Op Eds

Get the Lead Out of San Diego Schools

As excerpted from Voice of San Diego 

Last year, a cafeteria water fountain at Alice Birney Elementary school in San Diego tested positive for dangerously high lead levels. Repeat tests found levels at nearly a hundred times what doctors warn should be the maximum allowable level of lead exposure.

The school district safety office immediately started providing bottled water for the children while investigating the source of contamination. Soon after, school officials discovered an old pipe was leaching lead into the drinking water. After removing the old piping and installing filters, the water tested clear and lead free.

On Election Day, San Diego voters will have an opportunity to prevent similar threats to our children’s health at school — by voting yes on Measure YY.

California should expand loans that help lower-income borrowers. This bill would do that

As excerpted from Sacramento Bee 

Hard-working Californians have long been the target of predatory lenders, which the California Supreme Court recently ruled can no longer offer loans with “unduly oppressive terms” and interest rates so high they are“unconscionable.”

While the decision is laudable, the court did nothing to clarify what defines “unconscionable” and what, if anything, the ruling will mean for working families who are borrowing at triple-digit interest rates and are trapped in an endless cycle of debt.

We believe that “conscientious credit” should be rooted in eight basic principles. First, lenders should verify a borrower’s ability to repay. Second, lenders should disclose the true cost of a loan, with no hidden fees. Third, loans should not have prepayment penalties or compounding interest, and the interest rate should be lower with bigger loans. Fourth, lenders should not make borrowers sign arbitration clauses or sell off debt to collectors before a default. Fifth, all lenders should report to credit bureaus so borrowers can repair their credit scores. Sixth, loans should have minimum payback terms, in months not weeks, so borrowers have time to avoid lump sum payments. Seventh, loan refinancing must be limited to borrowers who have paid off most of their original loan. Lastly, lenders should offer other financial products,especially in low-income communities.

In fact, California already has a lending policy that is helping hundreds of thousands of lower-income consumers and is rooted in these principles. And with Assembly Bill 237, which unanimously passed both the Senate and Assembly and is before Gov. Jerry Brown, the state is primed to create more low-cost access to larger loans for Californians.

The Legislature unanimously established the Pilot Program for Responsible Loans in 2010 for loans between $300 and $2,500 to help provide responsible alternatives to payday loans. The program has been working.

The freedom to decide who gets to turn in your absentee ballot

As excerpted from Los Angeles Times

To the editor: I don't think a single election goes by without someone crying foul on canvassers. Usually it's from the side that is losing or doesn't have as many volunteers. The complaint that led to The Times editorial critical of Assembly Bill 1921 is no different. ("Don't allow voter coercion and corruption to take hold in California," editorial, Nov. 15)

I authored the bill allowing a voter to let anyone turn in his or her ballot, similar to laws that have worked well in other states. I have seen firsthand how the elderly and disabled were disenfranchised by the previous California election rules.

Earlier in my career, when I was a campaign volunteer, I would go door to door on election day and, without fail, would find someone who had their absentee ballot filled out but couldn't make it to a polling place. As a result, they couldn't cast a vote. By empowering voters to decide who can turn in their ballot, we break down another barrier to voting.

Working Californians deserve a day at the beach, too

As excerpted from Sacramento Bee

While many Californians cooled off at the beach this summer, that classic experience is out of reach for a lot of hardworking families.

Soaring real estate prices on the coast have driven many families further and further inland. The cost of a trip to the beach – gas, parking and food – quickly adds up. In a recent UCLA statewide poll, 90 percent said the condition of the coast is important to them personally and 62 percent said that limited public access to the coast is a problem.

That is why we are championing a package of bills for beach access for all. For decades, officials have worked to take down fences and gates. Now we must turn our attention to the equally important but less visible barriers posed by high costs and inadequate transportation.

Senate Bill 5 and Assembly Bill 18 both propose bonds to generate funds to build coastal access and recreation projects, as well as local and state parks, with an emphasis on serving working class communities and communities of color that lack access to nature that many of us take for granted.

SANDAG needs reform. Why AB 805 is just the ticket

As excerpted from San Diego Union Tribune 

Can you imagine a government where the representatives of 15 percent of the population get to veto anything that happens in an entire region? That’s the reality facing San Diego when it comes to our transportation needs — all of which are controlled by the San Diego Association of Governments, more commonly known as SANDAG.

If that acronym sounds familiar, it’s probably because you’ve seen recent headlines. Maybe you read how SANDAG wrote a transportation plan that is being challenged in the California Supreme Court, after two lower courts found that the agency failed to address California’s greenhouse gas and pollution targets. Or maybe you read how agency executives purposely overestimated by billions of dollars how much money would be raised by Measure A last November. Or maybe you saw SANDAG acknowledging it will need $17.5 billion additional state and federal dollars to keep promises they made to voters in 2004.

What you probably haven’t read is who should be held responsible for these obvious shortcomings. That’s because SANDAG — which was originally created in state law — is a staff-controlled organization with rotating leadership of mayors and city council members from some of our county’s smallest cities.

What price for our democracy? Commentary by Alex Padilla and Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher

As excerpted from Daily News

We were surprised by the editorial board’s opposition to our efforts to adequately fund California elections. The arguments presented were particularly concerning in that they focused more on the method of the funding than the urgency.

California voting equipment is perilously near its life expectancy. Aging equipment presents a clear and present danger to our elections. In this day and age we must both identify funding to improve our voting systems and protect our systems from any and all efforts to tamper with them. With absolutely no indication that Washington will provide assistance, we must act.

The Voting Modernization Bond Act of 2018 provides a realistic and necessary solution. It invests $450 million in comprehensive modernization of our voting infrastructure, which will improve accessibility, security and reliability of our state’s elections. The act maintains California’s strict prohibition against voting machines being connected to the internet, and requires that these systems produce a paper record to ensure that election results are both auditable and verifiable. Additionally, funding for open-source voting systems will make California a leader in promoting publicly owned technology, providing a genuine alternative to the handful of vendors who corner the market.

Diapers Are a Necessity, and Helping Working Families Afford Them Is One Too

As excerpted from Huffington Post

When I joined the Assembly, one of the first issues I started working on was making diapers more affordable and accessible to parents. The lack of sufficient supply of diapers to keep an infant or toddler clean, dry, and healthy has ripple effects through the community, and with nearly 5.3 million babies in the U.S. age three or younger living in poor or low-income families, and one third of infants and toddlers with at least one parent working full time living in low-income families, it's a problem that demands real action.

We know diaper need is a serious, widespread problem, but while our existing government support programs work around the edges to define the problem, we still don't actually address it. California alone is home to about 2.5 million children under age five. One third live in single parent households, and the number of low income working families with children is more than one-in-five and rising. Medicaid currently covers over 1/3 of all births in the U.S. each year, and perhaps not surprisingly 1 in 3 U.S. moms report suffering from diaper need.

Sharing right to organize with gig economy workers

As excerpted from Sacramento Bee

Our economy is changing. We call it different things: the sharing economy, the gig economy, the new economy. But, it's clear that we are entering a new era of work and our old paradigms of labor laws that neatly addressed employee-employer relationships might not necessarily fit with what we're seeing.

We often think of Uber or Lyft when we think of this new economy, but this sector is exploding and now there are apps for nearly any job, like TaskRabbit or Handy. You can hire a maid, a plumber, even a lawyer, with a touch.

If Mega-Retailers Want to Start Black Friday Early, Employees Should Receive Double Pay on the Holiday

Forty-seven years ago, Robert Kennedy cautioned that "too much and for too long, we seemed to have surrendered personal excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things." But this Thanksgiving, while most of us will enjoy a day off and a home-cooked meal with our families, even a four day weekend away from work and time to get a start on holiday shopping, millions of Americans will be hard at work in major retail outlets instead of home celebrating. They're losing their holiday just so we can go shopping on Thanksgiving Day instead of the next morning, and that sacrifice should count for something.

Realistically, there will be no blue laws to keep these businesses closed on Thanksgiving, but the Legislature should mitigate consumerism's impact on this nationally-recognized family holiday by providing extra compensation to workers who are making this sacrifice so billion-dollar companies can start their Black Friday sales early. This is my goal in authoring Assembly Bill 67, the Double Pay on The Holiday Act.

New Motor Voter: A Step Forward for California and Democracy

Voting is at the core of a free society. It is an opportunity to make our voices heard and influence the direction of our state and our nation. In a democracy, each of us is a steward of our democratic process. It's our responsibility to make registration and voting accessible and convenient for every citizen. Every vote should be counted and every ballot accounted for. The greater confidence the public has in our elections, the more likely they are to participate. That's good for democracy.

Last year, voter participation slipped to historic lows in California and across the country. The dramatic downturn requires that we take action and do more to engage the public. California's New Motor Voter Act gives us the chance to increase voter registration and increase voter turnout in California. It also promises to be a stark contrast to those states that have sought to impede and undermine voter access.