California Government Relations Update

March 8, 2022

Pardon Our Dust

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COVID-19 Update

California recently updated its masking policies across the state, keeping in line with the new guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As of March 1, 2022, masks are no longer required for unvaccinated individuals in most settings.

In Los Angeles County, indoor masking at most public settings is now strongly recommended, but not required, for vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals. Vaccination verification is no longer required at outdoor mega-events or indoor portions of bars, lounges, nightclubs, distilleries, wineries, and breweries. Vaccine verification is still required at indoor mega-events with more than 1,000 people. The county’s relaxed rules do not change stricter local vaccination verification orders, such as those in place in the City of Los Angeles and West Hollywood. Some cities in Northern California also have similar rules, including Oakland, Berkeley, and San Francisco.

Masks are still required across California in schools and childcare facilities until March 12, 2022, when they become strongly recommended. After March 12, Los Angeles County school districts may continue to require masking at schools and during school activities. Masking is still required in public transit, emergency and homeless shelters, health care settings, correctional and detention facilities, and long-term care facilities.

What’s happening in Sacramento?

Gov. Gavin Newsom will deliver his annual State of the State address today, March 8, 2022, at 5:00 p.m. in Sacramento. Although the State of the State used to be the vehicle for the governor’s biggest public policy ideas, the state budget is increasingly being used as an alternative to push policies. Still, the State of the State is one to watch and will likely underscore the governor’s attempt to unify the California Democratic Party.

In October 2021, Gov. Newsom vetoed a pilot project bill that would have allowed people convicted of drug offenses to choose between incarceration or treatment, warning that “coerced treatment for substance use disorder is not the answer.” However, the appetite for mental health reform has shifted in Sacramento, as the homelessness crisis in California continues to deteriorate despite billions of dollars invested in homelessness services. Gov. Newsom’s newly introduced Community Assistance, Recovery, and Empowerment Court (CARE Court) proposal would push more people with addiction issues and severe psychiatric disorders into court-ordered care that includes medication and housing.

In other news, California’s landmark environmental law, California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), is at the center of a legal battle regarding housing and enrollment at UC Berkeley. Last Thursday, the California Supreme Court refused to strike down a lower court order directing Cal to decrease its fall enrollment by as many as 3,050 students. The California Supreme Court upheld that Cal violated CEQA by failing to build enough housing for its expanding student population, worsening homelessness, traffic, and noise and straining city services. In response, Sen. Scott Wiener introduced legislation that would exempt some campus housing projects from CEQA.

In terms of legislation, California Senate Bill 939 (Richard Pan), which relates to 340B manufacturer mandates, is of great interest to pharmaceutical manufacturers. CA 939 would require manufacturers to provide 340B-discounted drug sales to federally qualified health centers and entities receiving specified grants and federal funding and would impose a significant financial obligation on pharmaceutical companies.

In response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a bipartisan bill, California Senate Bill 1328 (21R), calls for CalPERS and CalSTRS – pension funds for state employees and educators – to stop investing in companies with ties to the Russian and Belarusian governments. The bill would also prevent state contracts to be awarded to companies working with Russia. CalPERS and CalSTRS are the largest public pension funds in the nation and have held more than $1.5 billion in assets. The bill has been referred to the Senate Rules Committee with broad bipartisan support – if it passes and is signed into law, it will take effect immediately.

What’s happening in Los Angeles?

The City of Los Angeles’s mayoral race is heating up, as a new mayoral poll from Loyola Marymount University (LMU) shows Los Angeles City Councilmember Kevin De León narrowly trailing Rep. Karen Bass. The June primary is only three months away, but more than 40 percent of self-identified registered voters remain undecided. According to the LMU poll, 16 percent of respondents said they would vote for Rep. Bass, and about 12 percent said they would vote for De León if the election were today. Councilmember Joe Buscaino, Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer, and real estate developer Rick Caruso are other standout candidates in the race, garnering 8 percent, 7 percent, and 6 percent support, respectively. It is worth noting that this poll was conducted before Caruso officially entered the race.

The policies put forth by Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón are also playing a major role in the city’s mayoral race, with Caruso and Buscaino coming out in support of Gascón’s recall. Critics of Gascón have blamed his “progressive” policies for a rise in homicides and shootings in Los Angeles County following his election. His restorative justice platform has come under increased scrutiny from law enforcement leaders, victims’ rights groups, and even his own prosecutors in past months. The Association of Deputy District Attorneys for Los Angeles County recently announced that an overwhelming majority of its 672 members voted to endorse a recall attempt. The current bid has already collected $1.8 million, with a $50,000 donation coming from Caruso.

Additionally, California state housing regulators recently rejected the City of Los Angeles’ long-term plan for growth. This will force Los Angeles to rezone by mid-October 2022 to accommodate an additional 255,000 homes. The city could lose access to billions of dollars in affordable housing grants if it does not appropriately amend its housing plan or complete the rezoning by the October deadline. This loss of funding would negatively impact the production of housing for low-income and homeless residents throughout the City of Los Angeles. Notably, 190 local governments in Southern California are out of compliance, and only seven have state approved housing plans.