California workers rally at Legislature for safer workplaces

Gun Rights

From Justo Robles of CalMatters’ California Divide team: 

Dozens of domestic workers laid banners on the state Capitol grounds Tuesday that spelled out the words “racist” and “injustice.” Then they cleaned them up. 

It was all part of a rally of several hundred domestic laborers to urge state lawmakers to pass more workplace protections. Aminta Morales, 46, a Guatemalan immigrant who cleans houses in San Francisco, said she worries about breathing in cleaning chemicals and hurting herself. 

  • Morales: “How long will my lungs resist the cleaning supplies? Every time I arrive at home I am prone to accidents. Once I fell on a bathtub and my back hurt a lot, but I had to keep working. What are my kids going to eat in Guatemala?”

The rally promoted a bill that state Sen. María Elena Durazo, a Los Angeles Democrat,  introduced earlier this year that would secure health training and safety equipment for workers like Morales. 

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  • Durazo: “This is about how you help a household in becoming safer. There’ll be those who want to exploit that domestic worker. We saw many examples during the fires, when domestic workers were asked to come and clean without safety equipment that they needed.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed an earlier version of this bill in 2020, saying turning private households into worksites would prove onerous for renters and homeowners.

Since then, Durazo’s office has made changes to the bill. It has been placed on the suspense file, which means it will become one of hundreds of bills the Legislature will vote on Friday with little discussion.

Also Tuesday, Democratic state Sen. Monique Limón of Santa Barbara gathered with restaurant workers and the nonprofit One Fair Wage to promote her Senate Bill 476, which would require restaurants — not workers — to pay for mandated food safety training.

The proposal is in response to a January report by The New York Times that the National Restaurant Association used $25 million from the training program, run by a company called ServeSafe, to fund lobbying efforts against minimum wage increases.

  • Limon: “Restaurants and ServeSafe have used worker funds in such a way that is not in the interest of workers’ rights, rights that California workers deserve and fought for tirelessly, like a living wage.”

Stella Denig, a co-owner of the Oakland restaurant Daytrip, spoke in support of the legislation, arguing that she already covers training costs (which can total as much as $15 per worker over three years) because it is better and safer for businesses, customers and employees when staff is properly trained.

In other legislative developments:

  • Bakersfield Assemblymember Jasmeet Bains joined a crime victims group and the state district attorneys association to speak Tuesday against SB 94, authored by fellow Democratic Sen. Dave Cortese of Santa Clara. Cortese’s bill would allow certain prisoners serving a life sentence without parole to petition courts for resentencing. Describing the measure as disrespectful to crime victims, Bains contended that it would make “some of the most dangerous and violent murderers eligible to leave their prison cells and return to some of the same communities they once terrorized.”
  • While the Legislature approved a bill by Assemblymember Buffy Wicks on Monday to reverse a state court decision that blocked a UC Berkeley student housing project, CalMatters’ higher education reporter Mikhail Zinshteyn explains that it won’t actually jump-start construction. The university said it can’t begin building until the state Supreme Court decides on its appeal, and the Legislature can’t tell the courts how to handle a case.


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A runaway constitutional convention?

Rifles and shotguns on display at a gun shop in Fresno County on July 12, 2022. Photo by Larry Valenzuela, CalMatters/CatchLight Local
Guns on display at a gun shop in Fresno County on July 12, 2022. Photo by Larry Valenzuela, CalMatters/CatchLight Local

From CalMatters state Capitol reporter Alexei Koseff

What do a lawmaker who proudly boasts of a 0% rating from the National Rifle Association and a longtime advocate for firearms have in common?

A warning to the California Legislature that Gov. Gavin Newsom’s resolution calling for a constitutional convention to adopt new gun control measures could open up a far bigger can of political worms.

The proposal — which seeks to amend the U.S. Constitution to raise the minimum age for buying firearms to 21, require a background check and a waiting period for all gun purchases, and ban assault weapons — received its first hearing Tuesday in the Senate Public Safety Committee.

Debate centered on a legal theory, which has been raised with increasing alarm even by some who support Newsom’s efforts on gun safety, that organizers cannot limit a constitutional convention to a single subject, thereby opening the door for untold other changes to our nation’s laws.

Sam Paredes, executive director of Gun Owners of California, noted that the last constitutional convention, back in 1787, was intended merely to revise the Articles of Confederation — but instead produced an entirely new governing document for the country. He suggested that Newsom’s resolution was an admission that the policies Democrats favor to limit access to firearms are otherwise illegal.

  • Paredes: “We have testified on all of these gun bills that have come before you and said they are unconstitutional. If you don’t like it, change the Constitution. Thank you for trying. Thank you for taking our suggestion.”

Among the other groups that registered opposition at the hearing was the California chapter of Convention of States, which is pushing for a constitutional convention to limit the power of the federal government.

Several Democratic members of the committee acknowledged the concerns about what else might come from a constitutional convention, but said they were assuaged by a provision to void the resolution if the convention addressed any other subjects. Legal experts said it is undetermined whether that language would be legally binding.

Then there was Sen. Scott Wiener, a San Francisco Democrat with the 0% NRA rating. While he supports all of the gun control policies in the proposal and would even go further, Wiener said, he could not support convening a constitutional convention.

  • Wiener: “We know that the same extremists that have completely rewritten the Second Amendment also would like to rewrite reproductive health access, LGBTQ rights, they want to get rid of the separation of church and state, they want to undermine voting rights.”

When the Democratic majority on the committee advanced the resolution 3-1, Wiener did not join them, abstaining from the vote.

His hesitation hardly dooms its prospects, however. The resolution, which needs a simple majority to pass, already has 23 authors and coauthors in the 40-member Senate.

Will California legalize psychedelics?

A bag of psilocybin mushrooms at a pop-up cannabis market in Los Angeles on May 6, 2019. Photo by Richard Vogel, AP Photo
A bag of psilocybin mushrooms at a pop-up cannabis market in Los Angeles on May 6, 2019. Photo by Richard Vogel, AP Photo

Also at the Legislature: One part of a wider and multifaceted effort to decriminalize and legalize psychedelic mushrooms faces a key test this week. 

Plant-based psychedelics have been associated with drug culture since the 1960s, writes CalMatters’ health reporter Ana B. Ibarra. But one bill and two budding statewide ballot initiatives are focusing on the potential positive health benefits of hallucinogens in hopes of pushing their usage into mainstream acceptance.

SB 58, authored by Sen. Wiener, would decriminalize the possession and consumption of specified quantities of psilocybin and psilocin (which is found in hallucinogenic mushrooms), mescaline (from the peyote cactus) and other certain psychoactive substances. He failed to push through a similar bill in 2021-22. 

The bill is in the Assembly appropriations suspense file. If the committee kills the measure on Friday, the two initiatives could qualify for the November 2024 ballot:

  • One from Decriminalize California would go beyond mere decriminalization and legalize the cultivation, distribution and consumption of magic mushrooms for Californians age 21 and older.
  • The other, called the TREAT California Act, would borrow $5 billion to establish a state agency to research and develop psychedelic therapies.

While some research shows that psychedelics can help treat depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, critics warn against unfettered access. The California Coalition for Psychedelic Safety and Education — a coalition of mothers who have lost their children after they experienced adverse reactions from ingesting psychedelics — strongly oppose Wiener’s bill.

  • Kristin Nash, whose son suffocated and died after taking psilocybin mushrooms: “I don’t believe people should be arrested for possessing and using mushrooms…. When we make this policy shift, we know that use will increase further, that adverse events will increase further, and so I feel like we don’t have to choose between social justice, equitable access and safety, we can do all of those things.”

Left high and dry

Entrika Zacarias sits in her home at Oasis Mobile Home Park in Coachella Valley on Aug. 23, 2023.
Farmworker Entrika Zacarias sits in her home in Coachella Valley on Aug. 23, 2023. Photo by Adriana Heldiz, CalMatters

Tropical Storm Hilary has come and gone, and while California recorded no casualties when it barrelled through the state last week, it caused a deluge in rural desert regions in the Coachella Valley, leaving low-income, immigrant residents feeling the brunt with little aid in sight.

As Alejandra Reyes-Velarde and Nicole Foy of CalMatters’ California Divide team explain, the storm caused an estimated $126 million in damage in Riverside County, where Coachella Valley is located. Undocumented farmworkers who experienced job lost or property damage are not eligible for most federal and state disaster aid. 

Instead, Riverside County is seeking assistance from the state’s Office of Emergency Services, and a county spokesperson told CalMatters it was working with the state. Meanwhile, advocates are pushing for Newsom’s administration to expand the state’s $95 million storm assistance program beyond the prior winter and spring storms and floods

But the state’s response remains unclear.

  • Luz Gallegos, executive director of TODEC, an immigration advocacy group: “I showed (Newsom) the flier and said, ‘Governor, we are still helping families affected by the previous storms. Considering what impact this may have, this is something worthwhile to extend for this storm.’ He was there more to listen and to observe.”

Speaking of flood damage: In one of his first major legislative initiatives as Assembly speaker, Robert Rivas introduced a bill Tuesday to speed up upgrades of levees along the Pajaro River that were ripped apart in last winter’s flooding. 

The small farm community of Pajaro was flooded in March when a levee failed, and promised state aid for undocumented farmworkers has been slow. Gov. Newsom has expedited emergency repairs and allocated $20 million to help rebuild Pajaro. According to the speaker’s office, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is ready to start work next year on the more extensive upgrades, but without Assembly Bill 876, construction couldn’t start until 2025.

  • Rivas, who represents the Pajaro and Salinas valleys, in a statement: “The extraordinary efforts of emergency response workers, community-based organizations and residents in Pajaro earlier this year saved lives and avoided a worst-case scenario. We might not be as fortunate next time.”

News you can use: Friday is the deadline to apply for individual federal aid for those impacted by the February and March storms. According to the state, $37 million has been approved so far.  


CalMatters Commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: The GOP attacks on Gov. Newsom for the EDD scandal are misplaced, but the fraud is a hot mess.

The Sites Reservoir is the latest proposed dam to offer a false promise of addressing California’s water insecurity, writes Keiko Mertz, policy director for Friends of the River.


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