State briefs | Gov. Newsom’s decisions on key bills deliver mixed results for southern Alameda County legislators

the california state capitol building under a blue clear sky

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Gavin Newsom made significant decisions on several key bills, including those authored by legislators representing southern Alameda County, on Saturday, Oct. 7.

Newsom says caste discrimination already illegal

California could have been the first state to explicitly protect people against caste discrimination, though the governor says the state already affords enough protection against this type of discrimination.

In his veto letter for Senate Bill 403, introduced by State Senator Aisha Wahab (D-District 10), Gov. Newsom wrote that California already prohibits discrimination based on a wide variety of characteristics, including ancestry, and “state law specifies that these civil rights protections shall be liberally construed.”

“Because discrimination based on caste is already prohibited under these existing categories, this bill is unnecessary,” Newsom wrote.

The caste system is a hierarchical social ranking system associated with South Asia, classifying people based on their ancestry and determining what life choices are and are not open to them.

Wahab told the State Senate earlier this year that she introduced this bill because this type of discrimination is widespread in her district. However, some members of the Hindu community were staunchly against the bill, saying it unfairly targeted them.

Newsom signs Wahab’s social housing bill, vetoing Lee’s

Gov. Newsom has vetoed a bill that would have established a pilot program to build mixed-income housing projects on the state’s surplus property in favor of a bill that will study the avenues and barriers to building housing for lower-income families.

Newsom signed State Senator Aisha Wahab (D-District 10)’s Senate Bill 555, which mandates that the state Department of Housing and Community Development complete the California Social Housing Study by 2026. The study aims to identify barriers and solutions for creating affordable housing for lower-income households and social housing for lower- and moderate-income households. It is expected to provide the state with recommendations on how best to use available resources, remove barriers, secure additional funding sources and establish a state-level Social Housing Authority, similar to the one proposed by Assemblymember Alex Lee (D-District 24), whose bill was vetoed.

Assembly Bill 309, also known as the Social Housing Act, was initially intended to create the California Housing Authority, an independent state entity that would have been focused on building and maintaining mixed-income social housing projects. It was pared down over the year into a pilot program that would have instead built three social housing projects on state land. The results would have guided efforts for a larger program in the future.

However, Newsom wrote in his veto letter that the pilot would cost the state too much and that the state is already building affordable housing on its surplus land through the State Excess Sites program.

“As the first Californian legislator to ever introduce a social housing bill,” Lee said, “I’ve worked with numerous stakeholders to find common ground on AB 309. I saw the amended bill as a first step to building social housing in California. Despite AB 309’s outcome, as the Chair of the Select Committee on Social Housing, I will continue my efforts to move public policy and dialogue forward about social housing in the state.”

Newsom vetoes bill making naloxone affordable

State Assemblymember Liz Ortega (D-District 20) introduced Assembly Bill 1060 earlier this year to help address the opioid overdose crisis. The bill would have required Medi-Cal and insurers to cover most of the cost of over-the-counter naloxone, a medication that rapidly reverses opioid overdoses, ensuring consumers pay no more than $10.

However, Gov. Newsom has determined that AB 1060 would be too expensive for the state to cover. Newsom wrote in his veto letter that covering naloxone would go beyond what the state offers in health benefits, determined by the federal Affordable Care Act, and would require the state to foot the rest of the bill. Allowing one bill to add onto those baseline benefits could open the floodgates for more, he wrote.

“A pattern of new coverage mandate bills like this could open the state to millions to billions of dollars in new costs to cover services relating to other health conditions,” Newsom wrote. “This creates uncertainty for our healthcare system’s affordability.”

He added that the state has already invested over $1 billion to combat overdoses and the 2023 budget includes $30 million for the CalRx Naloxone Access Initiative, which supports the development, manufacturing, procurement and distribution of low-cost naloxone.

Health care workers get a win

Gov. Newsom has signed a bill intended to safeguard health care workers from noxious airborne contaminants, also known as plume or surgical smoke, generated during various medical procedures, by 2027.

Assembly Bill 1007, introduced by State Assemblymember Liz Ortega (D-District 20), mandates health facilities implement plume scavenging systems, which help remove harmful plumes, in all settings using techniques that might generate plumes. By Dec. 1, 2026, the Division of Occupational Safety and Health must submit a proposed regulation to the Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board, which would have to consider the regulation for adoption by June 1, 2027.

“This legislation ensures that California will continue to prioritize the wellbeing of healthcare workers and patients, creating a safer healthcare environment for all,” Ortega wrote on social media.

Plume refers to the hazardous gas produced when medical devices like lasers are used on human tissue. Research has shown that these plumes include substances like benzene, formaldehyde, viruses, and live and dead tissue, including blood, which can have significant health impacts for health care workers and patients.

The bill clarifies that existing ventilation standards and surgical masks are not adequate for protection against plume and requires manufacturers of plume scavenging systems to provide evidence that their products meet health and safety standards.

The California Hospital Association lobbied for the bill to be vetoed, stating in a letter to the governor that there are no plume scavenging systems that capture or neutralize all plume.

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