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Sacramento mayor launches study of higher minimum wage

Sacramento may soon join the growing number of cities in California and elsewhere boosting minimum wages for employers higher than those required by the state or federal government.

Mayor Kevin Johnson on Tuesday formally launched a task force of business, community and labor leaders that will study possible minimum wage increases and report back to the City Council. The 15-person group will hold the first of five scheduled public meetings Wednesday at City Hall.

“The task force will determine what makes most sense so that working adults can earn enough to support their families and make their way into the middle class and that small businesses can continue to grow and prosper,” Johnson said in a news release. “Every Sacramentan should feel that if they work hard and play by the rules, they can succeed.”

Johnson chose two advocates for better wages as co-chairs of the city committee: City Councilman Jay Schenirer and Elizabeth Landsberg of Western Center on Law & Poverty. Landsberg’s group is co-sponsoring the proposal to increase the state minimum wage to $13.

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Households caught in health-care mismatch quagmire

Many Californians complain about trying to get issues resolved with Medi-Cal, the state and federal health program for the poor that now covers one-third of the state’s residents.

Other Californians similarly complain about Covered California, the state-run health insurance exchange created under the Affordable Care Act.

Now imagine being in a family with members in each program. For those 600,000 individuals, getting and keeping insurance can be a quagmire.

“We hear a lot from our local programs about mixed-status families getting passed back and forth” between Covered California and Medi-Cal, said Jen Flory, senior attorney at the Western Center on Law and Poverty.

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Homeless woman’s case sharpens focus on justice system and mentally ill

The list of Trishawn Cardessa Carey’s prescriptions fills a page in her case file: clonazepam for seizures and panic, methocarbamol for muscle spasms and quetiapine for spells of psychosis. She suffers delusions, paranoia and “dramatic mood swings.”

For years, the homeless woman has lived off Social Security tied to her mental disability — a doctor diagnosed her with schizoaffective disorder — and she has cycled into and out of L.A. County jails 10 times since 2002, according to court documents filed by her attorney, Milton Grimes.

Carey now could face decades in prison after picking up an LAPD officer’s baton and raising it in the air during a violent skid row incident earlier this year. The case spotlights a challenge for officials as they begin a new effort to improve the way Los Angeles’ criminal justice system handles offenders with mental illness.

Retired UCLA law professor (and Of Counsel to Western Center) Gary Blasi, who has studied homelessness, said Carey’s case underscores the need to rethink how the criminal justice system handles the mentally ill.

“They are just dealing with symptoms,” he said. “They are doing nothing more than recycling people through the criminal justice system.”


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Jerry Brown signs bill to help domestic violence survivors

Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday signed a bill by San Francisco Assemblyman David Chiu allowing domestic violence victims to break a lease in order to move to safer housing.

Current state laws allowing domestic violence victims to terminate a residential lease were set to expire at the end of this year. Assembly Bill 418 makes those laws permanent and makes it easier to terminate a lease without filing a police report or obtaining a restraining order, according to Chiu.

In addition, the bill reduces the obligation for victims to pay the remaining rent from 30 days to 14 days following termination, a change intended to make it easier to afford new housing.

“By reducing the rent obligation to 14 days, this bill frees up funds that could be the difference between a domestic violence survivor securing safe housing and experiencing homelessness,” said Anya Lawler, a legislative advocate with the Western Center on Law and Poverty.


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Drought preparedness water bills receive support from wildlife panel

SACRAMENTO >> Three bills focused on saving water passed out of the Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee Tuesday.

Senate Bill 7, authored by Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, requires the installation of submeters in new multifamily residential buildings, encouraging responsible water consumption and conservation by providing residents accurate information about the volume and cost of their water usage.

“California’s water supply is under intense pressure from climate change, increasing population and development,” Wolk said. “Given the extent of the drought and the need for greater water conservation in California, all of the state’s residents should be armed with the knowledge of how much water they are using in order for them to take steps to reduce their usage.”

SB 7’s supporters include the Sierra Club California & Western Center on Law & Poverty.

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An ‘Ugly Policy’ Systematically Devalues Poor Children. One State Is Ready To Stop It

In most states, when a family in need has a new child, their welfare benefits increase to cover the extra costs that come with a new family member. But 16 other states operate differently, limiting benefits after a certain number of children in the express hopes of discouraging poor mothers from having more children.

California’s policy, the Maximum Family Grant (MFG) Rule, has been in place for more than 20 years. After 10 months of receiving benefits, families don’t get any extra money if they have additional children, although they get higher benefits for any children they had before enrolling. “Here, what we say is, if you come into the program with 10 kids, they all get benefits, but if you come into the program with one kid and have another kid, that kid gets denied,” explained Jessica Bartholow, legislative advocate at Western Center for Law and Poverty. “The child exclusion law targets the child, targets children born into deep poverty, and suggests that they should never have been born.” “It’s got an ugly history, it’s an ugly policy,” Bartholow said  “I think it’s one of the worst policies in the country.”

But advocates think this may be the year they finally get rid of it. State lawmakers had originally tried to do away with the cap in a budget agreement earlier this year by allocating additional grant money for families on welfare who have additional children. It was eventually dropped from the budget and is now a stand-alone bill. Last month, it passed out of a Senate committee for the first time.

Advocates also feel optimistic about the effort’s chances this year. “We feel like we finally have the attention of the governor,” said Bartholow, whose organization is one of the main sponsors of the repeal effort. She thinks Gov. Jerry Brown (D) wasn’t even made aware of the issue in the first two years of the campaign to eliminate the cap, but now she knows that he has been personally briefed on it. “I also believe that he would sign a piece of legislation repealing a Maximum Family Grant,” she added.

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U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Texas Department of Housing v. The Inclusive Communities Project

Western Center applauds the Inclusive Communities Project and its counsel on securing last week’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Texas Department of Housing v. The Inclusive Communities Project which preserves the disparate impact doctrine as a tool for combating housing discrimination under the Fair Housing Act (FHA).

Western Center, with lead amici counsel the Equal Justice Society, and co-counsel Legal Services of Northern California, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, PC, and Rachel Godsil of Seton Hall Univ. School of Law, submitted a brief on behalf of social scientists from around the country whose research and scholarship focuses on how implicit and unconscious bias can lead to discriminatory outcomes based on race and other protected categories.

The brief asserts that despite the persistence of intentional discrimination and overt expressions of racial hatred, as evidenced horrifically by the recent mass shooting in Charleston, most discrimination today operates on a unconscious or hidden level and that disparate impact is critical to revealing and remedying the effects of such discrimination.

For what appears to be the first time, the Supreme Court acknowledged this phenomenon finding that “[r]ecognition of disparate-impact liability under the FHA also plays a role in uncovering discriminatory intent: It permits plaintiffs to counteract unconscious prejudices and disguised animus that escape easy classification as disparate treatment. In this way disparate-impact liability may prevent segregated housing patterns that might otherwise result from covert and illicit stereotyping.”Slip op at 21.

Western Center is proud of its contribution to preserving disparate impact as a means by which Californians and people around the country segregated and marginalized by non-intentional housing discrimination can enforce the protections of the Fair Housing Act.


Dick Rothschild, Director of Litigation, received the Kutak-Dodds award in Washington D.C

We are truly honored to work with a legal services legend!  Dick Rothschild, our Director of Litigation, received the Kutak-Dodds award at last week’s NLADA (National Legal Aid & Defender Association) Exemplar Award Dinner in Washington DC.  This prestigious recognition celebrates individuals and law firms that have demonstrated outstanding leadership, vision, dedication and achievement in promoting and supporting equal justice.  His career-long dedication to civil legal aid has inspired countless individuals within the equal justice community, including the nearly 500 guests in attendance at the event.  We are extremely proud and congratulate him on his exceptional accomplishments.


Health Care Coverage For Hundreds Of Thousands of Seniors, Low-income Families And Immigrants Protected

Western Center and co-counsel sued the State in Korean Community Center of the East Bay v. Douglas on behalf of vulnerable immigrants, seniors and low-income families seeking to navigate the complicated annual Medi-Cal determination process and two community organizations serving them.  The suit alleges that hundreds of thousands of people will lose health coverage because the State only sent out English language notices, failed to notify clients of their right to “cure” or have their Medi-Cal reinstated if they provide missing eligibility information in time, and failed to implement a the legally required eligibility review process. Co-counsel are Neighborhood Legal Services, Legal Aid Foundation of LA; Bay Area Legal Aid; Asian American Advancing Justice; and Kirkland and Ellis.

In denying defendant’s Motion for Reconsideration, the Court kept in place the preliminary injunction, mandating that no county can send a Notice of Action (NOA), terminating Medi-Cal coverage due to missing eligibility information without explicitly describing the 90-day cure right and without explaining what information is missing from the application.  The preliminary injunction says that Medi-Cal benefits “may continue and will not be interrupted” if the beneficiary turns in the information within 90 days of the termination date.


Exorbitant traffic fees stripped too many drivers of licenses

Everyone has a story: The time an unlicensed driver rear-ended me. The time an unlicensed driver ran a red light and killed a co-worker’s dog as her husband was walking the dog in a crosswalk. It seems as if there are so many unlicensed drivers in California that authorities are not capable of deterring the unlicensed from getting behind the wheel.

In fact, according to a report by Western Center, 17 percent of licensed California drivers have suspended driver’s licenses — not for dangerous driving but for failing to pay off citations for minor traffic offenses. In March, the U.S. Department of Justice faulted authorities in Ferguson, Mo., for engaging in a toxic pattern of burying African American residents in fines and penalties for minor offenses with the goal of serving “revenue not public safety needs.” It turns out California has been dishing out the same dirty treatment to its diverse commuting class.

“We literally stumbled onto this issue,” one of the report’s authors, Mike Herald of the Western Center on Law and Poverty, told me. “No one was keeping track of all these things we were loading onto the court system, and no one was keeping track of the number of suspensions.”


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