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Political Playback: Capitol News You Might Have Missed

Tanu Henry, Antonio Ray Harvey and Joe W. Bowers Jr. | California Black Media 

Concluding Black History Month, California Black Caucus Honors “Unsung Heroes”

Closing out a month of Black History Month events, the California Legislative Black Caucus (CLBC) honored 12 Californians with its “Unsung Hero” award during a ceremony held at the State Capitol on Feb. 26.

The awards recognize individuals who have made significant contributions to civic life within each CLBC member’s district.

Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles) presided over the ceremony and presented a resolution on the Assembly floor celebrating the extraordinary work the award recipients are doing in their respective communities.

“The CLBC created the Unsung Hero Awards in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – to celebrate those who embody his philosophy and ideas,” said Jones-Sawyer, a member of CLBC. “We continue this tradition with this distinguished group of individuals.”

This list of honorees included city of Fairfield librarian Mychael Threats (Assemblymember Lori Wilson, D-Suisun City), Treehouse’s CEO and founder of Prophet Walker (Assemblymember Isaac Bryan, D- Ladera Heights), Young and Prosper Foundation’s Chris Jones (Assemblymember Akilah Weber, D-La Mesa), Oakland African American Chamber of Commerce’s President Kath Adams (Assemblymember Mia Bonta, D-Alameda), and Los Angeles Unified School District’s Government Affairs advisor Carolyn Fowler (Assemblymember Tina McKinnor, D-Inglewood).

Awards were also given to  Brother 2 Brother At-risk Mentoring and Gang Prevention’s co-founder Mervin Brookins (Assemblymember Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento), KBLA Radio 1580 talk show Host Dominique DiPrima (Reggie Jones Sawyer, D-Los Angeles)), California Justice and member of the California Supreme Court Leondra R. Kruger (Assemblymember Chris Holden, D-Pasadena), Vice Chair of Compton Unified School District’s Board of Education Dr. Ayanna Davis (Assemblymember Mike Gipson, D-Carson), and Moreno Valley youth advocate Kymberly Taylor (Assemblymember Corey Jackson, D-Moreno Valley).

On the Senate side, Dr. Thomas Parham, the 11th President of California State University Dominguez Hills, was honored (Sen. Steven Bradford, D-Inglewood). His wife Davida Parham accepted the award on his behalf. Fran Jemmott, founder of California Black Women’s Health Project and the Jemmott Rollins Group, was escorted to the Assembly floor for her award by Assemblymember Bryan, who stood in for Sen. Lola Smallwood-Cuevas (D-Los Angeles).

Asm. Corey Jackson Co-Chairs Joint Hearing on California’s Mental Health Crisis

On Feb. 26, Assemblymember Corey Jackson (D-Moreno Valley), a member of the California Legislative Black Caucus (CLBC), co-chaired an informational hearing on the escalating severity of California’s mental health crisis, and the challenges that prevent health care professionals from adequately addressing it.

The discussion was a bicameral session led by the Assembly Select Committee on California’s Mental Health Crisis and the Senate Select Committee on Mental Health and Addiction.

The hearing, titled “What’s Working and What’s Coming: Opportunities in Addressing California’s Mental Health Crisis” was led by Jackson and Sen. Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco), the two committee chairs.

One of the issues the hearing focused on was the shortage of mental health professionalsin the state, particularly in inland regions.

Jackson said the Legislature will take a fresh approach to evaluating mental health policies. After implementing them, he says, members will continue to assess the rollout and impact of the policy and make corrections when and if necessary.

“Just because we have made some historic decisions when it comes to our mental health system, that doesn’t mean it is the end of the discussion. It means that we still have work to do,” said Jackson in his opening statement.

“Our work will not stop until that population is stabilized and they are receiving quality and timely services that meet their individual needs,” Jackson added.

During the two-hour session that included time for public comment, a number of policy experts and medical practitioners, including a paramedic, spoke about “progress on workforce development” and “community engagement.”

Among other issues, the testimonies touched on shortcomings of existing mental health programs, resources practitioners need to improve patient treatment, shortages in the public health workforce and how the race, ethnicity and languages of the current workforce do not match the increasing diversity of California’s population.

New California Bill Responds to SCOTUS Affirmative Action Decision 

Last year, when the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) banned the consideration of race in college admissions, some members of the California Legislative Black Caucus (CLBC) and other lawmakers condemned that decision.

Last week, Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) introduced a bill, Assembly Bill (AB) 1780, that he says is a policy response to the SCOTUS’s ban on Affirmative Action.

AB 1780 aims to prohibit private colleges and universities in the state from granting preferential treatment to applicants who are related to donors or alumni, if the institution receives CalGrant funding.

“The practice is commonly known as ‘legacy admissions’ heavily tips the scales towards someone related to a donor or alumni of the university or college. The legislation aims to level the playing field by giving all students a fairer shot when applying to schools,” read a press release from Ting’s office.

“We want to make sure that every student applying to the most elite schools in our state has an opportunity and that it’s fair and equitable,” said Ting at a Sacramento rally where he announced the legislation.

Ting says California’s state-funded institutions do not consider income provide preferential treatment to children or relatives of donors and alumni.

California Forestry Association Hosts Annual Conference With U.S. Forest Service Chief Randy Moore

The California Forestry Association held its annual conference on February 26-27 at the Kimpton Hotel in Sacramento.

A key highlight was a conversation with Randy Moore, the 20th Chief of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service. Managing over 193 million acres of national forests and grasslands, Moore leads a workforce of over 31,000 employees dedicated to sustainable forestry practices.

Moore emphasized the critical role of collaboration and knowledge-sharing in managing the nation’s woodlands.

“As stewards of our nation’s precious woodlands, collaboration and knowledge-sharing are paramount. Participating in Calforests’ annual conference provides a vital platform for dialogue, where we can align efforts, exchange insights, and advance sustainable forestry practices,” he said.

The discussions at the conference facilitated alignment of efforts among stakeholders, and exchange of insights to advance sustainable forestry practices.

Chief Moore also expressed gratitude for the opportunity to broaden the forestry sector’s reach to traditionally underrepresented communities in California.

“Together, we can strengthen our resolve to safeguard forests for future generations. Moreover, this conference serves as a vital platform to broaden the audiences and reach of the forestry sector to the state’s traditionally underrepresented communities, ensuring that all Californians know that they have a stake in our collective mission of forest conservation and management,” Moore added.

California Will Stop Issuing EDD Payments on Bank of America Debit Cards

The California Employment Department (EDD) has announced that it will stop issuing benefit payments on Bank of America (BOA) Debit cards.

Instead, the EDD has already begun to pay people who receive unemployment payments as well as disability and family leave benefits on using Money Network prepaid debit cards.

The EDD says people receiving those benefits should expect the new cards in the mail, and that they can take up to14 days from the date they qualify to when they receive them.

“Through our partnership with Money Network, we are enhancing how we deliver benefits to our customers,” said EDD Director Nancy Farias. “That includes introducing a direct deposit option later this year – the fastest, most secure method for receiving payments.”

April 15 will be the last day that BOA debit cards can be used. The EDD is urging customers to use all the money on those cards or submit a request to BOA to receive a check with their balances.

According to the EDD, it will also implement a direct deposit option later this year.

“This service improvement is part of EDDNext, a multi-year transformation effort to improve the EDD customer experience – updating technologies and self-service choices, streamlining forms and notices, and enhancing staff efficiency through updated policies and procedures,” the EDD announced.

Sen. Shannon Grove: It Takes Two to Commit the Crime of Sex Trafficking

Sen. Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield) says “it takes two criminals to commit the crime of child sex trafficking, a buyer and a seller.”

Building upon that premise, last week Grove introduced Senate Bill (SB) 1414 which would impose longer sentences on individuals convicted of soliciting or purchasing sex with children.

“With the introduction of SB 1414 we are going after the buyers, those who are purchasing sex from children. Together, we are sending a clear message – not one more child,” Grove posted on Facebook.

Last year, Grove introduced SB 14, a bill that reclassified sex trafficking of children from a misdemeanor to a felony.

“I’ve had district attorneys from across the state say that this law has allowed them to prosecute these traffickers,” Grove said, referencing SB 14.

Grove contends that the penalties on the books for solicitation and sex trafficking of minors are too lenient.

“Under existing law, a person who solicits, or who agrees to engage in, or who engages in, any act of prostitution with the intent to receive compensation, money, or anything of value from another person is guilty of disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor,” the language in SB 1414 reads.

California Democrats Slam Fifth Effort to Recall Gov. Newsom

For the fifth time, political activists are attempting to recall Gov. Newsom.

Last week, prominent Democratic Party figures slammed this latest attempt by a conservative group called Rescue California, calling it a non-starter.

Los Angeles Mayor Karen bass responded to the news, “We beat them last time, and we’ll beat them again,” before pointing out how Newsom’s leadership has benefitted California’s largest city.

“Governor Newsom has delivered countless times for Los Angeles over just the past year helping us address the homelessness crisis, rebuild after the 10-freeway fire and recover from recent storms,” said Bass in a statement.

“Republican recalls do nothing more than waste taxpayer dollars and valuable time when we need to be prioritizing these important issues. This is the same group that tried to prevent Californians from getting vaccinated — they were wrong then for attempting to recall the Governor and are wrong now,” she added.

In a social media post on X, the platform formally known as Twitter, the Governor was confident.

“We will defeat them,” he posted.

California Democratic Party Chairman Rusty Hicks labeled the recall effort “the California Coup.”

“Some of the same individuals and groups who were encouraged by California Republican leaders and who attacked the people’s house are also engaged in a recall effort against Governor Gavin Newsom right here in California,” Hicks said in a statement.

This is the second time Rescue California has attempted to recall Newsom. The group’s last failed attempt was in 2021.

Last week, Newsom’s office also responded to a Bloomberg News report that he has exempted Panera Bread from California’s fast food minimum wage increase that is scheduled to take effect April 1.  According to the story, Newsom excluded Panera Bread because of his ties to Panera Bread franchisee and Democratic Party donor  Glenn Flynn.

Under the law, the fast-food restaurants will have to pay workers $20 an hour, up from $16.

Newsom’s. Office called the allegations “absurd” and clarified that, to be exempted from the minimum wage hike, a restaurant would have to produce bread for sale on site, which Panera Bread does not do.

State Superintendent for Public Instruction Backs Paid Pregnancy Leave Bill for Educators

During a rally held at the State Capitol in Sacramento on Feb. 26, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond announced his support for Assembly Bill (AB) 2901, or the Pregnancy Leave for Educators Act.

At the rally, Thurmond was joined by the California Teachers Association, other fellow advocates and elected officials who support the legislation, which was authored by Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D-Davis).

“Teachers must be able to afford to stay in the profession and start a family. By providing paid pregnancy leave for California’s teachers, we will take an important step toward achieving gender equity in teacher pay, and we will also make critical strides toward retaining great teachers to address the staffing crisis in California’s classrooms,” Thurmond said.

According to the bill’s language, SB 2901 would require public schools and community college districts in California to “provide up to 14 weeks of a leave of absence with full pay for an employee who is required to be absent from duty because of pregnancy, miscarriage, childbirth, termination of pregnancy or recovery from those conditions.”

SB 2901 was co-authored by the Legislative Women’s Caucus, including Senator Maria Elena Durazo (D-Los Angeles) and Assemblymembers Mia Bonta (D-Alameda), Sabrina Cervantes (D-Corona), Liz Ortega (D-Hayward), Sharon Quirk-Silva (D-La Palma), and Pilar Schiavo (D-Santa Clarita).

The bill is scheduled to be heard in committee for the first time on March 17.

Southern California Foundation Names Its First Director of Black Justice and Healing 

On Feb. 27, the Weingart Foundation, a philanthropic organization that partners with and funds communities across Southern California to advance racial, social, and economic justice, named Dana Henry its first Director of Black Justice and Healing.

“Dana Henry is a dynamic and values-driven leader who brings extensive experience working directly with Black-led and serving nonprofit partners to address anti-Black racism,” said Joanna Jackson, interim president and C.E.O. of the Weingart Foundation.

In the role recently created by Weingart’s leadership, Henry will “work to address the generational inequities and racism faced by the Black community in Southern California and support community-driven solutions for justice and healing,” according to a foundation press release.

Henry said, for her, the work is “deeply personal.”

“The generational harm that racist and unjust systems have caused families like mine serve as a reminder of just how critical it is that we come together to transform these systems and help communities heal. I look forward to building on the strides we’ve made, along with our nonprofit partners, to build opportunities for Black communities to thrive,” Henry said in a statement.

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