They’re among the locations to which California lawmakers have embarked on special interest-funded trips during their month-long summer recess, which comes to an end Monday when they return to Sacramento for the frenzied final month of the legislative session.
The latest junket began Sunday, when a bipartisan group of five state lawmakers — led by Democratic state Sen. Ben Allen of Santa Monica — headed to Portland, Maine for the first leg of a trip that its organizer, the nonprofit California Foundation on the Environment and the Economy, is billing as a “research tour” of the “circular economy,” which includes recycling and composting. The second leg begins Wednesday in Montreal, Quebec.
Also on the trip: Democratic state Sens. Susan Talamantes Eggman of Stockton, Nancy Skinner of Berkeley and Bob Wieckowski of Fremont; Republican Assemblymember Heath Flora of Modesto; State Treasurer Fiona Ma; and Samuel Assefa, director of the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research, according to documents shared with me by the foundation.
Representatives from the foundation’s board of directors — who include business, labor, environmental, utility and local government leaders — are also set to attend. Participating organizations include Google, the League of California Cities, the Rural County Representatives of California, the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, the National Stewardship Action Council and the California Product Stewardship Council.
An itinerary of the trip, which is slated to last through Friday, lists meetings with political leaders in Maine and Quebec, as well as tours of an electric vehicle battery recycling facility, a glass bottle manufacturing plant, a lobster processing and shell reuse facility, a recycling and waste-to-energy plant and a food waste collector and composter.
- Allen said in a statement: “Like California, the state of Maine and the nation of Canada are pioneers in the ‘circular economy.’ By sharing ideas with our peers, we can strengthen the reach of California’s environmental stewardship while promoting new economic opportunities. These exchanges will inform the implementation of innovative policies and programs we are pursuing in our state.”
- He added: “This timely visit will highlight new approaches to old problems. Whether it’s seeing the progress in electric vehicle battery recycling, the expansion of curbside composting programs, or better methods for collecting and recycling bottles and cans, these informative exchanges will help us reach ambitious pollution reduction goals on broader scales.”
Allen was a key player in high-stakes negotiations with environmental advocates and industry groups last month to push through legislation designed to ensure all single-use plastic packaging is recyclable or compostable by 2032, while raising $5 billion from the plastics industry over 10 years to help slash pollution. After the deal, which Gov. Gavin Newsom described as “nation-leading,” proponents withdrew a November ballot measure that aimed to achieve many of the same goals.
The Maine and Canada trip is the latest example of lawmakers embarking on junkets funded not by taxpayers, but by special interests that lobby the Legislature — typically a combination of labor unions, corporations and trade associations.
- This summer, the California Legislative Irish Caucus took a trip to Ireland funded in part by the pharmaceutical industry, while 15 Democratic lawmakers went to Israel on a trip primarily funded by the Koret Foundation and the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.
- The California Foundation on the Environment and the Economy sponsored a trip to Portugal last year and to Iceland this spring.
- PJ Johnston, a spokesperson for the foundation, told me in a statement: Our “mission is to create an environment that engenders a free and open, yet informed, exploration of facts, views and proposals among experts and leaders from the various sides of public policy discussions. We do not address specific legislation. Rather, our research tours and in-state forums concentrate on the broad public policy complexities of statewide issues, and on best practices from around the world. We pride ourselves on being nonpartisan and on operating at no cost to taxpayers.”
The coronavirus bottom line: As of Thursday, California had 9,804,803 confirmed cases (+0.5% from previous day) and 92,469 deaths (+0.2% from previous day), according to state data now updated just twice a week on Tuesdays and Fridays. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.
California has administered 78,476,295 vaccine doses, and 71.6% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.
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Are CA police reforms on track?
Police oversight is undergoing a rapid transformation in California — some might say too rapid. New duties are piling up for the California Department of Justice, which is now tasked with investigating each officer-involved shooting of an unarmed civilian, and for California’s Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training, which now has the authority to decertify cops and is charged with developing a bias-screening process for police applicants.
But the Department of Justice has yet to close any of the 21 investigations it’s opened into officer-involved shootings of unarmed civilians since the law went into effect on July 1, 2021, partly due to what it says is inadequate state funding and insufficient staffing. Meanwhile, the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training missed its deadline earlier this year to finalize bias screening materials and is rushing to hire enough workers to finish developing California’s first-ever police decertification process by Jan. 1, CalMatters’ Nigel Duara and Byrhonda Lyons report.
CalPERS’ Russian investments decline in value
CalPERS has been having a bit of a rough go of it lately. The nation’s largest public pension fund — which provides retirement benefits for about 2.1 million California state and local government employees — had about $765 million worth of public and private investments in Russia when President Vladimir Putin first invaded Ukraine, according to a March 2 letter that Theresa Taylor, CalPERS’ board of administration president, sent Newsom. But, as of last week, those investments were worth less than $195 million, according to figures the system provided the Sacramento Bee. And, although CalPERS has tried to sell some of those holdings, it’s had a hard time finding buyers.
- CEO Marcie Frost told the Bee: “It’s been daunting, given that business activities are frozen and there aren’t buyers for assets that are rapidly losing their monetary value. Even so, CalPERS will keep doing everything it can to stand in support of the Ukrainian people and to protect our members’ long-term interests.”
CalPERS’ investments in Russia made up less than a fifth of one percent of its $450 billion portfolio in March, so their shrinking value doesn’t pose a significant problem to the pension fund, according to the Bee. But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine isn’t the only hurdle facing the system: Last week CalPERS announced a 6.1% loss on investments, its first annual decline since the Great Recession. And it’s under pressure from some state lawmakers to divest from the country’s largest oil and gas companies, though a proposal that would have forced it to do so was tabled last month.
Crews make progress on Oak Fire
Firefighters made progress Monday on the Oak Fire, California’s largest wildfire of the year blazing in Mariposa County near Yosemite National Park. Although it had grown to nearly 17,000 acres as of Monday morning, containment had reached 10%, according to Cal Fire. State fire officials told the New York Times they expected full containment by Saturday. Nevertheless, more than 6,000 people remained under evacuation orders Monday, more than 2,000 PG&E customers were without power and thousands of structures were threatened by the blaze, while its smoke prompted air quality warnings in the Sacramento region and the Bay Area.
Meanwhile, the National Weather Service said there was a 20% chance of isolated thunderstorms in the Sacramento area early Tuesday, which climate experts warned could increase wildfire risk.
- UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain tweeted: If the thunderstorms “materialize, there is some risk of dry (or nearly dry) lightning. Not expecting a widespread event, but given dryness level of vegetation even a modest event could cause problems.”
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