Essential Politics: A huge week for Gov. Gavin Newsom

A pair of pandemic crises will take center stage in Sacramento this week, presenting a major leadership test for Gov. Gavin Newsom in his ability to strike deals that will pass muster with some of his restless allies in the California Legislature.

In this final week of January, state lawmakers must decide whether to extend the state’s moratorium on renter evictions. And they will have to consider how much — if any — of Newsom’s COVID-19 school reopening proposal meets with their approval. Both issues face Jan. 31 deadlines, though legislative procedures will probably require final legislative language for either issue to be in place no later than Tuesday.

There’s a lot at stake for millions of Californians and for the governor, who continues to face sharp criticism on a variety of fronts related to the state’s COVID-19 response.

The moratorium on renter evictions

The most pressing action item is on California’s existing renter eviction moratorium, which expires this weekend. That ban, signed by Newsom last summer, provided leniency for renters who pay a portion of their overdue rent on a timetable prescribed by law. But the statute provides no protections for struggling California renters as of next Monday. Legislation has been introduced to extend the rules through the rest of the year, though that proposal seems unlikely to gain traction in Sacramento.

While it’s true that President Biden signed an executive order last week as part of his opening act that bans evictions through the end of March, the California law that expires at week’s end is more sweeping and more comprehensive in its focus on rent payments that are overdue.

The final resolution of unpaid rent is a key component of whatever deal emerges — if it emerges, when it emerges — from private negotiations. Some lawmakers have made it clear they view the deadline as an opportunity for a larger conversation. “The goal here should not be a simple return to normal,” state Sen. Maria Elena Durazo (D-Los Angeles) said in a Sunday post on Twitter. “Normal meant sky-rocketing rents and inadequate tenant protections.”

Tenant groups have also suggested that negotiations, to date, have favored landlords. And a legislative proposal was introduced last month that some believe was the starting point for negotiations.

Newsom’s schools plan: too little, too late?

Newsom also must figure out what to do about his $2-billion proposal to encourage elementary schools to prepare for bringing their youngest students back on campus.

He unveiled the plan on Dec. 30, a combination of money and mandates for how schools will need to prepare for students to return — on a timetable more aggressive than the under the state guidelines issued last summer. But the reception it’s received has been, to put it mildly, less than receptive. And as I wrote in my news analysis on Saturday, the plan in its current form is a nonstarter for the Legislature.

As a number of local school officials and representatives of teachers and employees told a state Senate hearing last week, the governor’s proposal reallocates existing school dollars contingent on rules that won’t necessarily align with plans negotiated by local school districts in recent months.

The biggest hurdle may be that the public’s focus is no longer on COVID-19 testing but vaccinations, an important demand by teachers and school employees. And the vaccine rollout has sparked criticism, even as Newsom promised 1 million vaccination shots in 10 days but doesn’t have full data to prove whether it happened.

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Newsom scraps regional stay-at-home system

Almost eight weeks after creating a new regional system for businesses to close as hospital ICUs reached their limits, Newsom is changing course.

Sources who were briefed by the governor’s administration expect the stay-at-home rules will be rescinded on Monday, likely reflecting new optimism about the availability of hospital beds for COVID-19 patients with critical needs. Since being put in place on Dec. 3, only one region — representing the counties near Sacramento — ever successfully moved out of shutdown mode.

Regions representing Southern California, the Bay Area and the San Joaquin Valley saw restaurants, fitness centers and hair salons all remain closed in the intervening weeks.

National lightning round

— White House officials say Biden will reinstate COVID-19 travel restrictions on non-U.S. travelers from Brazil, Ireland, the U.K. and other countries.

Xavier Becerra, the president’s nominee to be the nation’s top health official, on Sunday likened the U.S. spread of COVID-19 to a “plane in a nosedive.”

— Republican senators staked out opposing views Sunday on the wisdom of holding an impeachment trial for former President Donald Trump, with Sen. Marco Rubio declaring the idea “stupid” and Sen. Mitt Romney saying “truth and justice” demand that the chamber pass judgment.

— A 34-year-old Texas man has been arrested on suspicion of taking part in the storming of the U.S. Capitol this month and a call to assassinate New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

— Top Democrats vow to investigate “troubling questions” about the involvement of U.S. Dept. of Justice officials in efforts to reverse Trump’s election loss.

— After four years of chaos and controversy stoked by a media-obsessed president, the country is experiencing a jarring normality and relative quiet.

— Vice President Kamala Harris is seen as more willing to lean harder into her public identity as a Black leader and to place societal racial gaps higher on her agenda than former President Obama.

— Sales of copies of the U.S. Constitution topped 1 million during the Trump years.

Today’s essential California politics

— Newsom’s finance department may have shortchanged some California communities in distributing federal COVID-19 relief funds, according to a state audit released last week.

— California officials have launched a civil rights investigation into the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, an agency beset by allegations of deputy misconduct, controversial shootings and resistance to oversight.

— Just days after tweeting a false claim about this month’s mob storming of the U.S. Capitol, state Sen. Shannon Grove of Bakersfield was replaced as the leader of the California Senate Republicans.

— The campaign to recall Newsom has found support among some QAnon conspiracy advocates, anti-vaccination activists and far-right extremists.

— Some say Cindy Marten’s nomination as U.S. deputy secretary of Education is deserved, but some note San Diego’s achievement gaps and still-closed schools.

— Long Beach officials took the step of turning off a restaurant’s gas after warning that they would do so if it stayed open against COVID-19 rules.

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