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Newsom signs off on recall reform in 11th-hour signing spree

But California's governor turned down bids to limit solitary confinement and adopt minimal mental health standards in jails.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — With hours left to either sign or veto a stack of bills before they automatically become law, California Governor Gavin Newsom plowed through more than 150 bills within 24 hours — including two born from his recent brush with a recall effort.

After facing a failed, $200 million recall election last year, Newsom signed into law two bills that will tighten up how easily recalls will take place in the future. That election raised questions about whether a system put together early in the last century has sufficient checks and balances to still maintain a democratic and fair election.

Assembly Bill 2584 raises the number of signatures needed to initiate a recall, creates a review process for potentially misleading statements by parties on either side of a recall, requires a recall’s estimated costs to be printed on petition materials and requires recall elections to be consolidated with the next regular election if a regular election is taking place in the next 180 days. Assembly Bill 2582 requires recall petitions to include only the question of whether an elected official should be removed from office — if the official is recalled, their seat remains empty until lawfully filled.

“It is far too easy to initiate a recall in California, wasting taxpayer dollars and distracting local elected officials from being able to serve their communities” said author Assemblymember Marc Berman. “While recalls can be an important tool to hold elected officials accountable, AB 2584 will ensure that the process to initiate a recall is rigorous enough to demonstrate that it is a serious effort, rather than weaponizing the recall process for the sole purpose of impeding government from working."

Stephanie Doute, executive director for the League of Women Voters of California, praised AB 2584. “AB 2584 will help protect against frivolous recall elections, provide voters with accurate information, maximize community participation in government decision making, increase transparency, and boost participation by consolidating special elections.”

Dr. Susan Heredia, president of the California School Boards Association, said the new signature threshold are "still reasonable and readily achievable total."

A pair of signs spotted near a voting location calling to replace California Governor Gavin Newsom with conservative talk radio host Larry Elder in the September recall election. (Dustin Manduffie/Courthouse News)

Transgender support

With the signing of two transgender support bills, California has officially become a sanctuary state for transgender children and the medical services they may seek. 

Senate Bill 107 offers refuge to transgender children and their families seeking to escape criminal prosecution in their home states based on their gender identity or for seeking medical services. Senate Bill 923 requires training and professional standards for health care providers to provide gender affirming care to transgender patients, and that health plans indicate which physicians provide gender affirming care in network directories. 

Newsom indicated in a message Thursday night that he signed the bills with an eye toward states suing Biden and passing laws outlawing gender affirming medical care and protections for transgender children and their parents. 

“Eighty-two percent of transgender individuals have considered killing themselves, and 40% have attempted suicide, with suicidality highest among transgender youth,” he said. “In California we believe in equality and acceptance. We believe that no one should be prosecuted or persecuted for getting the care they need — including gender-affirming care.”

The bill author Senator Scott Wiener, a Democrat from San Francisco, said on Twitter “States like Texas and Alabama are seeking to tear these families apart. California won’t be party to it. We have your backs.”

Criminal justice

Newsom signed Senate Bill 1106, removing unpaid restitution as a barrier to having a criminal record expunged. He also signed Assembly Bill 256, the Racial Justice Act for All, which bars the state from seeking or obtaining a criminal conviction or imposing a sentence based upon race, ethnicity or national origin. The ACLU said it will extend some existing protections to people already affected by racist treatment or statements from attorneys, judges, jurors and witnesses, and facing unfair convictions and sentences.

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However, Newsom vetoed Assembly Bill 2632, named the “California Mandela Act,” which lawmakers said would have been the most comprehensive change to solitary confinement in any state by seeking to limit the amount of time the practice can be used in jails. He said while he supports limiting the practice, the bill was “overly broad” and could risk safety of staff and inmates or “interrupt” rehabilitation efforts.

“But in light of the deep need to reform California's use of segregated confinement, I am directing the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to develop regulations that would restrict the use of segregated confinement except in limited situations, such as where the individual has been found to have engaged in violence in the prison,” Newsom said.

He also vetoed Assembly Bill 2343, the Saving Lives in Custody Act, which was written to respond to a scathing audit of deaths in San Diego jails by requiring the Board of State and Community Corrections to adopt minimum mental health care standards for correctional facilities. Newsom said he did not agree with adding two more people, a licensed health care provider and mental health provider, to the 13-person board.

Environmental action

Newsom signed Assembly Bill1642, which provides a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) exemption for certain projects that mitigate or prevent the failure of a domestic water well or water system well when such failure would leave residents without an adequate supply of safe drinking water. He said this does not exempt projects from the requirements of a Groundwater Sustainability Plan developed under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act

The governor also signed Assembly Bill 1658 to improve coordinated responses to oil spills by requiring the Office of Oil Spill Prevention and Response to post best practices for local jurisdictions adopting an oil spill response plan.

Along with signing bills, Newsom also announced Friday he is calling for a windfall tax on oil companies, which have increased gas prices in California by a record 84 cents per gallon in the last 10 days while enjoying profits of nearly $100 billion within three months. The governor also directed the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to make an early transition to winter-blend gasoline, which is expected to increase oil supplies by 5-10% and send gas prices plummeting. 

“Crude oil prices are down but oil and gas companies have jacked up prices at the pump in California. This doesn’t add up,” Newsom said in a statement. “We’re not going to stand by while greedy oil companies fleece Californians.”

Workers and disability support

Newsom signed Senate Bill 951 to boost leave benefits for lower- and middle-income employees who take time off to care for loved ones. It extends increased wage replacement rates for disability insurance and paid family leave that were to sunset at the end of 2022.

Assembly Bill 1041 also enables workers to take paid sick leave or family leave in order to care for any person. Assembly Bill 152 will extend Covid-19 paid sick leave through the end of 2022, and Assembly Bill 1949 expands job-protected bereavement leave. 

Newsom also signed Assembly Bill 1663, reforming California’s probate conservatorship system to let older people and those with disabilities pursue supported decision-making as a less restrictive alternative to conservatorship.

The bill also requires that conservatorship alternatives are included in a petition for conservatorship. Courts are required to provide conservatees with information regarding their rights, but are allowed to terminate a conservatorship without a hearing if both a conservatee and conservator agree.

Aid for students

The governor signed more than 10 bills to support the state’s community college students, such as ensuring that students can directly enroll in transfer-level math and English courses if they need them. The bills also fund expanded supervised tutoring and offer debt cancellation for those looking to re-enroll at community college. 

“Today is a groundbreaking moment in the future of higher education as we finally turn the page on antiquated placement tests that pressure students into classes that do not count toward their graduation requirements,” said Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin, a Democrat from Thousand Oaks. “The signing of AB 1705 & AB 1187 coupled with the $64 million investment in tutoring students to earn college credits, will ensure that students and faculty receive the resources they need to make students successful.”

Newsom also signed a large package of bills to support K-12 students, including those experiencing homelessness or needing early support. Among them was Assembly Bill 2806 to ensure equitable treatment of children in state preschool and child care programs by prohibiting suspensions and expulsions except as a last resort. The bill looks to prevent suspensions that disproportionately impact toddlers and preschoolers of color.

New holidays

Newsom also signed bills that set California apart from the rest of the country by making Juneteenth and Genocide Remembrance Day state holidays by law. 

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