Legislative Update – August 2020

Legislative Update – August 2020

  • Post category:Legislation

Important Dates & Deadlines

August 31st             Last day for each house to pass bills 

September 30th      Last day for the Governor to sign/veto bills sent to his desk

End-of-Session Countdown Begins, Legislative Session Draws to a Close

August marks the final month of the two-year legislative session.  During this time, there is normally a sense of urgency within the Capitol community as the Legislature works to finish up business for the year.  However, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has only added to the annual end-of-session frenzy. 

Policymakers are having to work under a compressed timeline as virus outbreaks repeatedly compelled leaders to call extended recesses.  Further, adjustments to how hearings are being conducted as a means to adhere to physical distancing guidelines have also cut down the amount of time to work on policy.   As a result, it has been reported that about 75 percent of the proposals introduced back in January have been nixed.  Paring down bill loads has led to interhouse tension.  Specifically, the Senate and Assembly are both frustrated by how each is handling the other’s bills.  Further, they have disagreed on the extent to which they can allow remote voting.

“The Speaker and I and our staffs talk constantly, especially at the end of session,” Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) said. “That will continue.  Having led both houses I know the approaches along the way can differ, but in the end we reach the same goal.”

The Assembly and Senate face an August 14th and 15th deadline, respectively, to pass bills from policy committees to the floor for final votes.   Stay tuned…. 

Prisoner Rights Group Protest Outside Governor’s Home 

On Monday, July 27th, a group of protestors from the California Liberation Civilization Organization chained themselves together outside Governor Gavin Newsom’s home.  They called for the release of inmates and an end to immigration transfers from prisons to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.  According to CHP, an estimate of 60 protestors arrived at the Governor’s home around 6:30 a.m.  Ultimately,14 protestors were arrested and charged with trespassing and failure to leave, unlawful assembly, and failure to disperse after a warning.   

The protest comes as prisons, jails, and ICE detention centers are faced with the spread of the coronavirus.  According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), there have been 858 new coronavirus cases reported in the state prisons over the last two weeks.  Currently, San Quentin State Prison and the California Correctional Institution have the highest number of active coronavirus cases in the state, with 414 and 204 cases, respectively.  Overall, a total of 47 deaths from the virus have been reported.   

During his press conference, Governor Newsom responded to the protest stating, “The worst thing we could do is mass release, where people are just released out to the streets and sidewalks, and end up on benches and up in parks, on the side of the road.” he said.  “That’s not compassion, that would be … making the problem, in fact, worse.” He added that the state is working diligently and methodically to address the issue. 

The department had previously reported that approximately 8,000 low-level inmates could be eligible for release by the end of August.

Republican Lawmakers Views Vary on Prisoner Releases

California Republican Legislators are mixed over Governor Gavin Newsom’s call to release 8,000 state prison inmates early by the end of summer.

The move is supported by Assembly Republican Leader Marie Waldron (R-Escondido), who called it “a major step” in a statement released last Friday afternoon.   “The coronavirus brings into focus the serious threat that a pandemic and other disasters can inflict on the incarcerated population, staff and criminal justice operations in our state,” she said.  “Recent media reports have exposed many problems in California’s prisons, including a lack of space, access to physical and mental healthcare, safety equipment and sanitary supplies, as well as shutdowns of services, building deficiencies, increased trauma due to disruptions in communication with loved ones, and of course a general lack of preparedness by the state.”

In response to Governor’s action, the California Republican Party tweeted, “And Dems want to defund the police with 8,000 newly released inmates in our communities?”  Senate Minority Leader Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield) also shared a link to a story about the release with the hashtag #CADeservesBetter.  Additionally, Senator Scott Wilk (R-Santa Clarita) tweeted that the release of 8,000 inmates “strikes me as using the pandemic for social engineering” and that the decision “raises the risk of contracting COVID for all of California.”

State Prison Agency Announces Leadership Change Amid COVID-19 Outbreak

Last month, the California Correctional Health Care Services (CCHCS), which provides care that includes medical, dental, and mental health services to the state’s inmate population at all 35 California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) institutions, announced leadership.  In a news release, it was noted that this reorganization was done to support both the response efforts of the COVID-19 pandemic and to continue to move forward in delegating medical care back to state control.

Effective immediately, R. Steven Tharratt, began serving as Special Health Care Advisor to the Receiver.  In this capacity, Dr. Tharratt is providing strategic guidance on all health care matters and directly assisting the Receiver in evaluating institutions to achieve complete delegation to the State.  Joseph Bick is serving as director of Health Care Services, while Vince Cullen is serving as director of Health Care Operations and Corrections Services.

The personnel shakeup follows a massive outbreak at San Quentin State Prison, which had no known COVID-19 cases until the transfer of over a hundred prisoners from the California Institution for Men (CIM) in Chino in late May.  Once they arrived, several of those prisoners tested positive and the virus quickly spread.  According to CDCR’s data, there are currently more than 1,300 active cases at San Quentin.  Further, six prisoners there have died from the virus.  Additionally, roughly 185 staff members have also tested positive for the virus at San Quentin.

For more information, please see

https://cchcs.ca.gov/wp-content/uploads/sites/60/NR/PR_070620-LdrspChgs.pdf.

November 2020 Ballot Measures Assigned Numbers

On July 1st, Secretary of State Alex Padilla assigned proposition numbers to the legislative, initiative, and referendum measures set to appear on the November 3rd General Election ballot.  Secretary Padilla also invited interested Californians to submit arguments to be considered for inclusion in the Official Voter Information Guide.  The guide is mailed to every voting household in California and posted on the Secretary of State’s website.

The propositions CVUC is particularly focused on include the following:

Proposition 20 — Restricts Parole for Non-Violent Offenders. Authorizes Felony Sentences for Certain Offenses Currently Treated Only as Misdemeanors. Initiative Statute. 

Position: SUPPORT / YES Vote

Proposition 22 — Changes Employment Classification Rules for App-Based Transportation and Delivery Drivers. Initiative Statute.

Position: SUPPORT / YES Vote

Proposition 25 — Referendum to Overturn a 2018 Law That Replaced Money Bail System With a System Based on Public Safety Risk.

Position: OPPOSE Law / NO Vote

For more information, please see

https://elections.cdn.sos.ca.gov/ccrov/pdf/2020/july/20138rg.pdf.

Newsom & Others Issue Statements on the Passing of Sergeant Gilbert Polanco

On Sunday, August 9th, Sergeant Gilbert Polanco, died from complications relating to COVID-19.  Sgt. Polanco served at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) since 1987, beginning his career as a correctional officer at San Quentin.  He transferred to Correctional Training Facility in 1989, where he served until 1990 before transferring back to San Quentin, where he promoted to correctional sergeant in 2001.  Sgt. Polanco retired in 2005 and rejoined the department in 2011, where he served as a correctional sergeant at San Quentin until his passing.  He is survived by his wife, Patricia, and a daughter and son.

“Jennifer and I offer our deepest condolences to Sgt. Polanco’s family, friends, and co-workers. We are grateful for his many years of loyal service to the people of California, and his dedication to keeping our communities safe,” Governor Gavin Newsom said.

“Sergeant Gilbert Polanco is an example of the best of CDCR and his passing deeply saddens us all. His dedication to public service will not be forgotten,” said California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) Secretary Ralph Diaz. “On behalf of a grateful department, we extend our prayers of comfort and condolences to the Polanco family during these difficult times.”

“Our hearts are broken as we awaken to the news of the passing of our beloved Sergeant, colleague, and friend,” said Acting San Quentin Warden Ron Broomfield. “Sgt. Gilbert Polanco demonstrated unwavering commitment and bravery as a peace officer working the frontline every day during this devastating pandemic. His memory is carried on in the hearts of all the men and women who continue to battle this deadly virus at San Quentin. We mourn together with his family and pray for their peace and comfort in the midst of their immeasurable loss.”

In honor of Sgt. Polanco, Capitol flags were flown at half-staff.

COVID-19 has Lead to Inmate Fire Crew Shortage 

According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), 12 of the state’s 43 inmate fire camps have been placed on lockdown due to the outbreak of the coronavirus in the Northern California prison in Lassen County.  The lockdown poses a challenge to fire officials, as the Lassen County location is the primary training hub for inmate fire crews that aide Cal Fire in combating northern wildfires.  

On average, the state counts on approximately 2,200 certified inmate firefighters to help work the fire lines during wildfires.  However, prison officials say currently there are only 30 of the state’s 77 inmate crews available to fight wildfires.  This has created a shortage and challenge to the state during an expected above-average wildfire season. 

Each inmate crew is made up of 17 inmates.  They are supervised by either a correctional officer or a Cal Fire captain and serve as the state’s primary firefighting “hand crew” who are among the first on the scene and do critical work that includes cutting fire lines around properties and neighborhoods during wildfires.  State forestry and fire protection officials acknowledged that the shortage would pose a significant challenge during the summer as they are now searching for alternative crews and teams as replacements. 

Governor’s Appointments

Robert A. Barton, of Fair Oaks, has been reappointed to the Board of Parole Hearings, where he has served since 2017. Barton held several positions in the Office of the Inspector General from 2005 to 2017, including inspector general and assistant inspector general. He was supervising deputy district attorney in the Kern County District Attorney’s Office from 2000 to 2005, where he served as a deputy district attorney from 1988 to 2000. Barton earned a Juris Doctor degree from the University of California, Davis School of Law. This position requires Senate confirmation and the compensation is $159,068. Barton is registered without party preference.

Kevin Chappell, of Elk Grove, has been reappointed to the Board of Parole Hearings, where he has served since 2015. Chappell was a retired annuitant correctional administrator at California Correctional Health Care Services in 2015, warden at San Quentin State Prison from 2012 to 2014, and served in several positions at Folsom State Prison from 2010 to 2012, including chief deputy warden and associate warden. Chappell was chief of the Classification Services Unit at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation from 2009 to 2010, where he was facility captain from 2006 to 2008. He was correctional administrator in the Division of Adult Institutions there from 2008 to 2009 and a lieutenant at Richard A. McGee Correctional Training Center from 2004 to 2006. He served in several positions at California Medical Facility, Vacaville from 1995 to 2004, including lieutenant, counselor and sergeant. Chappell was a correctional officer at Folsom State Prison from 1987 to 1995. This position requires Senate confirmation and the compensation is $159,068. Chappell is a Democrat.

Minerva de la Torre, of Henderson, NV, has been appointed to the Board of Parole Hearings. De la Torre has served as a parole board commissioner for the State of Nevada Board of Parole Commissioners since 2018 and has been a licensed social worker at Desert Behavioral Health since 2017. She was a licensed clinical social worker supervisor and veteran justice outreach coordinator at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs from 2013 to 2017. De la Torre was a parole agent I for the Division of Adult Parole Operations at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation from 2008 to 2012. She was a mental health therapist at the Children’s Bureau in 2009. De la Torre was a foster care social worker at Niños Latinos Unidos from 2002 to 2008 and an eligibility worker II at the Los Angeles County Department of Public Social Services from 2000 to 2002. She earned a Master of Social Work degree from California State University, Long Beach. This position requires Senate confirmation and the compensation is $159,028. De la Torre is a Democrat.

Neil Schneider, of Sacramento, has been reappointed to the Board of Parole Hearings, where he has served since 2018. Schneider was an adjunct assistant professor in the Administration of Justice Department at Los Rios Community College District in 2018. He served in several positions at the Sacramento Police Department from 1983 to 2017, including captain, lieutenant, sergeant and officer. Schneider earned a Master of Public Policy and Administration degree from California State University, Sacramento. This position requires Senate confirmation and the compensation is $159,068. Schneider is a Republican.

Christopher M. Chambers, of Citrus Heights, has been appointed deputy director for the Office of Research at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, where he has served as acting deputy director since 2020 and as associate director of research since 2017.  He held several positions at the California Department of Justice from 1998 to 2017, including assistant bureau chief, branch manager, section manager, network facilities manager, lead analyst for desktop support services and desktop administrator.  This position does not require Senate confirmation.  Chambers is registered without party preference.  

Kevin Walkow, of Sacramento, has been appointed chief of legislative affairs, operations at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, where he has served since 2015.  Walkow was an attorney at the Office of Legal Affairs in the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation from 2014 to 2015.  He held several positions at Best, Best and Krieger in 2013 and 2011, including attorney and law clerk.  Walkow was a law clerk in the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office in 2010. He held several positions at the Office of Senator David Cogdill from 2007 to 2009, including legislative aide and senate fellow.  Walkow earned a Juris Doctor degree from the University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law. This position does not require Senate confirmation.  Walkow is registered without party preference.  

Michael D. Tubbs, of Stockton, has been appointed to the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training.  Tubbs has served as Mayor of the City of Stockton since 2017.  He served as a member of the Stockton City Council from 2012 to 2016. Tubbs earned a Master of Arts degree in policy, organization and leadership studies from Stanford University.  This position requires Senate confirmation.  Tubbs is a Democrat.

Mona Smith Houston, of Fontana, has been appointed warden of the California Institution for Men at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, where she has been acting warden since 2019. Houston held several positions at the California Rehabilitation Center from 2010 to 2019, including chief deputy warden, correctional administrator, correctional health services administrator II, and correctional services administrator I.  She held several positions at the California Institution for Men from 2002 to 2010 and from 1996 to 2000, including business manager II and accounting office supervisor.  Houston held several positions at the Regional Accounting Office under the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation from 1991 to 1996 and from 2000 to 2002, including senior accounting officer specialist, accountant I supervisor, senior accountant clerk, and account clerk II.  This position does not require Senate confirmation.  Houston is a Democrat.

Jeffrey W. Lynch, of Cameron Park, has been appointed warden of California State Prison Sacramento at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, where he has been acting warden since 2018 and has served in several positions there from 1994 to 2018, including chief deputy warden, associate warden, correctional captain, correctional counselor II supervisor, and correctional counselor.  He was facility captain for the Classification Services Unit at the Division of Adult Institutions from 2010 to 2011.  Lynch was a correctional officer at California State Prison, Corcoran from 1994 to 1996.  This position does not require Senate confirmation.  Lynch is a Republican.