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Lara could become first LGBT candidate elected statewide

Insurance commissioner hopeful spotlights core values

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Sen. Ricardo Lara at the 2018 Global Climate Action Summit. (Photo courtesy Lara)

Ricardo Lara has an easy smile, a warm, embracing smile that puts the uncomfortable quickly at ease. It’s a smile that may lure cynics into thinking the handsome 43-year-old gay man is tangoing his way into the California Insurance Commissioner job.

But when Lara’s smile fades and he gets serious, politely but intensely explaining how this position would be his next step in helping marginalized minorities like his immigrant parents and his poorer friends with HIV/AIDS and children in need of healthcare—attention must be paid.

“I’m running to be California’s next state insurance commissioner because I believe at my core that California needs a strong defender, and a counterpuncher, who will stand up to fight our bullying president, Donald Trump, and his increasingly reckless federal government on issues from healthcare access to economic security and more,” Lara said in a statement on March 21, 2017.

This is no small next step; Lara is a fervent fighter for human rights stepping up to protect his extended family. And while he would become the first openly LGBT person elected statewide if he wins, the job itself is historically critical to LGBT people. 

Prior to 1988, the state insurance commissioner was a political appointee of the governor. That year it was Republican George Deukmejian, the governor who in 1986 vetoed a bill seeking AIDS non-discrimination in housing and employment because “the provisions of this bill dealing with discrimination are unnecessary. They establish an inappropriate precedent of placing a physical condition in statute that is better left to a more flexible administrative process,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

And in November 1988, Deukmejian endorsed Prop. 102, a radical right-wing initiative that would require doctors and blood banks to report anyone they have ”reasonable cause to believe” is infected with HIV to state and local authorities and require the HIV positive person to identify their sexual partners.  

In that November 1988 election, voters rejected Proposition 102 but approved Proposition 103, making Insurance Commissioner an elected position, expanding the areas of regulation and giving the commissioner new powers, including “prior approval” of any insurance rate increase. Accustomed to unfettered power in a Republican-controlled marketplace, the insurance companies challenged the measure in court. Pro-gay Attorney General John Van de Kamp won his case before the California Supreme Court and pro-gay Democrat John Garamendi won the post in 1990, becoming the first elected commissioner in 1991. It was an important victory: 1991 was the year Republican Gov. Pete Wilson vetoed the gay rights bill AB 101 and the California State Legislature turned even more deeply red and anti-LGBT.

The non-partisan office has changed political hands, with current progressive Democrat Dave Jones succeeding Republican businessman Steve Poizner—who is trying for a comeback against Lara. This time, however, Poizner is running as an independent, though his policy positions still smell of GOP potpourri. And while Lara may be winning voters with his smile, he cautions that Poizner is seducing no-party preference and Republicans disinclined to vote for a Democrat.

“Recent polling shows that this race is actually tighter and it’s gonna be tough,” Lara told the Los Angeles Blade in a recent phone interview. “The fact is—Poizner has essentially gone back in the closet, hiding his true Republican ideals, and is running now as an independent. And in many counties, San Diego County, for example, there is a larger bloc of non-party preference voters than there are Republicans.”

This is “a new Republican strategy,” Lara says, “to run people as independents or no-party preference because they know they can’t win otherwise statewide as Republicans. It’s truly sad but we can’t assume that this is a done deal. We can’t rest on our laurels.”

Lara says he’s going up and down the state “reminding our voters how Poizner “has flip-flopped back and forth on a woman’s right to choose” and “wanted to deny immigrant children health insurance.” Lara, on the other hand, passed legislation “to insure that any child, regardless of where they come from, their economic income status, or their immigration status, will have access to full scope Medical health insurance in California.”

That’s the big difference between them, Lara says: “I get things done. I make sure that we help our most vulnerable Californians instead of trying to spread hate and divisiveness, which is no longer a part of our tenor here in California.” In some states, he notes,  “insurance companies are denying access to PrEP to our community because they consider that risky behavior.”

The Insurance Commissioner position “is one of the most vital positions in the state because it touches every aspect of your life. And some people can even argue in utero, if your mother doesn’t have access to health insurance while she’s pregnant,” Lara says.  “And when it comes to privacy, when it comes to data breeches, when it comes to cannabis regulation, autonomous vehicles—these are all regulations that are pending through the Department of Insurance. And the most important thing is that we keep our insurance industry honest and accountable so that they can pay out the claims to make sure people can move on with their lives. That is the basic work of the Insurance Commissioner.”

It was the unexpected fate of a Lara bill that prompted him to run for Insurance Commissioner. He was working on a bill to allow immigrants to pay into the Affordable Care Act since the more people that pay into the system helps stabilize premiums for everyone.

“We know that immigrants are younger, they’re healthier and are working—so why not allow them to pay into a system to make sure that we continue to offer the services to folks who actually need it now? It’s an important investment,” he says.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed the bill. But while Lara was working on the waiver with the Obama administration, “unfortunately President Trump got elected and one of the requirements under that administration was that—if we moved forward—they wanted the names and addresses of the people who were going to be paying into the Affordable Care Act,” Lara says. “I had to withdraw the waiver.”

On that plane ride back from D.C., “I was so angry and felt so defeated, that that’s when I decided to leave the Senate early and run for Insurance Commissioner,” he says, “because I have to continue to fight to get a single payer system, that we get universal healthcare in California. I want to be part of those discussions as Insurance Commissioner.”

Lara says the issue with SB 562, the bill he co-authored with out Sen. Toni Atkins to provide policy goals for a universal healthcare plan, ran into deadline issues while they were waiting for a study from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst — experts on health care funding — to get back with funding formula. They needed to “keep the momentum going” while they worked on a separate bill to get federal waivers, discussed constitutional amendments with the nurses regarding Prop 98 requirements and figure out spending limits. SB 562 was part of a not quite fully-cooked four-part plan that was sent to the Assembly to start discussions.

State Sens. Ricardo Lara and Toni Atkins promoting their universal healthcare bill. (Photo courtesy Lara)

“Unfortunately, we fell victim to the legislative timeline of having to move this bill or else it would’ve died. But there is no doubt in my mind that the work that Toni and I started really has been the emphasis of now the Assembly engaging in a way that they’ve never engaged before, in terms of talking about healthcare,” Lara says. “Hopefully I’m going to be part of those discussions as the Insurance Commissioner.”

As commissioner, Lara would also have oversight of some fraud-related issues, including investigating the “troubled teen industry.” In 2015 and 2016, Lara worked with the LA LGBT Center and Survivors of Institutional Abuse to pass SB 524, “Protecting Youth from Institutional Abuse Act”— a bill with no religious exemptions that Brown signed in Oct. 2016.

“To the victims that have been victims of this type of abuse in these so-called ‘troubled teen’ camps or through ‘conversion therapy,’ we are going to be very vigilant as the Insurance Commissioner to make sure that we not only investigate but we seek out these individuals who are causing our community harm and hold them to justice,” Lara says. “We’ll work with our Attorney General to make sure that we bring justice to so many victims and we weed out these shams that we know only serve to harm our community.”

But first Ricardo Lara must be elected.

“To our LGBT community in California, we have come a long way in such a short amount of time because we remain vigilant, we remain steadfast and more importantly we remain united. The work that we’ve been able to champion in the state senate, through our LGBT Caucus and through my work is really a testimony to how diverse we are and how much influence we yield to make positive change for the next generation in our community,” Lara says.

“It’s time now for us to unite—to make sure we can elect somebody statewide that comes from our community, that understands our issues, and most importantly, understands where we need to be in the future to continue to protect our community and insure that the next generation of LGBTQI individuals have an opportunity to thrive and succeed in California, regardless of who is in the White House.”

For more, see ricardolara.com.

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California

Following Newsom’s vaccination measures, California employers follow suit

We will work with the governor on additional ways we can help encourage vaccines without negatively impacting economic recovery

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Los Angeles Blade Graphic

SACRAMENTO – Throughout the past week, some of California’s largest employers – both private businesses and local governments – have followed Governor Newsom’s lead in implementing vaccine and testing measures for employees. After California implemented new vaccine verification and testing requirements for state and health care workers on Monday, and with President Biden following suit this past Thursday, employers have implemented similar measures for thousands of employees throughout the state.

  • City of Los Angeles: “Mayor Eric Garcetti and City Council President Nury Martinez announced today that they would push for mandatory COVID-19 vaccines for City employees, beginning with a requirement that workers either submit proof of vaccination or a weekly negative test.”
  • City of San Francisco: “City officials said that the requirement would promote safety in municipal workplaces and among the general public, given that police officers, firefighters, building inspectors and other city workers come into regular contact with members of the community. ‘With those two things in mind — the safety of our employees and the safety of the public we serve — we made this decision,’ said Carol Isen, San Francisco’s director of human resources. ‘We believe this step is a simple one to take. It’s safe, it’s very effective, and it’s going to guarantee the safety of all.’”
  • San Diego County: “The County will begin requiring its employees to verify COVID-19 vaccination or undergo regular testing. Details being worked out but implementation expected by mid-August. Vaccination is the key to fully and safely reopening the economy.”
  • City of Long Beach: “We are announcing today that all @LongBeachCity employees will need a mandatory vaccination or be required to show a weekly negative COVID-19 test. Thank you to the 72% of employees who are already vaccinated. It’s important that public institutions model responsible leadership. I strongly support Governor @GavinNewsom’s action to do the same for state employees. The standard for those who serve the public must follow the best science available. I hope that cities and counties across the state will take similar actions. It’s time we beat this pandemic.”
  • Google: “‘Getting vaccinated is one of the most important ways to keep ourselves and our communities healthy in the months ahead,’ Mr. Pichai wrote. He added that the vaccine mandate would apply to U.S. office locations ‘in the coming weeks’ and to other regions ‘in the coming months.’”
  • Facebook: “‘As our offices reopen, we will be requiring anyone coming to work at any of our US campuses to be vaccinated,’ VP of People Lori Goler said in a statement. ‘How we implement this policy will depend on local conditions and regulations.’”
  • Netflix: “Netflix has become the first major studio to implement a mandatory vaccination policy for its U.S. productions. The move comes after studios and Hollywood unions last week finalized an agreement that allows producers to require vaccines for the people who are potentially at highest risk of spreading and contracting COVID-19 on set: actors and the crew who work most closely with them. Netflix was particularly quick to implement the policy. More major studios are expected to follow in the coming weeks as they work out the challenging logistics of overhauling their approaches to pandemic safety on set.”
  • Lyft: “As of August 2, all employees working in Lyft’s offices are required to be vaccinated, according to an email Lyft (LYFT) CEO Logan Green sent to staffers that was viewed by CNN Business.”
  • Uber: “Uber Technologies Inc (UBER.N) is pushing back its back-to-office date to late October globally, and all employees in the United States will have to be fully vaccinated before returning to office, a spokesperson said on Thursday.”
  • California Business Roundtable: “The governor’s approach will allow economic recovery to continue while redoubling efforts to encourage vaccinations. From the beginning of the pandemic, the business community has been a partner with the governor and public health officials by implementing mitigation protocols and testing, hosting vaccination clinics, communicating the need to get vaccinated, promoting the vaccine through its own PSA, and offering incentives to employees and customers. We will continue to look to work with the governor on additional ways we can help encourage vaccines without negatively impacting employment opportunities or our economic recovery at this critical stage, while paying special attention to continued outreach to Black and Latino communities, of which 51 percent and 49 percent remain unvaccinated, respectively.”
    • The coalition includes:
      • California Business Properties Association
      • California Hotel and Lodging Association
      • California Manufacturers and Technology Association
      • California Retailers Association
      • California Restaurant Association
      • Orange County Business Council
      • Los Angeles County BizFed
      • Central Valley BizFed
      • Inland Empire Economic Partnership

Here’s what health, labor, and other local leaders have also said about Governor Newsom’s vaccine and testing measures:

  • California Hospital Association President & CEO Carmela Coyle: “The new public health order announced today by Gov. Newsom will help ensure that California remains ahead of the curve in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. The unfortunate reality is that COVID-19 is again on the rise nationally, and in California, driven by the highly infectious Delta variant. It is imperative that we all do everything possible to protect patients and our communities from COVID-19 illnesses and death. Everyone should get vaccinated. The COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective — and they are free. The evidence is clear — vaccination against COVID-19 has prevented people from becoming seriously ill, requiring hospitalization, or dying from the virus, as well as spreading it to others. To date, 75% of eligible Californians have received at least one dose, with minimal side effects. Requiring health care settings, including hospitals, to verify the vaccination status of all health care workers — and to expect those who are unvaccinated to wear masks and be tested regularly — are important and necessary steps that must be taken in this extraordinary situation. The Governor’s announcement is essential to keeping patients and those who care for them safe.”
  • California Primary Care Association Vice President & Chief Medical Officer Dr. Mike Witte: “The California Primary Care Association supports twice weekly COVID-19 testing for unvaccinated healthcare workers. The science is clear: the vaccines work, and they are safe. Over 97% of people seriously sick or dying from COVID-19 viral infections are unvaccinated. This trend is completely preventable with increased vaccination, to the point of herd immunity of our population, when we can begin to look at the pandemic ending. Twice weekly PCR testing for all unvaccinated healthcare workers fits the model for good prevention: accessible, accurate, inexpensive and easy to administer. This is an important addition to prevention of COVID-19 infections. CPCA is in full support.”
  • Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California President/CEO Jodi Hicks: “Once again, the state of California is leading by example, using data, and following best scientific practices to protect millions of people from COVID-19. We commend Governor Newsom for today’s announcement: implementing a vaccination verification system for employees in high-risk environments – a critical step in helping curb the recent uptick in spread across the state and get us back on track. Planned Parenthood continues to work closely with providers and government officials across the state to ensure access remains equitable and the communities hardest hit by the pandemic have access to correct information about the vaccine. COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective, and Planned Parenthood will continue to encourage every Californian who can to get vaccinated as soon as possible.”
  • California Medical Association President Peter N. Bretan, Jr., M.D.: “Throughout this crisis, health care workers have been a source of strength, sacrifice and perseverance. Ensuring all of us are vaccinated against COVID-19 sends a strong message that the safety of our patients and our colleagues is top priority. It is a duty that comes with our responsibility as people who care for others. We can all do more to keep each other safe, and health care workers in particular have a moral and ethical obligation to do all we can to protect our patients. When someone comes into a health care setting, they deserve to know the medical personnel who care for them are doing everything in their power to keep them safe. Ensuring that all health care workers are protected against COVID-19 will help put patients at ease and will help us bring this deadly pandemic to an end. So many physicians, nurses and medical workers have sacrificed so much over this last 18 months. We know what this virus can do. Many of us have witnessed the devastation first-hand. After going through so much, it is heartbreaking to see cases rise once again, especially when we have vaccines that can stop the spread of this deadly disease. We’ve come too far to ease up now in our fight against COVID-19. It makes sense for the health care community to lead the way in requiring vaccines for our employees. We will continue to do all we can to help convince all Californians that vaccines are safe, effective and critical as we come together to bring this pandemic to an end.”
  • SEIU-UHW Executive Committee Member Gabe Montoya, EMT: “California’s frontline workers in health care and frontline jobs serving the public are growing increasingly concerned as the number of COVID-19 cases rises. We support Governor Newsom’s efforts to ensure vaccinations reach more Californians because these life-saving shots not only prevent death and grave illness from the virus but also prevent more dangerous variants from taking hold. Since this pandemic began, belonging to a union has given workers the strength we needed to speak up for our own safety and the communities we serve, from demanding PPE to creating the conditions for students to return to schools safely. For this reason, we will continue to bargain with our employers to ensure that implementation of the policy includes workers’ voices and push for recognition of all essential workers who have risked their lives during the pandemic.”
  • United Nurses Association of California/Union of Health Care Professionals President Denise Duncan, RN: “COVID-19 transmissions are high, we’re in a fourth surge, and we know that unvaccinated people are suffering the most. This is a forward-thinking order from Governor Newsom which will save lives by protecting patients and caregivers both. Our nurses and health care professionals are still reeling from the last year and a half of the pandemic, including staffing shortages. This is a proactive step to protect patients, workers, and the broader community.”
  • California Statewide Law Enforcement Association: “The California Statewide Law Enforcement Association, which represents peace officers across the state, responded to the order by sending a message to members reiterating the state requirements and pledging to follow up on outstanding questions. ‘CSLEA is in the process of confirming that testing will be done at no cost to the employee and on State time and how employees will be compensated for self-quarantine if mandated to do so,’ the union said in a statement. … ‘Further, the State is not presently mandating proof of vaccine, though it would likely be legal if it did. Employees can elect to decline to provide proof of vaccination if they are willing to adhere to the masking and testing requirements,’ the union said in a memo to members.”
  • California Correctional Peace Officers Association: “Glen Stailey, the union’s president, said in a statement, Gov. ‘Newsom’s new vaccine policy is a reasonable compromise that we can get behind. It provides for regular testing at work for those who have chosen not to get vaccinated — this will prevent the spread of the virus among correctional officers and incarcerated individuals alike.’”
  • Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg: “I support Gov. @GavinNewsom in requiring #Covid vaccination or regular testing of employees. I believe we should do the same in @TheCityofSac for the sake of our employees and customers.”
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California

Employees of statewide LGBTQ+ group Equality California form union

Employees at other progressive and LGBTQ+ nonprofit organizations, including the ACLU and Lambda Legal have formed unions in recent years.

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Equality California staff volunteer for congressional candidate Christy Smith, March 2020 (Photo Credit: EQ Calif. Facebook)

LOS ANGELES – A supermajority of workers at Equality California, the nation’s largest statewide LGBTQ+ civil rights organization, announced the formation of a union, Equality Unites, with the Communications Workers of America (CWA).

In a letter sent via email Thursday, the staff urged Executive Director Rick Chavez Zbur, who is leaving his post at the end of 2021, and Executive Director-designate Tony Hoang to voluntarily recognize their union, inclusive of all non-Director level employees.

The union organizers laid out issues that merit the need for the union and what is felt to be critical concerns including addressing employee hiring and retention — particularly among employees of color, trans, gender nonconforming and intersex people — salary, raise, and promotion transparency, guidelines around overtime and fair compensation, a healthy culture of feedback, and any decisions that impact their health, safety and lives.

Organizers also pointed out that the staff at the non-profit organization had exceeded all expectations and kept the organization afloat during the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. The organizers also want to ensure that all employees have a voice as the organization undergoes a change in and restructuring of leadership, as well as a shift in goals and mission.

“CWA Local 9003 is proud to welcome our newest bargaining unit, Equality Unites,” said CWA Local 9003 President Marisa Remiski. “We are urging management to voluntarily recognize them and CWA Local 9003 as their Union. We look forward to working together!”

Late Thursday afternoon Executive Director Rick Chavez Zbur and Executive Director-designate Tony Hoang responded in a written statement;

“This morning, Equality California received notice from our employees that they intend to organize a collective bargaining unit and a request that we voluntarily recognize it. As a progressive civil rights organization, Equality California has always stood shoulder-to-shoulder with unions in support of workers’ rights to organize and collectively bargain,” the statement read.

“We remain fully committed to these pro-worker values, and we intend to support our employees’ organizational efforts and voluntarily recognize a bargaining unit. We look forward to continuing to provide a supportive and equitable environment for all of our employees and to working collaboratively with them going forward,” Zbur and Hoag added.

Zbur and Hoang’s voluntary recognition of the union is significant. Employers often resist efforts to unionize by forcing employees to vote or engaging in other practices to dissuade workers from organizing.

But the outgoing and incoming executive directors of the nation’s largest statewide LGBTQ+ civil rights organization immediately made clear that they have no intent to do so, and instead will support the employees’ efforts.

Employees at other progressive and LGBTQ+ nonprofit organizations, including the ACLU, Lambda Legal and the Center for Reproductive Rights, have formed unions in recent years.

Throughout the LGBTQ+ civil rights movement, labor unions have played an important role in advocating for LGBTQ+ Americans. In 2007, Pride at Work — an official constituency of the AFL-CIO — signed onto an amicus brief in support of marriage equality in In re marriage cases.

Unions like the Communications Workers of America, California Teachers Association, United Food and Commercial Workers, and more staunchly opposed California Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which sought to prohibit marriage equality.

More recently, unions have played a crucial part in advancing protections for LGBTQ+ workers, including the overwhelming 90% of union support for the Equality Act (H.R. 5) and celebration of the historic Supreme Court decision in Bostock, which affirmed that LGBTQ+ workers are protected from discrimination under federal law.

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Los Angeles

BNT: Buck case highlights intersection of race & sexual orientation

Journalist Jasmyne Cannick, said that the case “intersected race.” She joins “Black News Tonight” to discuss the case and its impact.

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Screen shot via Black News Tonight

PHILADELPHIA – Appearing on BNC’s Black News Tonight anchored by journalist Marc Lamont Hill Wednesday, Los Angeles based political strategist and journalist Jasmyne Cannick, who has covered the Ed Buck case, told Hill that the case intersected race and sexual orientation.

“As much as this case is about Ed Buck, it’s also about our housing crisis, and what it makes people feel they have to do — play Russian roulette with their lives just to have a roof over their heads,” Cannick stressed.

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