Thu, Jun

California Prepares to Vote on Reproductive Health, Labor and the Environment


ELECTION 2022 - This November, Californians will vote on seven ballot propositions.

The measures cover a range of issues — two competing propositions relate to sports betting (Propositions 26 and 27); one opposed by the tobacco industry, which is seeking to reverse the ban on flavored tobacco (Prop. 31); and a proposal to increase funding to schools for arts and music which, unusual for ballot measures, has no identifiable opposition (Prop. 28). 

Below, Capital & Main takes a closer look at three measures — Propositions 1, 29 and 30 — that focus on reproductive health, the environment and labor. 

Proposition 1: Protecting the Right to Abortion

Some measures have complicated multiyear backstories — see Propositions 29 and 30 below — but Prop. 1, which would amend the California state Constitution to protect the right to have an abortion, was a direct response by the California Legislature to the Supreme Court’s June decision Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned Roe v. Wade.

A poll released last year by the Public Policy Institute of California found that support for Roe  was at a record high, with 77% of adults not wanting it overturned. The overwhelming support for abortion rights is reflected in the fundraising, with the Prop. 1 campaign having outraised the opposition 11 to 1, led by the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, Gov. Newsom and the California Medical Association. 

The most significant opposition has come from the Catholic Church, which has argued that Prop. 1 would “enshrine an ‘abortion sanctuary’” in California and “permanently allow tax-payer funded late-term abortions without limit.” Opponents of Prop. 1 argue that it doesn’t only enshrine existing law but erases any limits on when abortion can be performed (currently, California law allows abortion up to to point of fetal viability, about 24 weeks, unless the person’s health is at risk). 

If Prop. 1 passes, California would join three other states and Washington, D.C., in removing gestational age limits from their abortion laws, following guidance from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which, as reported by KQED and Kaiser Health News, removed the term “viability” from its guidance on abortion because “the term has become so politicized that it barely has any medical meaning anymore, and deciding whether and when to have an abortion should be left to the patient and doctor.”

Proposition 29: Another Battle Over Kidney Dialysis Center Staffing

Prop. 29 will look familiar to many voters, who have rejected similar measures in 2018 and 2020 regarding staffing at kidney dialysis centers. As in previous iterations, Prop. 29 is bankrolled by the SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West union, and its most significant change would be to require that dialysis clinics have a physician, nurse practitioner or physician assistant on site. 

In a statement to Capital & Main, a union spokesperson wrote that they were “doing this for a third time because it’s important to protect patients and consumers, and we’re committed to reforming the industry for as long as it takes.” They wrote that “patients’ lives are being put at risk” and described the dialysis industry as “predatory,” and that it “hurts patients, taxpayers and consumers.” (Disclosure: SEIU is a financial supporter of Capital & Main.)

In California, the dialysis industry is dominated by two private for-profit companies, DaVita and Fresenius Medical Care, who own or operate nearly 75% of licensed clinics in California. They describe the added staffing as unnecessary and call Prop. 22 “ballot abuse,” claiming that the union uses “vulnerable patients as pawns to advance their political agenda.” They argue that the SEIU-UHW is weaponizing the ballot system to exert pressure on the companies, with their ultimate goal not to improve patient conditions but to organize dialysis center employees. 

Last year, Dave Regan, president of SEIU-UHW, denied to Politico that Prop. 29 was a labor fight. “We obviously are a health care union,” he said. “Would we like to represent dialysis workers? Sure. Is that why we’re doing this? No.”

The kidney dialysis industry is big business, with estimated annual revenue in California of $3.5 billion, and DaVita and Fresenius have plowed $86 million in the campaign to defeat Prop. 22. (SEIU-UHW, on the other hand, has spent only $7.9 million.)

The state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office has estimated that Prop. 29 would increase each clinic’s costs by an average of several hundred thousand dollars annually, and that the higher costs would likely lead to companies negotiating higher payment rates, estimating that the increased costs for state and local governments would likely be in the tens of millions of dollars annually.

Proposition 30: A Climate Bill or Special Interest Carve-out?

Proposition 30 would institute an additional 1.75% in personal income tax on households earning more than $2 million a year, and dedicate 80% of the funds for rebates for electric cars and the expansion of charging infrastructure, with the remaining 20% going to wildfire response and prevention. The LAO estimates the annual revenue would range from $3.5 billion to $5 billion. 

There are two dramatically different perspectives on Prop. 30, with a surprising coalition coming out against it. Leading the opposition, along with anti-tax zealots like the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, is Gov. Gavin Newsom – yes, the same Newsom who in September ordered all new vehicles in the state to be zero emission by 2035. “Don’t be fooled,” he said in a TV ad opposing the proposition. “Prop. 30′s being advertised as a climate initiative, but in reality it was devised by a single corporation to funnel state income taxes to benefit their company.”

That single company is Lyft, which has bankrolled Prop. 30 with $45 million. Opponents argue that Lyft dreamed up the measure as a means to defray some of the costs of turning their fleet electric, a year after the California Air Resource Board promulgated a rule that pushes Uber and Lyft toward a nearly all electric vehicle fleet by 2030. 

Newsom’s characterization of Lyft’s role in devising Prop. 30, according to Stuart Cohen, a longtime environmental leader who actually helped create the measure, is a “blatant lie.” In a lengthy post, he detailed extensive meetings held to come up with the ballot measure. The advocacy group Move LA also published a thorough overview of the planning and strategic thinking that informed Prop. 30, which also contradicts Newsom’s contention that Lyft somehow dictated the measure. 

What is certainly true is that Prop. 30 will make it easier for Lyft to transition to an EV fleet, which can explain why it has invested so much money in the measure. Drivers for Lyft will receive rebates to buy EVs and more charging stations will be built to support them. But that’s also true for every other driver on the road, so it’s hard to see how it can be considered, as opponents label it, a “special interest carve-out.” 

Gabriel Thompson is an independent journalist who has written for publications that include the New York Times, Harper's, New York, Slate, and the Nation. His most recent book is Chasing the Harvest: Migrant Workers in California Agriculture. This article was featured in Capitalandmain.com)