the issue, even as gas prices fall, likely earlier in the year when there is more time to focus on it.

“Regardless of what happens with gas prices, it’s a good opportunity to ask the questions that we’ve been wanting to ask for a while of oil companies,” he said. “Their profits are staggering.”

How will diverse Legislature affect policy?  

Having the most diverse Legislature in history doesn’t mean much without that representation translating into policy.

Some new lawmakers are already making attempts to do that. 

Assemblymember Jasmeet Bains, a doctor and Democrat from Bakersfield, has introduced a bill that she says represents the concerns of her district: a task force to address fentanyl addiction in the Central Valley. That involves ensuring access to healthcare, addiction and rehabilitation services — and getting fentanyl off the streets, she said. 

“I think the biggest reality that we see up in here in Sacramento is a failure of the Legislature to actively control our drug problem, our drug crisis,” she said. “In California, I don’t think very many people understand how bad the problem is, with exposure to things like fentanyl on the streets.”

Assemblymember Corey Jackson, the first openly gay Black legislator, said his top priorities include addressing mental health and continuing to learn lessons from the pandemic, such as the importance of childcare. The Democrat from the Riverside area introduced a bill to create an Affordable California Commission, tasked with tackling the state’s high cost of living. 

“I come from a working class community. The 60th Assembly District are people who are just trying to survive every day,” he said. “And I wanted to send the message: ‘It is not okay just to survive. You deserve to thrive.’”   

Jackson also plans to tackle what he expects will be a rise in racism and xenophobia ahead of the 2024 election. 

“I intend to take an active role in rooting out racism, even in the very structures and even in the chambers of the state legislature itself,” he said. “Stay tuned, because there’s going to be a whole legislative package on anti-racism and systemic racism.”

Like Jackson, new state Sen. Caroline Menjivar also plans to address mental health. She has introduced a bill to prioritize more full-time counselors to Cal State campuses who can help the diverse student populations

Public transportation and infrastructure are other key areas for her. She notes that in her San Fernando area district, it floods frequently — and typically in the areas where people of color live. 

“A lot of what I speak to comes from lived experiences,” Menjivar said. “You know, when we talk about the lack of affordable housing, it’s my mom who has been on a waiting list for over five years, right. So these are issues that are personal to me.”

What’s happening with the recount?

While the November elections are largely a wrap, one seat remains contested: Democratic Sen. Melissa Hurtado’s Central Valley seat in District 16.

It was a close vote — the second closest legislative contest (based on percentages) in California history, said Alex Vassar, communications manager for the California State Library. 

Hurtado, the incumbent, was sworn into office on Dec. 10 after eking out a 20-vote victory. Republican David Shepard formally requested a recount on Dec. 13. 

That involves recounting ballots from Fresno, Kern, Kings and Tulare counties. Initial results from Fresno, Kern and Tulare counties showed Hurtado holding on to her seat: Shepard gained just two votes in Fresno County, two in Kings and three in Tulare.

After Shepard’s campaign requested a recount in about 20% of Kern County, Hurtado has now asked for a recount of some remaining portions. While a recount can be requested for just part of a county, a second recount can’t be requested for the same portions. 

If Shepard were to pull off a win, though, it wouldn’t change anything Hurtado has done since being sworn in, Vassar said.

“She is a fully active seated member. All of her votes are being cast as a member,” he said. “Just like if someone were to resign — everything they’ve done still stands.” 

Click here to read the full article in CalMatters

California’s Newsom Launches 2nd Term with Contrast to GOP

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California Gov. Gavin Newsom kicked off his second and final term on Friday by contrasting his leadership of the nation’s largest Democratic stronghold with that of Republican leaders he branded as “small men in big offices.”

“California has been freedom’s force multiplier, protecting liberty from a rising tide of oppression taking root in statehouses — weakness, masquerading as strength,” Newsom said as he stood in front of the state Capitol.

Though he didn’t name names, his targets were obvious. Newsom chose Jan. 6 for his inaugural ceremonies to mark the second anniversary of the violent attack by Trump supporters on the U.S. Capitol, and he’s spent the past year decrying Republican Govs. Ron DeSantis of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas.

“The ugliness that overflowed on January 6th, 2021, we know this, was in fact decades in the making — fomented by people who have a very different vision of America’s future,” Newsom said.

He delivered his remarks after leading a march with his wife and four children through downtown Sacramento. The sun was finally out after days of relentless winds and rain pounding much of the state.

His second term officially began Monday. The outdoor ceremony followed a series of massive storms that brought heavy rain, snow and intense winds across the state. The deluge prompted Newsom to declare a state of emergency and offered a reminder of the bread-and-butter work of governing the nation’s most populous state.

Newsom began his first term in 2019 with Trump as a clear foil in Washington. With Biden now in the White House, Newsom has pivoted his fire toward fellow governors like DeSantis and Abbott.

He continued to draw that contrast Friday, decrying states that “make it harder to vote and easier to buy illegal guns,” and that “silence speech, fire teachers, kidnap migrants, subjugate women … and even demonize Mickey Mouse.”

Both Newsom and DeSantis are widely seen as future presidential contenders, though perhaps not against each other. Newsom has committed to supporting Biden if the president seeks a second term, as he currently plans to do. DeSantis, meanwhile, has not ruled out a 2024 run — even as Trump seeks a return to the White House.

Their competing visions of governance — including how best to promote “freedom” — showcase the political polarization that’s taken hold across the nation. In his own inaugural address Tuesday, DeSantis touched on national issues like immigration and inflation, and decried “wokeness.”

“They have two starkly different philosophies on how to run a state and that choice will be on the ballot at some point, whether its either one of those two or other folks in their parties,” said Bill Burton, a California political consultant who was a spokesman for former President Barack Obama.

The ongoing drama in Washington that has kept GOP Rep. Kevin McCarthy, a fellow Californian, from securing the speakership in the U.S. House also boosts Newsom’s argument that Democrats are better at governing, said Kim Nalder, a professor of political science at the California State University, Sacramento.

“His narrative that he’s trying to create is: Look how much better things could be if Democrats ran the political world,” she said.

Following the speech, Republican lawmakers quickly pointed out the state’s rising homelessness, high energy and gas prices, ongoing water supply struggles and other issues they brand as Newsom failures.

“Now that California is facing a massive budget shortfall, these crises will only get worse unless the governor changes course and focuses on the issues facing our state. Texas and Florida are doing just fine on their own, and welcoming more Californians escaping our problems each day,” Assemblyman James Gallagher, the chamber’s Republican leader, said in a statement.

As Newsom sought to craft California as a beacon for freedom, he also reflected on painful parts of the state’s history, when voters backed measures to limit rights for immigrants and deny gay people the right to marry.

In the end, though, California reversed course with the understanding that “expanding rights is always the right thing to do,” he said.

Newsom begins his second term facing headwinds in the form of a budget deficit, an unmitigated homeless crisis and drought that may persist despite the storms. And he’ll go to battle with the oil industry as he pushes lawmakers to impose fines on company profits.

But Californians have twice reinforced their support for Newsom in the past 15 months: first in a 2021 recall attempt that failed and again last November, when he handily won his second term.

Newsom’s first term was dominated by wildfires, a major utility bankruptcy and the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 100,000 Californians, and prompted monthslong shut downs of businesses and schools. But he was also handed a massive budget surplus that allowed him to invest tens of billions in the environment, education, child care and health care.

But he enters his second term with a projected $25 billion budget deficit, which limits what Newsom can spend on and may force budget cuts. He’ll offer his first glimpse at spending priorities next week.

He’s also geared up for a major fight with the oil industry, convincing the Legislature to launch a special session to consider a new fine on oil company profits. Gas prices climbed above $6 per gallon in California, which is well above the national average.

The potential budget deficit in particular may force Newsom to turn more of his attention back home if he hopes to maintain the strong support he’s so far enjoyed, said Sarah Hill, a professor of political science at the California State University, Fullerton, who focuses on state politics.

Click here to read the full article in AP News

Why Are Some Republicans Revolting Against Kevin McCarthy’s Bid To Be Speaker of the House?

The insurgent Republicans want to balance the budget, impose new barriers to immigration, and increase transparency for future earmark spending.

For the first time in 100 years, no one was elected speaker of the House on the first ballot when the new session of Congress opened on Tuesday—thanks to a breakaway faction of Republicans who denied Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s (R–Calif.) bid to return to the top post in the House of Representatives.

McCarthy finished second to Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D–N.Y.) in the first round of voting, but neither candidate reached the magic number of 218 needed to win a majority. Rep. Andy Biggs (R–Ariz.) received 10 votes on the first ballot, while Rep. Jim Jordan (R–Ohio) picked up six votes and three other lawmakers got one vote each. In all, 19 Republicans voted against McCarthy, who can afford to lose just four votes and maintain a majority of the closely divided chamber.

In a second round of balloting, Jeffries got 212 votes while McCarthy received 203, and Jordan consolidated the 19 Republican votes against McCarthy.

But why, you might be wondering, would a group of Republicans trigger this sort of chaos?

On Tuesday morning, Rep. Scott Perry (R–Penn.), one of the renegade Republicans, laid out the answer to that question in a lengthy statement posted to his Twitter account. Perry said that the group of Republicans opposed to McCarthy was seeking “firm commitments” from McCarthy on four “concrete policies” they wished to bring to a vote.

Those policies, according to Perry: A balanced budget, passage of the Fair Tax Act (which would replace the federal income, payroll, and estate taxes with a national sales tax), passage of a proposal crafted by Texas Republicans that aims to crack down on illegal immigration, and the imposition of term limits for members of Congress.

Additionally, Perry said that McCarthy was asked to support two changes to how the House operates. First, to require a two-thirds vote to approve earmarks, which would have to be voted on individually. Second, to allow amendments that would cut spending to be introduced on the House floor to any legislation.

As a set of proposals, it’s a bit of a mixed bag—though the immigration element would be a massively expensive attempt to limit the free movement of people. It’s also a bit crazy that lawmakers have to resort to once-in-a-century tactics just to get congressional leaders to consider balancing the budget.

But it is certainly not a radical or wildly irresponsible list of demands. More transparency and accountability on earmarks—something that hasn’t really materialized despite the promises of those who pushed to end the earmark ban—would certainly be welcome. Floor amendments to legislation would be a step toward restoring the so-called “regular order” of moving legislation through Congress, another welcome and overdue reform.

In that same Tuesday morning statement, Perry said McCarthy effectively forfeited his chance to be speaker by refusing to go along with those requests. Later on Tuesday, Perry and his fellow breakaway Republicans followed through with that threat.

What happens now? It’s unclear. There will be a third vote in the House, and perhaps many more. In 1855, it took 133 ballots before a stalemate for speaker of the House was broken.

“We are going to continue to vote until Kevin’s the next speaker,” Rep. Dave Joyce (R–Ohio), a McCarthy supporter, told CNN after the second round of balloting on Tuesday.

It might look chaotic and weird, but actually, this is just fine. It’s democracy. For the moment, and maybe longer, think of the House of Representatives as functioning more like a multi-party democracy than the two-party duopoly that we’re used to seeing.

In multiparty systems, two or more parties have to come together and form a coalition in order to achieve a governing majority. That requires some horse-trading and usually involves drawing up a semiformal document outlining what policies the coalition will work together to craft (and sometimes, equally importantly, which policies will be off-the-table).

For the purposes of the speaker election, Perry and his fellow renegade Republicans are operating like a minority party in a multiparty system: offering their support in exchange for getting to put a hand on the steering wheel of the future coalition government. If McCarthy doesn’t want to make a deal with them, he might have to seek a coalition government with a centrist faction of Democrats. Failing that, Republicans might try to find someone else within their ranks who can get the requisite 218 votes from the chamber.

Click here to read the full article at Reason.com

Key Issues That Will Shape California in 2023

Welcome to 2023 — a year that will likely prove decisive in California’s attempts to address some of its most pervasive challenges, ranging from housing and homelessness to climate change.

Wednesday, state lawmakers are set to return to Sacramento (though some may be driving instead of flying Southwest as they usually would) to resume the two legislative sessions that ceremonially started in December: a regular session focused on the typical business of debating and passing bills, and a special session focused on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposal to levy a penalty on oil companies he accuses of price-gouging Californians at the gas pump.

If the session double-header sounds confusing, it’s because the legislative process often is — which is why CalMatters’ Sameea Kamal and Jeremia Kimelman put together a comprehensive, concise explainer that delves into how California’s state government works and how it interacts with local, regional and federal governments. They also explain what influences state lawmakers’ agendas, who represents you and how you can make your voice heard. Check it out.

On Sunday, many of the 997 bills Newsom signed into law last year — out of the nearly 1,200 state lawmakers sent to his desk — went into effect. In this explainer supplemented by audio segments, CalMatters breaks down nine of the most consequential laws. The explainer is also available in Spanish.

Now let’s dive into some of the key issues CalMatters is keeping an eye on in 2023:

Click here to read the full article in CalMatters

Taxes Fall, Wages Rise and Jaywalking OK’d By new State Laws

Taxes will fall and minimum wages rise for residents in numerous states as a variety of new laws take effect Sunday that could impact people’s finances and, in some cases, their personal liberties.

Some new laws could affect access to abortion. Others will ease restrictions on marijuana and concealed guns, or eliminate the need to pay to get out of jail.

Jaywalkers will get a reprieve in California, thanks to a new law prohibiting police from stopping pedestrians for traffic violations unless they are in immediate danger of being hit by a vehicle.

Here’s a look at some of the laws taking effect in the new year.

ABORTION

After the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling in June, abortion access became a state issue. Laws in place in 13 states, most of them controlled by Republicans, ban abortion at all stages of pregnancy, with varying exceptions. Meanwhile, more liberal states have been extending abortion protections.

Laws taking effect in January are not wholesale policy changes but are intended to make abortion more accessible in California and New York. Abortion already is legal in those states through viability, which is about 24 weeks gestational age.

California will allow trained nurse practitioners, midwives and physician assistants to provide abortions without supervision from a physician. In New York, a law dealing with multiple facets of health care requires private insurers that cover births to also cover abortion services, without requiring co-payments or co-insurance.

A new Tennessee law, adopted in May, will bar dispensing abortion pills by mail or at pharmacies, instead requiring them to be given with a physician present. But advocates on both sides of the issue believe the effect will be minimal because a ban on abortions throughout pregnancy went into effect after the Supreme Court’s ruling.

TAXES

Thanks to large budget surpluses, about two-thirds of the states approved permanent tax cuts or one-time rebates last year. Several of those will take effect in January.

Income tax cuts mean less money will be withheld from workers’ paychecks in Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina and South Carolina. An Arizona income tax rate reduction to a flat 2.5% also will take effect in January, a year before originally scheduled because of strong state revenues.

Iowa will revamp its income tax brackets as a first step toward an eventual flat tax, and it will stop taxing retirement income.

Kansas will reduce its sales tax on groceries. Virginia will lower the tax on groceries and personal hygiene products. Colorado also will remove taxes from hygiene products, but will impose a 10-cent fee on plastic bags as a precursor to their elimination in 2024.

Other states are providing tax incentives for law-and-order professions. Rhode Island will exempt military pensions from tax. Georgia will offer a tax credit for donations to local law enforcement foundations.

But not all taxes will be going down. A voter-approved “millionaire tax” will take effect in Massachusetts, imposing a 4% surcharge on income of more than $1 million.

Wyoming is taking steps to collect taxes more quickly. Producers of coal, oil, gas and uranium will have to pay taxes monthly, instead of up to 18 months after extraction. The change comes after some counties had difficulty collecting millions of dollars owed by coal companies that went bankrupt.

WAGES

Minimum wage workers will get a pay raise in 23 states as a result of laws passed in previous years, some of which provide annual inflationary adjustments. The increases range from an extra 23 cents in Michigan to an additional $1.50 in Nebraska, where a ballot measure approved in November will raise the minimum wage from $8 to $9.50 an hour.

The gap continues to grow between the 20 states following the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour and the 30 others requiring more. The highest state minimum wage now will be $15.74 an hour in Washington — more than double the federal rate.

Another law taking effect with the new year will require employers in Washington to include salary and benefits information in job postings, rather than waiting until a job offer to reveal such information. Similar salary transparency laws are in place in half a dozen other states.

Workers in Colorado and Oregon will start seeing paycheck deductions in January to fund new paid family leave programs. But Oregon residents will have to wait until September and Colorado residents until 2024 before they can claim paid time off following a serious illness in their family, the arrival of new children or recovery from sexual assault, domestic violence, harassment or stalking.

Ohio will offer a new way for people to spend their paychecks. Sports betting will become legal, joining more than 30 states that have adopted similar laws since a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling said it was OK.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

A new law in Illinois is supposed to eliminate cash bail for people accused of crimes, but a judge put that on hold in late December after 64 counties challenged it as unconstitutional. Requiring bonds to be posted has long been a way to ensure people who are arrested show up for their trials, but critics say the system penalizes the poor. Eliminating cash bail would put Illinois in a group of states including California, Indiana, New Jersey, Nebraska and New York that have prohibited or restricted the practice.

Another area where social justice meets criminal justice is relaxing marijuana laws.

In November, voters made Maryland the 21st state to legalize recreational use by adults. That begins on July 1, 2023. As an interim step at the start of the year, possession by adults of up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis will become a civil offense punishable with a maximum fine of $100.

In Connecticut, some provisions of a 2021 law that legalized recreational marijuana also kick in, including automatic expungement of convictions for possession of less than 4 ounces of marijuana that were imposed from 2000 through September 2015. According to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, 21 other states have expungement laws.

Alabama will become the 25th state where it will be legal to carry a concealed handgun without a permit.

Click here to read the full article in AP News

Retail Theft a $94.5 Billion Crime Problem at American Stores

Retailers said Covid-19 has worsened the risk of crime

A massive rise in retail theft is contributing to “shrinkage” at brick-and-mortar retailers, contributing to the growth of online sales.

“The National Retail Federation estimates that shrink—an industry term for loss in inventory—amounted to roughly 1.4% of retail revenue in 2021, or roughly $94.5 billion. Most of that shrink is caused by theft, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The Globe reported on California’s retail theft last May:

The escalation of organized “smash-and-grab” robberies in cities around the country has been costly. CNN reported in January that retailers across America say shoplifting is now 2% to 3% of their total sales, forcing the retailers to install new security systems, video cameras and security staff.

A 2021 survey of retailers found 65% acknowledged an increase in violence, while 37% said Organized Retail Crime gangs were much more aggressive than in the past.

With every legislative solution killed by California’s Democratic supermajority, retailers and Chambers of Commerce formed Californians Against Retail and Residential Theft (CARRT), and launched a campaign to raise lawmakers’ and the public’s knowledge of the growing theft problem in the state. CARRT is a broad-based coalition of business associations, local groups, and victim organizations advocating for California officials to act now to undo the damage done by Proposition 47.

Not the Bee also addresses this shrinkage: the Covid lockdowns.

“Whoever had the bright idea to shut down the entire U.S. economy, confine people to their homes indefinitely, foment open-ended hysteria about a respiratory virus, and drive inflation to sky-high record rates — congratulations, your strategy is bearing fruit,” Not the Bee reported.

“Brick-and-mortar retail’s indisputable edge over e-commerce is that consumers can get what they want immediately, and can touch and feel the product before buying it. Rising theft — and stores’ measures to prevent it — could dull that edge,” WSJ said.

The National Retail Federation report also found that the vast majority (89.7%) of respondents report that their Loss Prevention department is evaluated according to inventory shrink levels – in other words, shrink reduction is part of their goals, objectives or performance measures. Just 10.3% reported that they were not.

“Retailers surveyed by the NRF said Covid-19 has worsened the risk of crime, partly because labor shortages have made it difficult to fully staff stores,” WSJ said. “Moreover, supply-chain shortages made certain products more susceptible to theft because they fetched high value in secondary markets.”

“Can you imagine a more predictable outcome from the pandemic policies we enacted to fight COVID-19?” Not the Bee asks. “We threw our entire way of life — our economy, our organizations, our social structures, our education — into a complete and total tailspin.”

“Shrink can have a substantial impact on already thin retail margins. Target said that the rise in shrink, including theft, reduced its gross profit by more than $400 million in the first three quarters of its fiscal year, compared with a year prior. For the full fiscal year, it estimates that its gross profit will take a $600 million hit.”

“Although shrink is a perennial problem in retail, it really took off when the pandemic hit. In the five years leading up to 2019, retail shrink grew at a compound annual growth rate of roughly 7%, according to data from the NRF,” WSJ said. “In 2020, it jumped 47%, and rose another 4% on top of that huge jump in 2021. Some retailers, including Ulta Beauty and Target, have said that shrink has gotten worse again this year. ‘When times get tough, shrink goes up,’ Ulta Beauty Chief Financial Officer Scott Settersten said on the company’s earnings call on Dec. 1. ‘We’ve seen that in retail over a long period of time.’”

And who will pay for these increasing retail costs? “Retailers will ultimately pay for shrink risk in some form or another—either on the top line if they want to keep stores completely accessible or on the bottom line if they spend heavily on labor and mitigation measures,” WSJ said. “Finding the right balance will be key to preserving brick-and-mortar businesses.”

And if you wonder why toothpaste, shaving cream and laundry detergent is under lock and key at many stores, it is a theft mitigation measure, according to retailers.

California’s nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California released a report that found a direct correlation between Proposition 47 and a marked increase in larceny thefts across California, despite many media reports attempting to refute the correlation, the Globe reported. As for any legislative support from the California Legislature, don’t hold your breath:

The California Assembly Public Safety Committee heard and killed Assembly Bill 1599 by Assemblyman Kevin Kiley (R-Granite Bay) in March, which sought to repeal Proposition 47, and “make crime illegal again.”

Click here to read the full article in the California Globe