AB 216 – postage on absentee ballots (and a little healthcare)

Sorry I’ve been M.I.A. lately,.I could go into the reasons why (they’re actually pretty valid considering that typically when I’m ‘busy’ I’m really just watching Dateline reruns with my dog, doing a jigsaw puzzle, or brewing beer), but my life isn’t that interesting.

Politics on the other hand…I guess I should start by saying something about healthcare. It’s odd, I never knew how many of my acquaintances were experts on pre-existing conditions until this week. That’s me being a little snarky, but in all seriousness, it makes sense that everyone is paying attention to this one–unless you’re of the income bracket that you can pay all necessary or desirable healthcare costs out of pocket (you’re not reading my blog)–you have a horse in this race. So now what? While it may be satisfying to leave Darrell Issa a nasty message about how much you hate him for playing politics with our well-being and you’ll see him at the ballot box in 2018, I’m not sure that will improve anyone’s healthcare. If you have the inclination or wherewithal to read and understand the ACA and AHCA, definitely do that and try to present your reps with constructive ideas on what your needs are and what kind of health care policies would help you and your family. Sure, it’s not a rep’s job to cater to the hyper-individual needs of each constituent needs, but based on what I’ve read, a personal touch may stick out among vitriolic voicemails. Also, at this point, the bill is headed to the senate where it will likely undergo significant changes–make your voice heard! Also, if a measured educated opinion on healthcare is not something you feel you have the capacity for, simply informing your Senator of your position is better than nothing.

That’s enough about the rest of country, let’s return to the Golden State, where we need to consider the all important issue of….postage!

The Basics

  • Right now, if you get a mail ballot, you may have to put postage on it–this bill would require all state election vote-by-mail ballots to have an envelope with prepaid postage.

In-Depth

  • I realize that next to the healthcare fight happening out east this bill seems sort of ‘mehh’, but think about it for a second.
  • No, really, think about it. Voting is a basic civil liberty, should it be contingent on your ability to pay for stamps? Why should we pay money for something that is by definition a freedom? Also, to be honest, as someone who cares a great deal about voting, even I find mailing my ballot in to be an often cumbersome errand–it would be nice if I was guaranteed a prepaid envelope statewide.
  • On the flip side, this would cost local voter registrars money. How much? Would be burden be too great? Is it worth it? Could it lead to more people voting in districts where they no longer reside? (Research says no, voter fraud is not a major problem. Again, voting can be a pain in the ass, and when one vote means so little, there’s little incentive to game the system).

Who to call

  • Your state assemblymember. The bill passed out of its initial committee and is in the assembly appropriations suspense file, so a hearing date is TBD–not urgent, but when it comes up, it would be worth registering your support or opposition.

News Coverage

 

SB 190 – Getting rid of fines for juvenile offenders

This bill has already passed through the Senate Public Safety committee and had its hearing in Appropriations committee today. I’m writing this on the go, but I would be willing to guess it will make it to a floor vote and you’ll be wanting to call your Senator soon and Assemblymember down the line.

The Basics

  • This bill would get rid of some administrative fees for certain criminal justice programs forminors under the age of 21.
  • These fees include adminstrative fees for house arrest, drug testing as a condition of probation, damages to house arrest monitors, and other administrative costs that are typically passed onto the offender or their guardians.

Who to call

In-depth and News Coverage

AB 1578 – Protect state cannabis from federal enforcement

Excuse the cheesiness of writing about a pot bill today. But I’m in the Bay, so it’s sort of inescapable.

The Basics

    • AB 1578 would prohibit state and local agencies from assisting with the enforcement of federal marijuana laws unless coerced by a court order.

    In-Depth

    Since California legalized recreational cannabis last year with the passage of Prop 64, it’s had the same struggle with implementation that other states that have legalized face: weed is considered illegal federally, in the United States, of which California is one…weed is legal and illegal at the same time…hope those of you partaking in today’s festivities take a moment to soak that paradox in. In fact, marijuana is considered a Schedule I drug federally (basically meaning the federal government has categorized it as one of the most harmful and addictive substances) alongside heroin, LSD, peyote, and ecstasy.

    This is problematic as the state considers how to commercialize and gain tax revenue from its newest cash crop. 

    The bill text is here.

    Who to call

    News coverage

    SB 394 – No life without parole for minors

    Trying to speed up my posts–the next couple weeks I’m traveling quite a bit, and I’ve already gotten behind on my two-posts-per-week goal, so posts might be shorter in favor of quantity.

    The Basics

    • After 25 years of incarceration, convicts given life sentence when they were under the age of 18 would be eligible for parole.

    In-Depth

    Who to call

    News coverage

    SB 135 – Media literacy as a public education requirement

    I’m not even going to pretend to be neutral on this issue, as a journalist, I believe media literacy is important. That said, I’ll try to separate my feelings on this issue more broadly from my explanation of this bill. Since we’re on the subject of media and civics though, I’ll take this moment to link to the last of Capitol Weekly’s series of helpful legislative process explainers.

    The Basics

    • This bill came to me as a reader suggestion (I can’t say enough how happy I was to get a reader suggestion–if you have a bill you’d like me to cover, please email me!): SB 135 by Senator Bill Dodd. This bill would require California public schools to teach their students media literacy.
    • The bill defines media literacy as “the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, develop, produce, and interpret media and encompasses the foundational skills that lead to digital citizenship.”
    • I define media literacy as the ability to read and understand news, discerning objective facts from subjective points of view and to think critically about the facts that you learn.

    Who to call

     

    In Depth

    While the term ‘fake news’ seems to have lost all meaning at this point, the phenomenon it evokes is still relevant. The public has lost both its trust in the media and its ability to consume it critically. The issue is something I’ve researched pretty extensively as a member of the press. It’s complex, but it seems that even in cases where someone has the insight to see if an article is factual, they seek online environments and forums that only circulate the facts that confirm their opinions.

    It’s probably obvious that I think improved media literacy is a good idea, but I’m not in the business of endorsing bills, so I have still have questions.

    • Is this the best way to improve public media literacy? Using public schools as an avenue seems logical, but it could be costly, and it neglects the lack of media literacy among educated adults. Having attended California public schools, I know my teachers struggled to educate us while keeping to the curriculum that would be tested by a fairly pointless state test under dwindling budgets. Is it fair to add this expectation to their already heavy burden? How do teachers’ unions feel about it? How do parents feel about it?  Is there another, better approach?
    • Who controls the curriculum? One of the biggest obstacles standing between us and a more media-literate society is bias. How can we guarantee that those who design the curriculum won’t create a bias towards the sources they prefer and a mistrust among those they disagree with? The truth is that the truth is complicated. Knowledge is fraught with power and history, and we should consider that as we legislate how it’s consumed.

    The text of the bill is here, read it and form your own opinions, and you’ll already be on your way to a heightened level of media literacy.

    News coverage

    AB 42 / SB 10 – Reform the bail bond system–Hearing 4/4!

    One of my old high school teachers posted about these two bills on bail bond reform on facebook. I’ll try to avoid getting too much into the legal nitty gritty, as you’re unlikely to understand it unless you’ve been arrested and sought bail yourself, but if you know anything about the American criminal justice system, you’ll know that it’s so broken that it’s one of the few issues over which bipartisan coalitions for reform have emerged over the last few years.

    The Basics

    • This pair of bills would essentially reform the bail system, rather than allowing the judge or magistrate to set it at a fixed amount, there would be a pretrial risk assessment agency to provide recommendations to the judge. There would still be provisions in place for prosecutors and judges to ensure that potentially dangerous offenders.

    In-Depth

    • The argument in favor of this bill is that the ability to post bail is an economic privilege, making our justice system based on income rather than justice. What I find really interesting bills like this is the fact that they are legislating on economically disadvantaged groups as a protected class of sorts. In the past, protected classes have been defined by innate characteristics such as race, sex, gender, religion, etc. And certainly, we haven’t progressed entirely beyond the need for such groups’ protection, but acknowledging socioeconomic circumstances as a legislative issue is one step towards addressing inequality in America head-on. Though this bill doesn’t explicitly describe protected classes of any sorts, it’s unique in its awareness of economic privilege and the concrete consequences.
    • Here is the senate bill’s text.
    • Here’s the assembly bill’s text.

    Who to call

    News coverage

    SB 29 – Committee Hearing 3/28!

    I’ll have to start this post by revealing an embarrassing secret. You may have noticed that I cover quite a few of Senator Ricardo Lara’s bills. There is no kickback or arrangement involved (though if he wants to be forever in my debt as a background source or just open a tab for me at any nearby brewery, I will take it!), it’s simply this: after I left my gig as a Capitol reporter to go to Peace Corps I unenrolled from pretty much all my press release listservs. The exceptions were those for which I couldn’t figure out how to unenroll. Or those which required a direct email to unenroll. I’m not trying to trash talk Senator Lara’s communications director, I’m sure he would remove me if I asked, but I haven’t. I’m a millennial, unless something is automated and clickable, I can’t deal.

    Anyways, that’s the story with Senator Lara’s bills. I also get the Governor’s press releases, but he doesn’t write bills, so here we are.

    Anyways, there is a hearing for this bill today, so listen up!

    The Basics

    • This one is kind of a package deal in that it is closely related to the measures Lara hopes to take with SB 30 and SB 31. If passed and signed into law, SB 29 would essentially prevent local and state government from paying private contractors to detain undocumented immigrants.

    In-Depth

    • When I read this bill, I immediately went looking for news coverage to delve into this bill. Sometimes my eyes glaze over reading legal jargon, so if I read something that seems interesting, I usually pause and try to find a reporter who has called the staffers to confirm I’m understanding what I read correctly. There was surprisingly little news coverage of this one, however, so if you’re so inclined, check out the full text. Basically, as of now, it is legal for state and local governments to contract with private entities to detain undocumented immigrants. This bill would make that illegal.
    • One factor proponents focus on is the lack of accountability that comes with private detention centers. They don’t face the same rules and regulations as public corrections facilities and aren’t subject to the same level of public scrutiny (in particular, the Public Records Act).
    • I’m definitely interested to hear the committee testimony on this one before I make up my mind: how much do private contractors cost compared to state corrections facilities? How often is detention chosen over deportation? What determines whether or not an immigrant will be sent a private facility, or deported, or released, or sent to a state prison? What would this cost the state (often, this excellent non-partisan bureau called the LAO performs such analyses)?

    Who to Call

    • It’s currently in the Senate Judiciary committee. Call your senator, especially if they sit on that committee!

    Media Coverage

     

    An unimportant addendum to this post is just an apology, as I’ve lagged on my promise to post twice a week. I don’t have any excuses. I adopted a dog, so I’m busy with her. Her name is Stella, and she loves running and hates other people, so we are a good match for one another.

    AB 16 – Expand DNA Collection for Certain Convicts

    AB 16

    The Basics

    Expands provisions that require felony convicts to provide fingerprints and other DNA samples to require those convicted of certain misdemeanors to provide DNA samples.

    In-depth

    • The specific samples required would be: buccal swabs, right thumbprints, full palm imprints, and ‘any blood specimens or other biological samples required for law enforcement identification analysis,’ a final provision, which strikes me as quite broad (and would be a big question for any source I got in touch with).
    • Proponents include victims of crimes who say it would help solve cold cases and other criminal investigations, such as rape, murder, and assault.
    • Opponents are concerned that this law would violate individual rights to privacy, particularly for minorities and immigrants, who are already disproportionately targeted by most criminal justice laws and enforcement.
    • Here is the bill text.

    Who to call

    Media Coverage

    SB 239 – HIV transmission laws

    I’ll start this post not with a bill but with another little plug for my former outlet Capitol Weekly: they’re posting this great series of explainers on California’s legislative process, and if you’re reading this blog (or writing it), these pieces are super helpful to get a grip on how the state Legislature works.

    Also, I’ll throw in an update on a bill I’ve covered–SB 31 passed out of committee unanimously.

    Now to today’s law: SB 239.

    The Basics

    • Would reform the criminal penalties associated for having sex without disclosing HIV-positive status. This bill would lessen the penalty of the crime from a felony to a misdemeanor, as intentional transmission of most diseases already is under California law.

    Who to Call

    • Your state senator, especially if they are on the Public Safety Committee. The bill is in the Public Safety Committee with a hearing scheduled for March 28.

    In-Depth

    I’ll try to keep this brief because this area of legislation is exactly the type of thing I wrote my honors thesis on and would love to get into the weeds on. But since you’re probably not following this blog for a dissertation on Foucault’s theories of human sexuality and power relations, I’ll just give you the bill text and some bullets, but you really should go read this article on Stat News.

    • Here’s the full text of the bill.
    • Right now, it’s a felony punishable by imprisonment to have unprotected sex with the intent of transmitting HIV to another person. Intent can even be construed as knowingly failing to communicate HIV-positive status, even if you don’t transmit the disease. Senator Scott Wiener’s bill would make it a misdemeanor to transmit any infectious communicable disease. Wiener and advocates argue that existing law, which singles out HIV for generally harsher penalties, is discriminatory.
    • Honestly, go read this Stat news article, I found myself writing and rewriting the details of this bill with such difficulty because this issue is so loaded with history, emotion, and politics. I could barely find news articles with headlines that I considered neutral. Foucault on the brain.

    Media Coverage