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For Californians concerned about sky-high gas prices and a looming increase to the state’s fuel excise tax: Never fear, the Assembly Select Committee on Gasoline Supply and Pricing is here! What exactly will the committee do? It will “investigate the gas price gouging that has inflated prices at a rate equivalent to 100% per year,” […]
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Assembly leader: Gas rebates likely 'before October'

Speaker of the Assembly Anthony Rendon on the dais on May 31, 2022. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters
  

For Californians concerned about sky-high gas prices and a looming increase to the state’s fuel excise tax: Never fear, the Assembly Select Committee on Gasoline Supply and Pricing is here!

What exactly will the committee do? It will “investigate the gas price gouging that has inflated prices at a rate equivalent to 100% per year,” said Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, the Lakewood Democrat who unveiled the group Monday. “The committee aims to answer two basic questions: First, why are we paying so much for gas? And two, how can we stop it?”

When will those questions be answered? It’s unclear, but probably not before the July 1 scheduled increase to California’s gas excise tax, which will tack nearly 3 cents per gallon onto prices at the pump.

  • Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin, the Thousand Oaks Democrat who will lead the committee, said she expects the first meeting will be in “a number of weeks.”
  • But the Legislature is scheduled to begin its month-long summer recess in less than two weeks, on July 1 — incidentally, the same day gas taxes are set to go up.
  • Will the committee meet before then? Joel Price, Irwin’s communications director, told me in an email that “there may be a meeting schedule worked out by the end of this week.”

Republican lawmakers, who have repeatedly sought to suspend California’s gas excise tax, slammed Democrats for seeking to “distract with another dead end investigation,” as GOP Assembly Leader James Gallagher of Yuba City put it. Senate Republicans went a bit further, labeling the move “a CYA” and asking rhetorically, “Remember Newsom’s investigation in 2019?”

  • That year, Gov. Gavin Newsom asked the state Department of Justice to investigate whether oil companies and retailers were engaging in “false advertising or price fixing” and potentially causing Californians to pay a “mystery surcharge” of as much as 30 cents per gallon of gas. Nearly three years later, “the status of the investigation remains unclear,” according to the Los Angeles Times.
  • Asked how the select committee’s investigation would differ from prior investigations, Rendon said, “This is one that will be convened by the Legislature … we will use the full authority of this legislative body to ask these questions of those entities and others.”

So when will Californians see relief? A group of moderate Democrats and one independent implored Newsom, Rendon and Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins in a Friday letter to postpone the gas excise tax for one year, writing, “The cost of doing nothing is unacceptable — Californians will see a state Legislature unconcerned with their pain and out of touch.” On Monday, President Joe Biden said he’s considering a federal gas tax holiday.

But Rendon said that he, Atkins and Newsom still think rebates are the best way to help Californians struggling with high prices — though they haven’t yet reached an agreement on details. But the two sides had a “long, long weekend” of negotiations and “certainly made progress,” Rendon said.

When it comes to the state sending out money to residents, there will “certainly be something before October,” Rendon said.

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California has administered 77,108,328 vaccine doses, and 75.5% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.

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Capitol updates

 
Sen. Scott Wiener speaks on the Senate floor on Aug. 28, 2020. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters
  

Let’s dive into the latest news from the state Capitol:

 
     
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Four ballot measures, four ways

 
The outside of a DaVita dialysis center in Berkeley on Sept. 13, 2019. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters
  

Oh, ballot measures: the bane of Californians’ existence, and the object of so many of their direct democracy desires (I’m sure Anthony Bridgerton won’t mind me tweaking his iconic line for the purposes of this newsletter). Here’s the latest you should know about a tumble of initiatives careening toward the November ballot:

  • Californians will likely weigh in on regulations for kidney dialysis clinics for the third time in four years — the result of the influential SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West union submitting enough valid signatures to qualify the measure for the ballot, Secretary of State Shirley Weber announced Monday. After a more than $110 million campaign in 2020, voters sided with the dialysis industry in rejecting Proposition 23, which would have strengthened oversight of dialysis clinics. Voters also rejected Prop. 8 in 2018.
  • A proposed legislative workaround to a ballot measure to reduce single-use plastics doesn’t seem to be winning over influential environmental groups, dozens of whom urged lawmakers in a pair of Sunday letters to “reject Senate Bill 54 unless it is significantly amended to be as strong as the ballot initiative.” One letter — from the National Resources Defense Council, Californians Against Waste and the Sierra Club California — cited lawmakers’ previous failed attempts to restrict single-use plastics as evidence of “the stranglehold that corporate polluters have over legislative bodies,” adding, “This is precisely why the state has a Citizen’s Initiative process.” State Sen. Ben Allen, the Santa Monica Democrat carrying the bill, told me in a statement, “SB 54 would be the strongest plastics and packaging program in the world. This landmark measure would set first-in-the-nation plastics reduction requirements and finally set firm recycling rates and dates for California. That is why major environmental groups that have engaged in this space for years are supporting the bill — including Oceana, Ocean Conservancy, The Nature Conservancy, Monterey Bay Aquarium and the California League of Conservation Voters, among others.”
  • Newsom in a Friday video urged Californians to “stand up and protect our kids and to push back against Big Tobacco” by voting to uphold a law he signed in 2020 banning the sale of flavored tobacco. The tobacco industry immediately gathered enough signatures to qualify a referendum, putting the ban on hold until voters decide whether to affirm or overturn it in November.
  • “Protect our kids” is also the slogan many officials and parents in four Southern California cities — Redondo Beach, Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach and El Segundo — are leveraging in opposition to local ballot measures to allow retail cannabis sales, CalMatters’ Alexei Koseff reports. The common denominator behind the measures is Elliot Lewis, founder of Catalyst Cannabis Co. and dropper of f-bombs: “If the initiative is bad, step the f— out of the way,” he told Alexei. “It’s called democracy. Let the voters decide.” But some critics accuse Lewis of manipulating democracy to serve his own interests, a charge he denies even as he admits the measures would give his company certain advantages. “Those self-serving things are very, very mildly self-serving,” he told Alexei.
 
     
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California prepares to vaccinate youngest kids

 
Madeleine Strickland, 11, receives the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine as her mother Monica and brother Liam look on at Rady’s Children’s Hospital in San Diego on Nov. 3, 2021. Photo by Mike Blake, Reuters
  

California is ready to begin administering COVID-19 vaccines to children as young as 6 months old after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approved Pfizer and Moderna shot series for the country’s littlest kids on Friday and Saturday and a work group of public health experts and scientists from Western states gave the green light Sunday. Newsom said California has pre-ordered nearly 400,000 doses to be administered at more than 8,500 vaccination sites across the state, but it remains to be seen if demand will meet supply: According to state data, just 35.5% of kids ages 5-11 have been vaccinated against COVID. California’s top public health officials on Sunday urged parents to vaccinate their children, noting that “although our youth are resilient, COVID-19 hospitalizations for children under 4 years old were five times higher during the omicron surge than during delta, and one in five children hospitalized with COVID-19 were also admitted to the ICU.”

Other COVID news you should know:

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CalMatters Commentary

     

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Raising California’s homeownership levels depends on economic fundamentals, not political tokenism.

It’s time to put a lid on plastics: Whether state leaders pursue a ballot measure or a legislative deal to curb plastic use, the one option we cannot afford is continued inaction, argues California State Controller Betty Yee.

California must act now to head off future floods: The state needs to make Stockton and San Joaquin Valley flood investments a priority — especially during a drought. Building flood management projects takes years, writes Mike Machado, a farmer in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

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