Author: lafocus

Calif’s AB 5 Contractor Law Could Soon Become National Standard

Quinci LeGardye | California Black Media

The national equivalent of California’s controversial AB 5 labor law is making its way through the United States Congress. On Feb. 4, House and Senate Democrats re-introduced the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act as HR 842.

The federal labor reform legislation calls for several provisions that would strengthen unions and protect workers and has built into it a number of similarities to AB 5, which reclassified millions of independent contractors in California as employees. In the Golden State, that legislation was significantly amended after passage with exemptions for particular classes of freelance workers.

“Democrats will always fight to defend the sacred promise to protect hard-working families while safeguarding the fundamental right to join a union. America’s middle class has a union label on it, and as the Democratic Congress works with the new Biden-Harris Administration to “Build Back Better,” we will do so in a way that tilts the playing field back to American workers and their families,” said Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA-12) in a statement after the bill was introduced earlier this month.

If passed, the PRO Act would implement the ABC test — the California Supreme Court standard for classifying a worker as a contractor – in all 50 states. The ABC test requires that an independent contractor’s work is free from the control and direction of the hiring company, and outside of the usual course of the hiring company’s business. Independent contractors who fail the ABC test would be reclassified as employees for the purposes of union organizing. The legislation would also weaken right-to-work laws, expand workers’ collective bargaining rights and authorize the National Labor Relations Board to fine companies up to $50,000 per labor law violation.

In California, AB 5 has been met with heavy opposition by the app-based gig companies it went after, including Uber, Lyft and DoorDash. After several months of court battles, Proposition 22 passed in November 2020, exempting app-based gig companies from AB 5. Prop 22 was the most expensive ballot initiative in California’s history; the Yes on 22 campaign was partly funded by Uber, DoorDash, Lyft, Instacart and Postmates, and it included highly persuasive television ads as well as ads in the apps themselves.

The majority of African Americans across California who supported the ballot initiative said they did so because they appreciate the independence, flexibility and work-life balance freelance jobs like driving for Uber and Lyft and other contracting positions offer. After the law took effect in 2020, many independent contractors working in fields from office support services to the performing arts said they experienced loss of work.

The PRO Act was first introduced in 2019 and passed the Democratic-held House in Feb. 2020. However, the bill died in committee, with the Republican-held senate opposing the legislation. With both the House and Senate now controlled by Democrats, the PRO Act is expected to meet less opposition. Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), as well as Congresswomen Karen Bass (CA-37) and Barbara Lee (CA-13), are supporting the bill.

Most of the emphasis for the PRO Act has been placed on union organizing, with multiple sponsors saying union organizing is the best way to bolster America’s shrinking middle class.

“After decades of wealthy corporations undermining our labor laws and four years of the Trump Administration’s attacks on workers’ rights, the PRO Act will restore workers’ ability to join together to demand their fair share of the economic growth they drive. This legislation is critical to supporting workers during this pandemic and to building back an economy that works for everyone—not just those at the very top,” said Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chair Patty Murray.

However, the PRO Act is reportedly modeled after AB 5, which has been challenged by several industries made up of the independent contractors that it was designed to protect. After months of uproar and negotiations from members of creative fields who lost work due to both the COVID-19 pandemic and the law itself, AB 5 was amended in Sept. 2020 to exempt multiple fields including freelance writers, photographers, translators, consultants and real estate appraisers.

Reports of independent contractors losing their clients and out-of-state companies refusing to hire California-based contractors spiked when AB 5 went into effect. It is unknown whether the passage of the PRO Act would have a similar effect.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 10.6 million independent contractors in the U.S. as of May 2017.

Tributes Continue in Pour in Marking The Passing of Apostle Frederick K.C. Price

Staff

Tributes continue to pour in following the death of Apostle Frederick K.C. Price, founder of Crenshaw Christian Center. Price—who is credited with birthing the city’s charismatic word of faith movement through his Ever-Increasing Faith Ministries— had been in an L.A. area hospital battling COVID-19 for the past five weeks. He was 89.

For the legions of those who followed and admired him, Price will not be remembered by how he died but by how he lived. It was a life of breakthrough, tremendous success, and the pinnace of celebrity in a profession not accustomed to it—all while redefining the heights to which a black man in religion could excel.

“Dr. Price, an apostle of faith, turned the ecclesiastical world upside down when he and Crenshaw Christian Center built the Faithdome.  It was his faith, in the face of obstacles, that inspired me to purchase the Great Western Forum,” Bishop Kenneth Ulmer told L.A. Focus.  “He modeled and lived the word of faith and stretched the vision of multitudes.” His vision was bigger than a building.  His theology was bigger than a denomination.  His faith was bigger than a season.  He was a gift to Los Angeles.  He was a gift to the Body of Christ.  He was the gift of a friend to many of us.  He was a gift to the world!”

Pastor A.R. Bernard called him “a giant in the kingdom” and an important part of the Black and American religious experience. To Dr. Bill Winston, he was “a man of unequaled excellence and integrity, was one of the greatest faith leaders in the Body of Christ.”

“It’s virtually impossible to be a preacher of the Gospel and not have been impacted by this giant in the faith,” said Bishop Joseph Walker, the International Presiding Bishop in the Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship, International.

By his own admission, Price came out of nowhere when in 1973, he established Crenshaw Christian Center and birthed a charismatic word of faith movement in the city and in black religious circles across the nation.

“No one knew who we were, and there were pastors in this city with people in their congregations hungry for information — who wanted more than the sweet pill of emotion,” Price told L.A. Focus in 2005. “Those people started coming over to our church. Their pastors were hearing about it and were mad at me.

“At one point in terms of what you might call charismatic word of faith ministries, we were the only game in town in the United States, especially amongst people of color.”

A forerunner to today’s African American mega pastors, Price would go on to blaze a trail that would rewrite the Los Angeles church scene, growing his ministry of 300 to near 20,000 and pioneering televangelism in the black religious community with his “Ever Increasing Faith” broadcast which at its peak had an estimated viewing audience of 30 million in a broadcast network of 84 television and 35 radio stations worldwide.

Of his decision to go on TV, Price recalled, “The Lord gave me directive to go on television. He told me where to go, what cities and markets in other words. He told me exactly what to do with the television ministry. And I just believe that if He chose me to do it, if I was obedient, that He would provide the resources. And looking back…that’s exactly what happened. Actually, there were highly populated black areas. Los Angeles, New York City, Chicago, Washington D.C., and Detroit, Michigan. These were and still are some of our highly density populated black areas. These are the areas the Lord told me to go into to.”

In a social media post, Bishop T.D. Jakes recalled, “The last time I saw him, I introduced him at our International Pastors and Leadership conference as a man who stomped his foot, and the entire world shook! It was an impartation from his many years of ministry we hoped for. There is no corner of the globe his message didn’t reach! And though he stomps no longer, the tremors remain as evidence he was here!

But Price’s impact wasn’t limited to ministry.

With his sprawling 32-acre campus, home to the Faithdome and the former site of Pepperdine University, Price was the largest landowner in South Central, and he and his wife, Betty, took pride in being one of the inner city’s largest black-owned businesses and employers.

“The construction of the Faithdome and the fact that on the day of dedication of the facility both that and the grounds that it sits on, was all paid for, without a struggle, without selling God short, without reducing God to the state of a beggar in the eyes of the world, but by the principles He has given me, that I taught, and the people responded to. That’s one of the highlights of my life.”

He drew strength from his family—his wife of more than 65 years and their four children, all of whom serve in the ministry, including Fred Price Jr., who now serves as pastor.

“The outpouring of love has been amazing and unbelievable. People calling to say how he saved them or changed their lives—how he was an icon. But Daddy didn’t see himself as an icon, just as a humble servant,” said daughter Angela Evans, CEO of Crenshaw Christian Center.

When asked in 2005 what legacy was most important for him to leave, Price simply said this: “That I was a man of my word. That I practiced what I preached and that nobody can find any egitimate fault in that.”

Services are pending. For more on Price and his legacy, check out our cover story in the March issue of L.A. Focus.

George Gascon Resigns from California District Attorney’s Association, Cites Lawsuit and ‘Refusal to Evolve’ as Reason

Dianne Lugo

Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascon has resigned from the California District Attorney’s Association (CDAA), becoming only the second out of 58 other state district attorneys to leave the group.

Gascon released a letter announcing his resignation where he blamed the organization’s refusal to evolve as his reason for leaving.

“CDAA continues to be a member organization solely for those willing to toe the ‘tough on crime’ line. For the rest of us, it is a place that fails to support us, our communities, or the pursuit of justice,” the letter said.

He also added that the lack of any person of color on their 17-member board was “blinding.”

“This is the leadership that sets the direction for an organization of elected prosecutors, all of whom disproportionately prosecute communities of color at a time when the nation is facing a reckoning over systemic racism,” he added.

Gascon also expressed disappointment in the CDAA’s backing of the lawsuit against him, filed by his prosecutors. In December, the Association of Deputy District Attorneys of Los Angeles County filed a lawsuit against Gascon, hoping to prevent him from enacting the landmark reforms he passed during his first week as DA. They included instructing prosecutors to stop adding sentencing enhancements, put a halt on the death penalty, and an end of cash bail.

The CDAA filed an amicus brief in Los Angeles County Superior Court in January that supported the lawsuit. A judge granted the association’s request for a preliminary block of Gascon’s policies earlier this month.

“While your decision to join litigation against one of your own members was disappointing, it was not a surprise given the politics of the organization,” he wrote.

Gascon joins San Joaquin DA Tori Salazar as the second sitting DA to leave. Salazar, a Republican, similarly criticized the CDAA’s opposition to criminal justice reform. Salazar announced her departure last Summer.

“We looked at what the CDAA was doing, and we just felt that they were in opposition to almost all change that the voters of California had asked us to enact,” Salazar said in her announcement.

Investigation Launched After LAPD Officers Appear to Circulate George Floyd Themed Valentine’s Card

Dianne Lugo

An internal investigation has been launched after one officer reported that other Los Angeles police officers had circulated a photo of George Floyd captioned with “you take my breath away” on Valentine’s Day.

Floyd’s family, Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascon and the police union expressed their outrage at the offensive image.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Chief Michel Moore confirmed other officers had passed the photo around. He also said the officer who’d filed the complaint had been interviewed on Monday to determine who had been involved.

“Our investigation is to determine the accuracy of the allegations while also reinforcing our zero-tolerance for anything with racist views,” Moore said.

“People will find my wrath,” Moore added.

At the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, George Gascon announced his office would review the incident to determine if any cases may have been “compromised by biased police work.”

“Celebrating the murder of a Black man at the hands of police demonstrates a profound absence of humanity. The mock valentine underscores the highly problematic, and frankly, racist perceptions that pervade the law enforcement culture regarding the communities we are sworn to protect and serve,” Gascón said in a statement.

The attorney for George Floyd’s family, Ben Crump, said the family was aware of the image mocking Floyd’s death last May that the LAPD seems to have circulated.

“The Floyd family is understandably outraged. This is beyond insult on top of injury — it’s injury on top of death. The type of callousness and cruelty within a person’s soul needed to do something like this evades comprehension — and is indicative of a much larger problem within the culture of the LAPD. We demand that everyone who was involved is held accountable for their revolting behavior and that an apology be issued to the family immediately,” Crump said in a statement.

The union representing LAPD officers also had strong words condemning the incident.

“The Los Angeles Police Protective League repudiates this abhorrent image and anyone associated with its creation, dissemination, or passive observation of it,” the union said in a statement. “If that image was created, “liked,” or shared by a member of the LAPD, the Chief of Police must act swiftly to hold those individuals accountable. There must be zero tolerance for this behavior in our profession, and any police officer who feels the need to be part of any online group that engages in, promotes, and/or celebrates this type of activity should quickly rethink their career choice because they clearly don’t have the judgment, nor temperament, to be a member of law enforcement.”

School Districts Begin Planning as Los Angeles County Hits Threshold to Reopen Campuses

Staff

Los Angeles has reached the threshold of COVID-19 cases required to reopen schools, but individual districts must now plan how to return to in-class instruction.

After the health department reported five consecutive days of less than 25 new cases per 400,000 people, elementary school campuses have received the all-clear to reopen fully. The schools can immediately reopen as long as they submit and post necessary paperwork with county and state officials. For this, District officials and teachers’ unions must agree on what the return to campus will look like.

The vaccination of teachers remained a considerable concern for unions. On Tuesday, Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer announced that teachers would become eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine starting Marc1. Although, teachers will likely face barriers as supplies of the vaccine remain limited and competition for the vaccine grows. Child-care workers, food and agriculture workers, law enforcement, and other emergency responders will also join the eligible workers’ pool to be vaccinated.

Ferrer said 12 districts have already submitted safety plans for reopening and had been approved by the county, including the Los Angeles Unified School District.

LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner said the district’s plan includes retrofitting 80 million square feet of space of school buildings to properly filter the air, providing masks and PPE, cleaning and sanitizing every room in every school, reconfiguring classrooms to allow proper social distancing and creating a school-based COVID-19 testing and contact tracing program.

Beutner added that LAUSD’s first school-based COVID-19 vaccination center opened on Wednesday at Roybal Learning Center near downtown Los Angeles. The site will administer Moderna vaccines.

$25 Million Will Be Redirected from Los Angeles School Department Police Budget, Pepper Spray Against Students Prohibited

Staff

On Tuesday, activists and community members secured a historic win in the fight against the Los Angeles Police Department in Los Angeles Unified Schools.

After months of delays, the L. A Unified School Board unanimously approved a plan that cuts $25 million from the school police budget and diverts it to the Black Student Achievement Plan, eliminates 133 positions (one-third of its officers), and bans the use of pepper spray on students.

The school board had narrowly approved the 35 percent reduction of LASPD’s budget in a 4-3 vote last July. However, exact details on how to redirect the money and implement the new budget had been difficult to establish.

Under the approved plan, all of the $25 million will go to the Black Student Achievement Plan, a $36.5 million plan to support Black students by hiring “climate coaches”, social workers, and other support staff. The Achievement Plan also promises to overhaul the curriculum and instruction in LAUSD schools.

“This plan enacts a long-standing community demand for Counselors not Cops, and is a first step towards replacing school police with more effective strategies for student safety,” the coalition of student activists and advocacy groups said in a statement. “This victory is a crucial step towards mitigating the years of disinvestment and ending the criminalization and over-policing of Black students and students of color in LAUSD.”

The campaign had said officers in schools disproportionately target Black and Latino students. A poll commissioned by the district found general support for school police’s presence on campuses but showed that only 35 percent of Black students felt safe with officers in school.

“I am excited by the Board’s opportunity to actually spend that money in ways that I, my peers, and the community at large have expressed time and time again,” said Student Board Member Kamarie Brown. “Our students have spoken, and the same message rings true. I hear the students. Police do not equal peace. Police do not equal safety. On the contrary, police and the culture of policing that runs across staff, faculty and administrators is one of the longest standing contradictions of education Black students in LAUSD.”

School police leaders continued to oppose the plan.

“The LASPD’s commitment to remain focused on supporting the District and providing safety-related services that support student achievement and positive outcomes is paramount. We have already initiated our plans to implement a service model and deployment strategy that aligns with protecting our school communities based on reforms that limit on-campus uniform presence,” said LASPD Chief Leslie Ramirez.

“Although LASPD was not part of the decision-making relative to the new policy recommendations that were announced today, we feel the proposed policy language has potential liabilities, lacks clarity, and will result in unintended consequences impacting the safety of students and staff.”

Rosalind Brewer To Become Only Black Woman Running Fortune 500 Company

Staff

Walgreens has announced its new CEO after Stefano Pessina announced his departure from the company in July.

Rosalind “Roz” Brewer, currently Chief Operating Officer at Starbucks, will take the helm at Walgreen on March 15, becoming the only Black woman presently in charge of a Fortune 500 company. She’ll become the third Black woman in history to do so.

“I am excited to work alongside the entire [Walgreens Boots Alliance] team as we deliver further innovation and positively impact the lives of millions of people around the world every day,” said Brewer in a statement announcing her new position. “This is especially true today as the company plays a crucial role in combating the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Brewer has experience as a trailblazer. She joined Starbucks’ board in 2017 and became the first Black woman to be COO of Starbucks later that year. Before that, she was the CEO of Sam’s Club, owned by Walmart, for five years.

Brewer has been candid about her experience as one of the few high-ranking Black women executives.

“If there is a place where bias doesn’t exist, I have not found it,” she said during her 2019 commencement address to Spelman College graduates.

“When you’re a Black woman, you get mistaken a lot,” she added during the speech. “You get mistaken as someone who could actually not have that top job. Sometimes you’re mistaken for kitchen help. Sometimes people assume you’re in the wrong place, and all I can think in the back of my head is, ‘No, you’re in the wrong place.’”

SoCal: COVID 19 Testing Is Coming to a Black Church Near You

Antonio Ray Harvey | California Black Media

The Tabernacle Community Development Corporation (TCDC), in partnership with the Los Angeles County Health Services, has launched a new program to expand access to free community-based COVID-19 testing in the Black community.

TCDC is setting in motion its effort in some areas of Los Angeles County where there have been the most minority COVID-19 deaths, infections, and hospitalizations. The death rate for African Americans in California’s most populous county is 155 for every 100,000 people compared to 95 for every 100,000 among Whites.

Latinos in Los Angeles County have the highest death rate at 276 for every 100,000.

This expansion is part of the “Black Church COVID-19 Testing Partnership,” a Southern California grassroots public initiative that will provide free coronavirus exams at pop-up health centers located at 35 Black churches.

The program goal is to provide free tests to 150 individuals at each church location daily through June 30.

“Throughout Black communities in California, and across the country, lack of medical service has resulted in a disproportionate and an inequitable higher percentage of deaths and infections by this deadly pandemic,” said the Rev. J. Edgar Boyd, Senior Minister at First AME Church of Los Angeles, commonly called “FAME” by Black Angelenos.

“The Black community bears a great burden with poor health outcomes due to longstanding inequities and racism in healthcare and related institutions,” Boyd continued. “The Black church has long played the role of advocate and provider, a place of trust. When the government failed us historically, the church stepped in to provide and care for our community. That work continues today.”

So far, across California, about 7.5 million vaccines have been administered. L.A. County residents – who total to about 10.4 million people — have received about 1.4 million of those COVID-19 shots.

About 2.8 % of all African Americans across the state have been vaccinated. Black Californians make about around 6% of the state’s total population of about 40 million people.

The African American Community Empowerment Council of California (AACECC), a San Francisco-based non-profit, has also kicked off an effort to provide COVID-19 exam sites at eight churches in Black communities that have been under-tested since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Working in collaboration with the TCDC of San Francisco, the launch also includes onsite, drive-thru COVID-19 testing at FAME. Founded in 1872, FAME is the oldest house of worship founded by African Americans in the city and one of the eight churches that will host COVID-19 testing sites.

The new testing sites at the churches will not require appointments, removing one barrier that has prevented some African Americans around the country from getting tested.

African American Church testing launch press conference.
From left to right:
Minister David Price, F.A.M.E, LA
Rev. Judi Wortham, F.A.M.E, LA Southern California COVID testing director
Rev. Gerald Agee, Pastor, Friendship Church Christian Center, statewide COVID testing director
Pastor Kelvin Sauls, community activist
Rev. J. Edgar Boyd , Sr. minister & CEO F.A.M.E. LA
Rev. Larry Campbell, FAME Pasadena
Bishop William Todd Ervin, Church One Long Beach
Dr. Abdella Usman, regional coordinator
Elder Joe Paul regional coordinator
Dr. Clemens Hong physician with LA County Department of Health Services who oversees COVID-19 testing of LA County
Photo by Ian Foxx

“L.A. County is grateful to work alongside First A.M.E. Church of Los Angeles, a long-time leader in this community, to roll out this new program that will increase COVID-19 testing access for the County’s Black residents,” Dr. Hong said. “While L.A. County has made strides in expanding access to COVID-19 testing, this new partnership will further ensure equitable access to testing for the Black community as testing remains a critical piece of reducing community transmission and improving health outcomes.”

Los Angeles County Health Services formed the partnership because the Black clergy and the church community have proven to be a trusted source of information and influence in the Black community, members of the African American clergy in Los Angeles say.

“Trust is sacred, and it hangs by a thread between the Black community and some of our institutions. The church has always been the bridge to engage the Black community, rebuilding the trust that has been broken,” said the Rev. Gerald Agee, founder and pastor of Friendship Christian Church (FCC).

“We urge those in our community to get tested. It is one way to help keep you and those you live with safe,” Agee continued.

Los Angeles County Health Services (DHS) is the second-largest municipal health system in the United States – after New York Health and Hospitals. Through its integrated system of 27 health centers and four hospitals – and an expansive network of community partner clinics – DHS annually provides direct care for over 600,000 patients, employs over 23,000 staff, and has an annual budget of over $6 billion.

Boyd said he looks forward to joining hands with the county and state to fulfill a critical healthcare need in his community.

“We are thankful for the support of Dr. Clemens Hong of the Los Angeles County Health Services, other county officials and Governor Gavin Newsom and his administration for the investment in this testing partnership with Black churches,” he added.

For additional information regarding the testing sites and DHS, please visit www.dhs.lacounty.gov.

Nixing Prison Time for Certain Crimes Among Proposed Changes to Calif. Penal Code

Antonio Ray Harvey | California Black Media

California’s Committee on Revision of the Penal Code (CRPC) released its first annual report last week. The proposal included 10 recommendations that would significantly reform California’s criminal justice system – if they are adapted into law.

Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), the chair of the Senate Committee on Public Safety, praised CRPC’s inaugural recommendations that, he says, “represent broad consensus among a wide array” of stakeholders, including law enforcement, crime victims, civil rights leaders, and individuals directly impacted by the legal system.

“I commend the members of the Committee on Revision of the Penal Code for their diligent work in examining our state’s criminal laws and justice system,” said Bradford, who is also the chair of the California Legislative Black Caucus (CLBC). In the past year, Californians have rallied for systemic criminal justice reform and have repeatedly rejected tough-on-crime measures at the ballot box. As Chair of the Senate Committee on Public Safety, I look forward to working with my colleagues and stakeholders on these recommendations.”

The recommendations are:

  • eliminating incarceration and reducing fines and fees for certain traffic offenses; requiring that short prison sentences be served in county jails;
  • ending mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent offenses; establishing that low-value theft without serious injury or use of a weapon are misdemeanors;
  • providing guidance for judges considering sentence enhancements;
  • limiting gang enhancements to the most dangerous offenses;
  • retroactively applying sentence enhancements previously repealed by the Legislature;
  • equalizing custody credits for people who committed the same offenses, regardless of where or when they are incarcerated;
  • clarifying parole suitability standards to focus on risk of future violent or serious offenses;
  • establishing judicial process for “second look” resentencing.
  • The recommendations, the report stated, address some of the most obvious problems that the CRPC found and indicate are glaringly widespread. The committee says the findings in the report are based on hard data and observational research.

    “The current system has deep racial inequity at its core,” the CRPC detailed in the 89-page report. “New data published for the first time in this report reveals that racial disparities may be even worse than many imagined. This report confirms people of color are disproportionately punished under state laws.”

    The recommendations follow a year of studying California’s criminal punishments, guided by testimony from 56 expert witnesses, extensive public comment, staff research, and over 50 hours of public hearings and committee deliberation.

    “We also sought out reforms that would have as broad an impact as possible with general consensus across interest groups, keeping in mind the twin goals of improving public safety and creating a more humane system,” the report stated.

    The CRPC was established to rationalize and simplify California’s criminal laws. The committee is also charged with advancing policies that keep the state on the course of improving public safety while making an effort to reduce unnecessary incarceration.

    The Legislature handed the CRPC special data-gathering powers, allowing it to observe all aspects of criminal law and procedures to make recommendations that would adhere to the state’s penal code.

    Many law enforcement and judicial leaders appeared before the Committee this year to address these problems and offer solutions that enhance public safety.

    “California must be a leader in criminal justice reform that will keep our communities safe and address the impacts that mass incarceration and ineffective policing have taken on poor communities of color,” Bradford stated.

    The recommendations in the CRPC report line up with two potentially game-changing criminal justice reform bills making their way through the legislature, Senate Bill (SB) 81 and SB 82, introduced on Feb. 9 by Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley). Skinner and Assemblymember Sydney Kamlager, who is vice-chair of the legislature’s Black caucus, are also members of CRPC.

    SB 81 would reform the state’s use of sentencing enhancements that add years to prison sentences. The bill would also reform a 150-year-old law that gives prosecutors the ability to classify a petty theft charge as felony robbery.

    “Serving on the Committee on the Revision of the Penal Code gave me the opportunity to engage with experts and advocates to identify common-sense proposals for criminal justice reform.” Sen. Skinner said. “SB 81 sends a clear message to our courts: Sentence enhancements should be used judiciously, and only when the enhancement is necessary to protect the public. And SB 82 will help ensure that in the case of theft, the punishment meets the crime.”

    New Plan Moves People with Disabilities to Front of COVID Vaccine Line

    Quinci LeGardye | California Black Media

    On Feb. 12, after disability rights activists had blasted the state’s vaccine rollout for weeks, California officials made an announcement that might cool their criticisms.

    Health officials announced that people suffering from COVID-19 comorbidities or who are at higher risk of dying from the disease because of other medical conditions will be eligible for vaccination in March.

    “Beginning March 15, healthcare providers may use their clinical judgment to vaccinate individuals age 16-64 who are deemed to be at the very highest risk for morbidity and mortality from COVID-19,” read the California Department of Public Health bulletin.

    According to the updated guidelines, beginning next month, healthcare providers can vaccinate individuals with certain high-risk underlying medical conditions, including cancer, chronic kidney disease at stage 4 or above, chronic pulmonary disease, Down syndrome, immunocompromised state from an organ transplant, pregnancy, sickle cell disease, heart failure, coronary artery disease, cardiomyopathies (excluding hypertension), severe obesity and Type 2 diabetes mellitus.

    The guidelines also include individuals with developmental disabilities or other severe-high risk disabilities for whom catching COVID-19 will limit their ability to receive ongoing care vital to their well-being or for whom providing adequate and timely COVID care would be particularly challenging.

    Officials estimate that the change will open eligibility to 4 to 6 million more people once it goes into effect, bringing the total amount of eligible Californians from an estimated 17 million to 19 million people. According to California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly, implementation and verification details were still being sorted out as of Feb. 12.

    Previously, Gov. Gavin Newsom had announced that the state would shift to an age-based eligibility structure after the current Phase 1a and 1b tiers, which prioritize healthcare workers, certain essential workers and older Californians. The announcement was met with criticism from multiple disability rights advocates, who were concerned that younger people with disabilities would remain deprioritized even though they were high-risk.

    At the beginning of February, the state launched a high-level task force which included members from the departments of Aging, Disability Services and Health and Human Services, to determine logistics for how Californians with disabilities and underlying health conditions would be prioritized, based on a proposal by the state’s vaccine advisory committee. The task force had announced that it would make its official recommendation in a meeting last week.

    Andy Imparato of Disability Rights California, who also serves on the state’s vaccine advisory committee, said, “There’s no question that there’s going to be a lot of challenges, but there’s also no question that this new policy is dramatically better. This creates a safety valve for people under 65 who have a high morbidity risk from COVID.”

    Several disability rights advocates held a conference Feb. 10, before the eligibility change announcement, calling for a plan to give people living with disabilities access to the vaccines sooner.

    “We are waiting for that specific plan, we believe we can make that plan happen. There are a lot of resources in the disability community to make that plan work very seamlessly,” said Judy Mark, president of Disability Voices United.


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