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E-168 - Tuesday, September 17, 2019
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RECENT AURAL PLEASURE:
TRUMP TAX RETURNS: Lawsuit information page for SB 27 (McGuire and Wiener): Primary elections: ballot access: tax returns.
MONEY MATTERS: This is the space where I'll be looking interesting contributions to party committees or non-capped "ballot measure" committee accounts affiliated with legislators. Standard contributions to candidate committees up to the 2020 limit of $9,400 for primary and general are not included.
IN TODAY'S NOONER:
Happy Taco Tuesday! I think I'm starting to feel normal again after that wacky end of the legislative year. Yes "normal" may rarely appropriately describe me but at least I'm somewhat catching up on sleep. Nevertheless, yesterday I wrote in the morning, had a yummy Korean lunch with my friend Bryan Ha of the California Federation of Teachers, got my locks trimmed by Jason Iverson, picked up some sumac at The Allspicery for a dinner recipe, recorded a podcast with Gibran, and made a great dinner with all farmers market ingredients. That's normal and damn it felt good.
Today I'll aim for the same and just put a PT Ranch in the sous vide jacuzzi for the day as I'm out and about. After writing, I'll be at PPIC's Election 2020 Preview, which as I noted yesterday will be streaming beginning around 12:15pm until the event ends around 1:30. PPIC also has a background paper "California’s Exclusive Electorate: A New Look at Who Votes and Why It Matters" as a great read before the panel discussion moderated by KQED's Marisa Lagos that includes CDP chair Rusty Hicks, NPR's Tamara Keith, and CRP chair Jessica Patterson. It will be livestreamed on Facebook and Twitter and the recording should be available immediately after the conclusion of the event at the streaming link earlier in this graf.
I also hope to start reading "The Meritocracy Trap" by Yale law professor Daniel Markovits, which hit the shelf at Capitol Books on Kay (next door to the Crest Theatre) last Wednesday. It's very relevant to the Dynamex discussion that had top billing this legislative year, as well as the perennial issues of access, success, and equity in higher education. I link to the intergalactic bookstore because it has the most information and formats. They offer "same day delivery" and, yes, it's cheaper. That said, if you're concerned with the "gig" economy, that driver is probably a non-employee, as likely were many people that handled it on its way to you. Shop local even if you have to get off your chair a spend a few more bucks.
Damn sad about the loss of legendary journalist and political commentator Cokie Roberts at age 75 after a battle with breast cancer. She goes down as one of the best of our lifetimes.
ALL THE NEWS NOT FIT TO PRINT AFTER THE JUMP...
HOUSING: President Trump is expected to bring up California's homelessness and housing crisis today on his fundraising swing through The Golden State, report Benjamin Oreskes and Chris Megerian for the Los Angeles Times. He is expected to announce a crackdown on "homeless camps."
In advance of the trip by POTUS and a coinciding visit to the Bay Area by Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson, Governor Gavin Newsom and local leaders asked the Trump Administration to do more to address the crisis, which is also affecting several other states. The request was signed by the mayors of California's 13 largest cities, the California State Association of Counties and the League of California Cities.
President Trump overnighted in Albuquerque after a campaign rally and is scheduled to land at Moffett Field in Mountain View at 11:10am PDT. He then heads to Palo Alto for fundraising events. Air Force One then heads to LAX and then the entourage copters to Santa Monica on their way to Beverly Hills for another fundraising event. He then overnights in an undisclosed location in the LA area and tomorrow's schedule won't be public until tonight.
He won't be seeing homeless camps in his destinations in California today.
If he's talking housing and homelessness today in between fundraising, the irony will not go unnoticed that his events are in some of the least diverse, wealthiest, NIMBY-est, and anti-SB 50 cities in California. Why? That's where the ATMs are, for Republicans and Democrats alike.
TOBACCO: As if it wasn't enough to have legislative Democrats fighting over how to cut back on teenage vaping use, now we have a one-upsmanship game between the Governor's Office and The White House. We talked about this on the podcast last night but I know many of you prefer to consume the written word.
Let's go back to the beginning of last week when AB 1639 (Gray) appeared to be heading to the Governor after a 76-0 vote in the Assembly. The bill would have required retailers to use electronic age verification for all tobacco purchases, rather than an ID check of those who appear to be younger than 27 pursuant to existing law. It also would have limited the advertising, packaging, and promotion of e-cigarette products in specified means deemed attractive to youth, and would expand enforcement and penalties on retailers selling tobacco products to minors. By the time it reached the Assembly floor, the limitations on where flavored e-cigarette "pods" could be sold were removed from the bill.
On Tuesday, author Adam Gray (D-Merced) parked the bill in Senate Rules Committee. The speculation was that it was because of the attention to the sponsorship of the California Democratic Party Convention by JUUL Labs Inc. and the interesting contributions spread among members, an Assembly Democrats committee, and the Los Angeles Democratic Party, as well as the mystery of hundreds of mysterious illnesses tied to vaping, primarily among youth.
But was it really parked because it was focused as much on conventional tobacco products through electronic age verification as e-cigarettes and really just killed any big legislation on tobacco for the year? Gray effectively killed the two flavor ban bills, SB 38 (Hill) and AB 739 (McCarty). He refused to set McCarty's AB 739 for a hearing in the Assembly Governmental Organization Committee that he chairs and Hill didn't bother sending his already watered-down SB 38 to the Senate, fearing a similar outcome of watering down or refusal to set the bill for a hearing. It was clear that one legislator would control all tobacco and e-cigarette legislation this year, because the Assembly sees tobacco as both a Governmental Organization ($$$) and Health issue, while the Senate sees it as only Health (except for taxes, which also go to Rev & Tax).
I'm not overlooking the SB 39 (Hill), which requires an adult signature for delivered tobacco products similar as required for alcohol, or SB 538 (S. Rubio), which requires e-cigarette manufacturers to submit descriptions and photos to the Department of Public Health to create a database for reference by school officials, parents, and others to identify such products. No disrespect to the authors, but those were low-hanging fruit with little opposition.
In short, the Legislature bailed without any meaningful reduction of the availability of e-cigarettes and pods to youth or an increase in age verification and endorsement. Assemblymembers can proudly proclaim that "I voted to require electronic age verification and a crackdown on advertisements" in those town hall meetings and mailers leading up to next year's elections. We will hear lots of similar statements on many issues by members of Congress from both parties following the 116th Congress, from which little remarkable will emerge. Lots of votes in favor or against things were destined to face the legislative guillotine anyway.
Back to last week. On Wednesday, the day after Gray parked AB 1639, President Trump held an Oval Office press avail to announce that the Food and Drug Administration would advance regulations to prohibit all e-cigarette flavors except tobacco. While many folks are justifiably cynical that the regulations will ever become law, the President now had the football that the California Legislature had fumbled. Make no doubt about it, this is a smoking hot political issue, particularly among suburban women who could decide many elections, including the presidential next year.
So yesterday, as the hamsters were spinning the wheel to get The Nooner to your inbox, Governor Gavin Newsom held a presser to announce an executive order he was signing to address the issue. In other words, he tried to force a fumble by Trump, grab the ball, and take it down the field.
The executive order:
The only new actionable item from my read is the expansion of the existing anti-tobacco and anti-nicotine campaign by the California Department of Public Health to include digital ads social media. If you watch TV, you likely have seen the existing CDPH campaign ads against teen vaping and they could have expanded to digital with the existing tobacco tax funds. The governor's action directs CDPH to use at least $20 million in tobacco and cannabis tax funds to discourage teen vaping.
After the Governor's announcement, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network responded:
"We are clearly disappointed that Governor Gavin Newsom’s executive order does not do more to stem the youth tobacco epidemic. ACS CAN feels strongly a complete sales restriction on all flavored tobacco products is urgently needed. The restrictions should cover candy, fruit and minty e-cigarettes, menthol cigarettes and any other flavored tobacco products including cigars."
Senator Jerry Hill, Assemblymember Kevin McCarty, and Assemblymember Jim Wood, all Democrats who had stricter bills shelved this year, issued a release:
"We appreciate Governor Newsom’s engagement and look forward to working with him to go beyond these initial steps with legislation that takes the strongest action possible to stem the epidemic use by our youth of flavored tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and other vape products. With more than 3.6 million middle and high school students using e-cigarettes, our youth are being misled to believe that these flavored tobacco products are a ‘safe tobacco alternative,’ when in fact, they harm brain and lung development and are sending our teens to the hospital. We must build a strong, comprehensive legislative package to attack this problem in California – and get to the heart of the problem: the products themselves. We fully support the Governor’s belief that these products should be banned, and we look forward to working with him to pass legislation that will bring an end to this public health crisis and protect the youth in our state."
Politicians are going to talk about actions to reduce teen vaping and tobacco use this year. The fact is that the only measurable actions were Jerry Hill's SB 39 and Susan Rubio's SB 538. They are straightforward bills and I expect Newsom will sign them, but they aren't earth-shaking.
So, meaningful legislation to crack down on the sales of flavored products, the alternative of limiting most flavors to tobacco stores allowing only 21+ entrance, mandatory electronic age verification for all tobacco purchases, and enhanced enforcement and fines on retailers all died in the California Legislature this year.
As you see above under my new Money Matters item, on the first business day after the legislative year came to a close, Assemblymember Adam Gray accepted $25,000 to his ballot measure committee from Philip Morris USA, the maker of America's most popular cigarette, Marlboro. What's that? You thought legislative candidates were limited to $9,400 per donor for the 2020 election ($4,700 each for primary and general)?
Gray's ballot measure committee last year accepted $35,000 from RJ Reynolds Tobacco, $25,000 from JUUL Labs Inc., and $25,000 from Philip Morris USA. Like many legislators, Gray's ballot measure committee doesn't have a ballot measure and only provided token support to last year's failed water bond to assist with Valley water projects. Under the law, as long as a reasonable possible future ballot measure can be identified, funds can be raised and spent by such supplemental committees as long as they aren't for the direct purpose of the legislator's re-election. Thus, it's a great parking lot for contributions exceeding the candidate committee limits and also for less-than-politically-savory money from interests.
To longtimers of the California Legislature, Adam Gray is the polar opposite of Terry Friedman (D-Santa Monica), who authored AB 13 in 1993, California's workplace smoking ban in 1993 and was an anti-tobacco crusader. That led to a cavalcade of tobacco legislation and taxes over the last 26 years.
Back to the $25,000 to Gray's ballot measure committee yesterday, I don't think it has anything to do with e-cigarettes/vaping. It is true that Philip Morris is an Altria subsidiary and that Altria now owns 35% of JUUL Labs Inc.
The three biggest players in the nascent vaping industry are Altria (JUUL), RJ Reynolds (Vuse), and Imperial Tobacco (blu). It was smart business to diversify as vaping caught on as a transition from conventional cigarettes as a better health choice for those addicted to nicotine. However, there is now nervousness that because of the "epidemic" of apparent health effects of the "safe" e-cigs in heavy media coverage that electronic nicotine could be moved into the pharmaceutical category, regulated and requiring a physician prescription. At worst, some believe the entire industry may disappear.
Knowing that major investments made in alternatives to combustible cigarettes might be a flop when even President Trump is outdoing the California Legislature, the vigilance is back to protecting the core product. What did they hate the most in what was close to emerging as California law this year?
Electronic age verification of all tobacco purchases, which would have replaced the "ID glance" of those who appear under 27 with a more cumbersome process. Giving them the benefit of the doubt that they support age verification (swipe of an ID as many bars currently do and licensed cannabis dispensaries are required to do, which compares the magnetic stripe with the deets on the front of the card), they fear that a 50-year-old who left his wallet at home and walks to the corner store where the owner knows the person will leave without a purchase for fear that there could be an undercover state official ready to assess a fine.
For Philip Morris, yesterday's $25,000 to Gray after parking AB 1639 after a unanimous vote in the Assembly makes perfect business sense and because of required campaign reporting, there is no smoke-filled room to obscure transactions.
I'm not directly saying that parking AB 1639 after the Assembly Floor vote was the plan all along. I'll leave that up to you. The end-result was the winner winner chicken dinner of the legislative year was nicotine interests, conventional and the electronic nouveau.
I know I have written extensively on this topic and chatted on the podcast with several guests about it. I repeat myself from previous days not to beat a dead horse (whoops, not supposed to use that phrase in a column that also mentions Governmental Organization Committee, which oversees horse racing), but because dozens of new Nooner readers come aboard weekly and thus the "story" must be completely retold.
I've shared my personal bias because of the respiratory health history of my friends and me. I have no personal beef with Adam Gray, who was a legislative staffer before being elected to the Assembly. He, like me, has many libertarian beliefs of personal choice. It's the definition on which choices are solely personal or affect others or the public's tax expenditures that we disagree about. Gray also voted against Dr. Richard Pan's SB 276 (Vaccinations: medical exemptions), which along with tobacco are two areas where I've expressed a rare personal explicit opinion on legislation this year.
That said, my job here is to tell the legislative and political story and nobody who has followed the bouncing balls on the topic and the related interpersonal dynamics among members on the topic would disagree that it's been one of the most fascinating legislative stories of the year.
AD73 (Coastal South Orange): The Orange County Republican Central Committee has approved a resolution to ask Assemblyman Bill Brough (R-Dana Point) to not file for re-election. Brough has been accused of sexual misconduct by four women and questionable campaign expenditures. Brough has denied the allegations and refutes them as made for political purposes. The LAT's Christine Mai-Duc has a great Twitter thread that covers the background for newcomers to the story.
CAKEDAY, CONGRATULATIONS, and CLASSIFIEDS after the jump...
CAKEDAY: Happy birthday to Assemblymembers Ed Chau, Tim Grayson, Sharon Quirk-Silva, former Assemblywoman Beth Gaines, Julie Phillips, and Jessie Ryan!
CONGRATULATIONS! Vienna Lam Rendon, arrived to Annie Lam and Speaker Anthony Rendon, arrived yesterday. Mom and Vienna are healthy and resting.