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Voter, justice reform among CBC’s top goals: Bass

WAVE NEWSPAPERS — Voter suppression, criminal justice reform, job creation and housing costs are among the key areas the CBC will tackle in the coming months.

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By Michael Livingston

LOS ANGELES — Voter suppression, criminal justice reform, job creation and housing costs are among the key areas the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) will tackle in the coming months, the agency’s new chair, U.S. Rep. Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) said in a recent phone interview.

Earlier this month, Bass met with former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams to investigate voting irregularities in the deciding hours of the election — irregularities that many observers believe cost Abrams a victory over current Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp.

“We’re currently documenting all of the examples of voter suppression that took place in the 2018 election and then we will pass legislation to address it,” Bass said.

In April, Bass will return to her home state to address another issue she said is vital to the CBC: reform in the criminal justice system.

“We’re going to be looking at the reforms that have taken place in California and see how they have helped our community and what more needs to be done,” Bass said, referring to bail money reforms and a decision by Los Angeles County supervisors to replace Men’s Central Jail with a mental health hospital.

Bass said she plans to speak with people affected most by the criminal justice system — ex-offenders and their families.

“We’re also going to meet with people who were formerly incarcerated to talk about things that they need to integrate better into the community,” she said. No dates or details have yet been determined.

Since being named to the CBC post in November, Bass has been traveling coast-to-coast, identifying solutions to problems facing black Americans and speaking out against injustices.

Since November, she has admonished President Donald Trump and his administration over the recent government shutdown, sparred with acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker and raised the issue of helping refugees, migrants and asylum seekers from countries Trump called “s—hole countries” last year.

“Yes, that’s what happens when Trump doesn’t allow you to rest for one minute,” Bass said of her full agenda and busy travel schedule.

Another of Bass’ key goals as CBC chair is to increase the visibility of the caucus and better explain to the public what the caucus does and why it exists.

“We’re going to go into the communities and make sure they know what we’re doing,” Bass said. “They should know there are 55 members of the CBC that represent districts across the United States. There is no area of public policy that the CBC has not positively impacted.”

The caucus, often called the “conscious of the Congress,” traditionally uses its constitutional power and political resources to root out injustice and improve the lives of black and disenfranchised Americans. Five of its members chair full committees, Bass said, “and within those committees we will be able to increase resources and change policies in positive ways.”

Bass, a fifth-term congresswoman representing the 37th Congressional District, is the eighth woman to chair the caucus in its 47-year history.

Since being elected to lead the CBC, Bass has demanded the Trump administration accept Democratic proposals to re-open the government, supported a petition to combat human trafficking, and spoken out on national issues like the confirmation of William Barr to Attorney General and family separation at the U.S.-Mexico border.

“In our domestic child welfare system, the best interests of a child are determined by a social worker and a judge. Border Patrol officers are not trained to do this. They are not social workers,” Bass said. “The family separation policy at our border is a stain on this country’s history.”

Bass said her role as CBC chair won’t affect the work she’s already done in Congress. In addition to her new role, she also is a member of the House Judiciary Committee and chair of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations.

“I have worked hard all my life and I am so honored and excited for this role,” she said. “I will not have a problem meeting my responsibilities [in the 37th District] as well.”

This article originally appeared in the Wave Newspapers.

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Activism

California Pushes Back on Judge’s Decision to Outlaw State’s Ban on Assault Weapons

According to Statista Research Department, California had a total of 22 mass shootings  between 1982 and 2021.

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assault rifle courtesy sctimes

California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Attorney General Rob Bonta announced last week that the state has appealed a federal court’s decision that declared California’s ban on assault weapons unconstitutional.

Several state officials, including San Francisco Mayor London Breed, also shared their disagreement with the court’s ruling during a press conference held at the Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital. The state partnered with a number of gun control advocate groups for the event, including the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence and the Giffords Law Center.

“We can agree that the decision was disappointing,” said Bonta. “In many ways, the opinion was disturbing and troubling and a big concern, but we cannot be, and we are not, deterred by this,” he said.

Federal Judge Roger Thomas Benitez presided over the decision in Miller v. Bonta. The case was heard at the United States District Court for the Southern District of California.

Bonta said his office has appealed the decision, requesting that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit leave the current laws in effect for 30 days.

California’s gun laws are some of the strictest in the nation under the Roberti–Roos Assault Weapons Control Act of 1989 (AWCA) which bans the use of specific models of firearms classified as assault weapons.

In the pending court case Miller v. Bonta, James Miller, a lawyer who serves as a board member of the San Diego County Gun Owners, advocated for the use of the AR-15 rifle. However, the semiautomatic rifle with certain features is an illegal assault weapon according to California gun laws.

Miller argued that AR-15 rifles can be used for self-defense under the second amendment. Miller, who also serves on the Cajon Valley School Board, initially challenged former Attorney General Xavier Becerra on California’s criminalization of AR-15 rifles in April this year.

The ongoing case, which Bonta inherited, sparked heated debates about gun laws in the wake of increasing gun violence and mass shootings.

Breed recalled her personal experience with gun violence growing up in the Bay Area.

“We’re here at San Francisco General Hospital. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been here after a friend that I grew up with was shot,” she said.

Breed was joined by Mattie Scott who lost her son to gun violence. The mayor grew up with Scott’s son who was killed in 1996 at a graduation party in San Francisco.

“We don’t want to see another person, another child lost to gun violence in this city in this state in this country,” said Breed.

“We’ve had a law on the books in the state for over 30 years, and a judge decides that our law is no longer constitutional. That law has saved countless numbers of lives,” she said.

According to Statista Research Department, California had a total of 22 mass shootings  between 1982 and 2021. In the court decision, Benitez compared the effectiveness of an AR-15 rifle to a Swiss Army Knife. Based on the federal court’s ruling, the semiautomatic machine gun is, “Good for both home and battle,” said Benitez.

“Like the Swiss Army Knife, the popular AR-15 rifle is a perfect combination of home defense weapon and homeland defense equipment,” the federal judge said in favor of Miller.

Although the murder of Scott’s son remains unsolved, she is an avid activist for social justice related to gun violence.

“The judge who issued this decision is wrong,” said Scott. “It is insulting to read his decision when he called the kind of weapon that killed my son akin to a pocketknife,” she said.

“Pocket knives don’t tear families apart. They don’t shoot up schools, churches, movie theaters, and street corners,” she said in reference to the recent mass shootings across the country.

Contrary Benitez’s belief that AR-15 rifles can be compared to pocket knives, trauma surgeon Dr. Andre Campbell said that the semiautomatic rifle is a lethal assault weapon designed for the battlefield.

“An AR-15 is a weapon of mass destruction. It is used in the battlefield to kill the enemy. It’s a gun that is used in warfare and should not be available or used in the streets of the United States,” said Campbell.

Campbell has treated many bullet wounds on the frontlines of trauma care for more than two decades and has witnessed the devastation a single bullet can cause to the human body.

“It is as if a bomb went off in the tissues of patients,” said Campbell describing the impact of an AR-15 bullet in patients he’s treated over the years.

Giffords Law Center Executive Director Robyn Thomas said that the federal judge’s decision to give civilians access to military-grade weapons sets California’s gun laws back by 32 years.

“The decision is not based on the correct interpretation of the law,” said Thomas.  “The comprehensive gun regulation which we have pioneered here in the state is protecting the lives of Californians. It is making us safer,” she said.

In its budget for 2021-22, the state has allocated $200 million for the California Violence Intervention and Prevention Grant Program. The investment was set up to prevent gun violence in high-risk communities statewide.

“Folks that wax on about public safety and (then) they sit back passively and say nothing about this outrageous decision. Shame on them. What frauds,” said Newsom.

The governor urged lawmakers to evaluate the absurdity of the court’s decision to justify the personal use of a rifle that is, “nothing more than a weapon of war,” he said.

The governor said that gun control has always been a bipartisan issue that helped California lawmakers enact, “progressive and aggressive,” gun safety laws that regulated the people’s right to bear arms for over three decades.

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Featured

Juneteenth National Independence Day

Biden said:  “I have to say to you, I’ve only been president for several months, but I think this will go down, for me, as one of the greatest honors I will have as president.”

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President Joe Biden signed legislation into law on June 17, 2021, making June 19 a US federal holiday, Juneteenth National Independence Day.

Biden said:  “I have to say to you, I’ve only been president for several months, but I think this will go down, for me, as one of the greatest honors I will have as president.”

“I regret that my grandchildren aren’t here because this is a really, really, really important moment in our history.  By making Juneteenth a federal holiday, all Americans can feel the power of this day and learn from our history–and celebrate progress and grapple with the distance we’ve come (and) the distance we have to travel.”

Biden added:  “Great nations don’t ignore their most painful moments.  They embrace them.  Great nations don’t walk away.  We’ve come to terms with the mistakes we made and in remembering those moments, we begin to heal and grow stronger. ”

“We can’t rest until the promise of equality is fulfilled for every one of us in every corner of this nation.  That to me is the meaning of Juneteenth.”

It’s the first federal holiday since MLK Jr. Day in 1983 and the eleventh federal holiday recognized by the US federal government.

Juneteenth falls on a Saturday in 2021 so most federal employees will observe on Friday, June 18th.

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Economics

State Could Create 1 Million New Jobs in Transition to Clean Economy

As California transitions to a greener economy, new jobs can be created while other jobs will be lost.

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Headshot of Robert Pollin

As California’s economy reopens, numerous labor union representatives at a news conference on June 10 demanded a safe and equitable transition to the green economy for workers.

Union members made their demands virtually at the conference, also sharing their thoughts on a new related report on California jobs by researchers at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

The research, led by economics professor Robert Pollin, says California can create 1 million new jobs a year through 2030 by investing in energy efficiency, clean renewable energy,  manufacturing/infrastructure, and land restoration/agriculture.

“Our study shows how to get there,” Pollin said.

As California transitions to a greener economy, new jobs can be created while other jobs will be lost.

The report says $76 billion is needed to create 416,000 jobs in energy efficiency and clean renewable energy while $62 billion is needed to create 626,000 jobs in manufacturing/infrastructure and land restoration/agriculture.

Pollin said about 112,000 workers are employed in California’s fossil fuel and bioenergy industries and about 58,000 are expected to lose their jobs by 2030 as those two industries contract and coal use ends.

The damage may be most severe in Kern, Contra Costa, and Los Angeles counties, where 50% of all fossil fuel job losses will occur when the state’s fossil fuel industry contracts, according to the study.

But about 350,000 a year can be created with the investments that Pollin’s team suggests.

About 320,000 of those will be created in Los Angeles County.

Some of the money from the $138 billion to be invested would go toward helping those out of work train and relocate, if needed, to new jobs, according to the report.

About half or $70 billion of the total investment would come from public coffers while the other half would come from private investors.

If President Joseph Biden gets the American Jobs Plan passed, it could provide $40 billion a year for clean energy and infrastructure investments in California, covering about 60% of the $70 billion that may need to come from public funding.

“The Congressional THRIVE Agenda would provide about $100 billion per year for the clean energy, infrastructure/manufacturing and land restoration/agriculture programs we describe,” the researchers said.
Also, the state can borrow to supplement federal funding.

Union members who spoke at the news conference were excited about the prospect for 1 million new jobs, but they want them to be good-paying, union jobs.

Some union members were sober about the prospect of the fossil fuel industry coming to an end.
Norman Rogers, vice president of the United Steelworkers Local 675 said working at a refinery it’s hard not to see the writing on the wall with cars like the Prius and Teslas on the road.

“Now is the time for an equitable transition,” he said.

He wants to make sure workers nearing retirement, those at the mid-career level and newcomers are taken care of.

Dave Campbell, secretary-treasurer for Local 675, said they are prepared to take Pollin’s work to Gov. Gavin Newsom to discuss “securing the funding for this disaster relief and recovery package for fossil fuel workers, in this budget cycle.”

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