April 9, 2021 Edition

Legislative Hearings Begin in Earnest, CHEAC Sponsored Bill Advances

This week the California State Legislature started back up a flurry of policy committees after their Spring Recess. All bills introduced in their house of origin with any fiscal implications must be heard in their policy committees by April 30 and non-fiscal bills must be heard by May 7.

Below, we highlight several bills of interest to CHEAC Members. Our full CHEAC Weekly Bill Chart is available here.

Public Health Infrastructure

AB 240 (Rodriguez) as introduced January 13, 2021 – SPONSOR

AB 240 by Assembly Member Freddie Rodriguez was heard in the Assembly Health Committee this week. This measure is sponsored by CHEAC, HOAC, and SEIU California and also endorsed by UCC, RCRC, and Public Health Advocates. Recall this bill would require the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) to contract with an appropriate and qualified entity to conduct an evaluation of the adequacy of the local health department infrastructure and to make recommendations for future staffing, workforce, and resource needs. AB 240 passed out of the Assembly Health Committee on a unanimous vote, 15-0, and moves on to the Assembly Appropriations Committee next week.

Communicable Disease Control

AB 526 (Wood) as amended April 6, 2021 – SUPPORT

Assembly Member Jim Wood’s AB 526 would allow dentists and podiatrists to independently prescribe and administer FDA approved or authorized vaccines. The bill will be heard in the Assembly Health Committee next Tuesday, April 13.

SB 102 (Melendez) as amended March 17, 2021 – OPPOSE

SB 102 by Senator Melissa Melendez would prohibit the Department of Consumer Affairs and any licensing board under its purview, as well as the Alcoholic Beverage Control, from revoking the license of any licensee for failure to comply with any COVID-19 emergency order without being able to provide non-compliance with emergency orders resulted in the transmission of the virus. SB 102 was heard in the Senate Business, Professions, and Economic Development Committee this week where it failed passage on a 6-7 vote with one member not voting. CHEAC opposed the measure out of concern for further risking the spread of COVID-19.

SB 306 (Pan) as amended March 24, 2021 – SUPPORT

Senator Richard Pan’s SB 306 was heard in the Senate Health Committee this week. The measure would allow pharmacists to provide expedited partner treatment (EPT) for sexually transmitted disease. The bill requires public and private health insurance to cover home STD kits, adds EPT treatment and liability protections for physicians when diagnosing and treating STDs, and requires third trimester congenital syphilis testing for pregnant persons. SB 306 would allow HIV counselors to perform specified STD tests and would require counselors to provide appropriate counseling and referrals before performing tests. SB 306 was advanced from the Senate Health Committee to the Senate Business, Professions, and Economic Development Committee on a 9-1 vote with one member not voting. The bill will next be heard on April 19.


AB 654 (Reyes) as introduced February 12, 2021 – WATCH

This measure, authored by Assembly Member Eloise Gómez Reyes, is a clean-up bill for Ms. Reyes’ bill AB 685 that was signed into law last year requiring employers to notify employees who may have been exposed to COVID-19 and to report workplace outbreaks of COVID-19 to the local health department. CDPH is required to post outbreak information by industry on their website. AB 654 adds new language to require CDPH to also report outbreaks by workplace. A broad coalition of employers are opposed to the bill including the California Chamber of Commerce, the California Restaurant Association, and the Western Growers Association, among others. AB 654 passed out of the Assembly Labor and Employment Committee this week on a 5-2 vote and now moves on to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

Health Equity

AB 1407 (Burke) as amended March 18, 2021 – SUPPORT

Assembly Member Autumn Burke’s AB 1407 was heard in the Assembly Business and Professions Committee this week. The measure would would require specified nursing schools and programs to include in its curriculum coursework on implicit bias. The measure would also require new nurse licensees to complete direct participation in an implicit bias course and would require hospitals to implement an evidence-based implicit bias program as part of its program that hires and trains new nursing program graduates. CHEAC is proud to support AB 1407 as a way to potentially reduce health and health care disparities among Californians of racial, ethnic, or cultural minorities. AB 1407 was advanced to the Assembly Health Committee on a 15-0 vote with four members not voting.

Governor and Legislative Leaders Strike Deal on $536m Wildfire Preparedness Package

Governor Gavin Newsom, Senate President pro Tempore Toni Atkins, and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon on Thursday announced an agreement reached to provide $536 million in funding to help improve California’s preparedness for and resilience to wildfires. The package consists of investments in forest health, improvements on defensible space, home hardening, fire prevention grants, and prevention workforce training.

The investment additionally includes public and private lands vegetation management, community-focused efforts for prevention and resilience, and economic stimulus for the forestry economy. Of the total amount, $125 million will be provided from Greenhouse Gas Reduction Funds and $411 million will be provided from the General Fund. Legislators hope to draw federal disaster prevention grants to match funds spent on home hardening efforts.

The Governor highlighted the agreement reached with legislative leaders during a Thursday tour of a wildfire fuel break in Fresno County. The agreement builds on $323 million in early action funding for wildfire prevention efforts included in the Governor’s proposed 2021-22 budget.

The Governor additionally announced that he is expanding and refocusing the Forest Management Task Force to enact commitments detailed in the Wildfire and Forest Resilience Action Plan issued in January 2021. The task force will be co-chaired by California Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot and U.S. Forest Service Regional Forester Randy Moore. The task force will also include CalEPA Secretary Jared Blumenfeld, Governor’s Office of Planning and Research Director Kate Gordon, CAL FIRE Director Thom Porter, CSAC President James Gore, RCRC Chair Stacy Corless, and Dan Hankins of the Inter-Tribal Indigenous Stewardship Project. Patrick Wright, Director of the Tahoe Conservancy, was appointed director of the Wildfire and Forest Resilience Task Force.

Additional information on the Governor’s wildfire-related announcements are available here.

California Can’t Wait Coalition Hosts Successful Legislative Briefing

Today, the California Can’t Wait Coalition, led by CHEAC, HOAC, SEIU California, CSAC, Urban Counties of California (UCC), Rural County Representatives of California (RCRC), and Public Health Advocates, convened a legislative staff briefing to educate members of the Capitol community of the critical role of our local public health departments and essential workers. The event additionally highlighted the coalition’s legislative and budget priorities, including an investment of $200 million ongoing state General Fund for local health department infrastructure and workforce and support of AB 240 (Rodriguez) and $3.45 million to support the assessment of workforce and infrastructure needs of local health departments statewide.

Today’s briefing featured Assembly Member Jim Wood who is championing the coalition’s budget request for significant investments into the state’s public health infrastructure. Assembly Member Wood highlighted the critical work of local health departments statewide, including during the COVID-19 pandemic, and discussed the urgent need to sustainably fund public health activities.

CHEAC Vice President and Riverside County Public Health Director Kim Saruwatari and Placer County Health and Human Services Director and Interim Health Officer Rob Oldham discussed the services and functions of local health departments, as well as local challenges resulting from a lack of adequate and sustained funding for public health. Numerous frontline public health workers from Fresno, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego counties discussed their work in public health and the services delivered to their communities, highlighting the need for additional infrastructure investments into California’s local health departments.

More information about our coalition’s request is available here and available here. A recording of today’s legislative staff briefing is available here; the password to access the recording is nDX08.6p

Governor Announces June 15 Retirement of Blueprint for Safer Economy

On Tuesday, Governor Gavin Newsom announced the state will retire the Blueprint for a Safer Economy and “fully open its economy” on June 15, 2021, if COVID-19 vaccine supply is sufficient for Californians 16 years and older who wish to be inoculated and if hospitalization rates are stable and low.

According to the Governor’s Office, “everyday activities will be allowed and businesses can open with common-sense risk reduction measures” including encouraging all residents to get vaccinated and mandating masking. The state will continue contact tracing and testing efforts to detect COVID-19 cases early and contain the spread of the virus, and the entire state will move into this next phase as a whole. The state will continue to monitor hospitalization rates, vaccine access, and vaccine efficacy against virus variants, with the option to revisit the June 15 retirement date if needed.

The state earlier this week also reached a total of four million COVID-19 vaccine doses administered to Californians in the lowest Healthy Places Index quartile, and over 22 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered to date. With the state reaching four million doses among the lowest HPI quartile, the Blueprint for a Safer Economy was again updated, adjusting tier case rate thresholds. With this update, 16 counties moved to a less restrictive tier this week. Those counties include Contra Costa, El Dorado, Humboldt, Imperial, Mendocino, Monterey, Napa, Riverside, San Benito, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Joaquin, Siskiyou, Sonoma, Tulare, and Ventura.

Relatedly, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) clarified that, unless there are extenuating circumstances, such as low rates of vaccine take up, a county will only move to a more restrictive tier if hospitalizations are increasing significantly among vulnerable individuals, especially among vaccinated individuals, and both test positivity and adjusted case rates show a concerning increase in transmission.

Oakland Mass Vaccination Site to be Continued Under County Partnership

Following a similar agreement to continue operations at a mass vaccination site in Los Angeles County, Governor Gavin Newsom this week announced the state reached an agreement with Alameda and Contra Costa counties to continue to operate the mass COVID-19 vaccination site at the Oakland Coliseum. Recall, the Oakland site was one of two sites in the state set up as a pilot vaccination site in a unique federal-state partnership between FEMA and Cal OES.

Under the agreement announced this week, Alameda and Contra Costa counties will enter into a unified management arrangement of the Coliseum site along with the state. Personnel and equipment currently being utilized at the site will remain in place to provide vaccinations for the next four weeks. The state will provide an allotment of half of the weekly vaccines for the site through the state’s third-party administrator while the remaining half will come from the partner counties. The site is anticipated to deliver up to 6,000 vaccine doses per day.

As of earlier this week, FEMA and Cal OES have administered nearly 625,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses across the Oakland and Los Angeles mass vaccination sites, with nearly 90,000 of those vaccines administered at targeted mobile clinics within the community. Of those vaccines, nearly 70 percent were administered to targeted underserved communities and people of color.

Additional information on the Oakland mass vaccination site is available here.

Little Hoover Commission Issues Brief on COVID-19 Impacts on Housing

The Little Hoover Commission, California’s independent state oversight agency, this week issued an issue brief in response to questions posed by a series of California State Senators relative to the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on housing in California. In developing its brief, the Commission determined that thousands of renters, landlords, and homeowners across California, particularly those of color, are struggling to make housing payments amid the pandemic.

The Commission further finds:

  • Essential workers make up one-third to one-half of the state’s workforce, and as many as 1.4 million essential workers live in overcrowded housing.
  • Roughly one-in-10 individuals in owner-occupied households have fallen behind on their mortgage, while roughly one-in-six renters have fallen behind on their rent; landlords have suffered as renters have been unable to pay.
  • Nearly five percent of mortgages were in forbearance in early February, placing California eighth among the 15 states with the most loans in forbearance.
  • Foreclosures due to the pandemic could exacerbate the racial wealth gap, result in a los of affordable rental housing, and negatively impact the health and well-being of homeowners and small landlords who experience it.

The Commission additionally outlines demographic insights into the pandemic’s impacts on California’s residents, finding that Black and Latino homeowners were over two times as likely as Whites to report being behind on their housing payments, and similar gaps existed for renters. Low-income homeowners and renters were nearly four and six times as likely, respectively, to be behind on their housing payments as high-income homeowners and renters. Further, renters with less than a high school education were more than three times as likely as renters with a bachelor’s degree or higher to be behind on their housing payments.

The Little Hoover Commission does not identify policy recommendations as part of its report. The full report is available here.

Siador Named CDPH Assistant Director

Governor Gavin Newsom on Wednesday announced his selection of Christine Siador as the next Assistant Director for the California Department of Public Health (CDPH). This past year, Siador has been Acting Director for the Population Health Division at the San Francisco Department of Public Health where she also served as Deputy Director from 2012-2020. Siador has worked within the Public Health sector for many years starting as the Regional Coordinator at the Public Health Institute. This position does not require Senate confirmation. Additional information on Siador’s appointment is available here.

CDC Declares Racism a Serious Public Health Threat

This week, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH declared racism a serious public health threat. Director Walensky, as part of the agency’s declaration, announced a series of new efforts being led by the CDC to accelerate its work to address racism as a fundamental driver of racial and health inequities in the U.S.

The CDC statement, in part, highlights the structural barriers present in the U.S. that impact racial and ethnic groups differently to influence where a person lives, where they work, where their children play, and where they worship and gather in the community. The statement further specifies that structural inequities “have resulted in stark racial and ethnic health disparities that are severe, far-reaching, and unacceptable.”

The CDC identifies the following actions it intends to undertake to address the impact of racism on public health:

  • The CDC will continue to study the impact of social determinants on health outcomes, expand the body of evidence on how racism affects health, and propose and implement solutions to address this.
  • With COVID-19 funding, the CDC is making new and expanded investments in racial and ethnic minority communities and other disproportionately affected communities around the country, establishing a durable infrastructure that will provide the foundation and resources to address disparities related to COVID-19 and other health conditions.
  • The CDC is expanding its internal agency efforts to foster greater diversity and create an inclusive and affirming environment for all.
  • The CDC is launching a new web portal “Racism and Health” as part of its ongoing commitment to serve as a catalyst for public and scientific discourse around racism and health, and to be accountable for its progress.

The CDC’s statement follows a similar declaration made by CHEAC in June 2020 and by county associations in March 2021, identifying racism as a public health crisis. A statement from CDC Director Walensky is available here. CDC’s new web portal on racism and public health is accessible here.

Biden Takes Action on Gun Violence Prevention

This week, the Biden-Harris Administration outlined a series of actions to address the country’s “gun violence public health epidemic.” Following numerous high-profile mass shootings in Colorado and Georgia, the Biden-Harris Administration called on Congress to pass legislation to reduce gun violence. In the meantime, however, the Administration announced it is taking a set of actions via executive order; these actions include:

  • Community Violence Intervention Efforts: The Biden-Harris Administration announced a series of investments in community violence intervention programs and services, including:
    • American Jobs Plan: Included in the President’s recently proposed American Jobs Plan, Congress is urged to invest $5 billion over eight years to support evidence-based community violence intervention programs that train at-risk individuals for jobs and provide other wraparound services to prevent violence and assist victims.
    • Medicaid Funding: The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will organize a webinar and toolkit to educate states on how to use Medicaid to reimburse certain community violence intervention programs, including hospital-based violence interventions.
    • Leveraging Existing Grant Programs: Five federal agencies are making changes to existing federal funding streams across 26 programs to direct support to community violence intervention programs as quickly as possible. Among those actions, the National Institutes of Health will prioritize community-based intervention research for its Firearm Injury and Mortality Prevention Research grant awards. These programs will provide $12.5 million to improve understanding of the determinants of firearm injury, those most at risk, and strategies to prevent firearm injury and mortality.
  • DOJ Rule on Ghost Guns: President Biden directed the Department of Justice to issue a proposed rule within 30 days to address the presence of “ghost guns” without a serial number.
  • DOJ Rule on Stabilizing Braces: The President additionally directed the Department of Justice to issue a proposed rule on firearm stabilizing braces which can make a firearm more stable and accurate while still be concealable.
  • DOJ Model Red Flag Legislation: Within 60 days, the Department of Justice will publish model “red flag” legislation for states. Red flag laws allow family members or law enforcement to petition for a court order to temporarily bar people in crisis from accessing firearms if they present a danger to themselves or others. The President is also urging Congress to pass an appropriate national red flag law.
  • Firearms Trafficking Report: The Department of Justice will issue a new comprehensive report on firearms trafficking and annual updates necessary to give policymakers information needed to address firearms trafficking today. The last time a similar report was published was in 2000 by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF).
  • ATF Director Nomination: President Joe Biden nominated David Chipman as the ATF Director. The bureau has not had a confirmed director since 2015. Chipman previously served at the ATF for 25 years and has been working to advance commonsense gun safety laws.

Additional information on the Biden-Harris Administration’s gun violence intervention and prevention actions is available here.