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Proposal Banning Exotic Animals For Entertainment Moves Forward

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LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — A proposal that would ban the use of exotic animals for entertainment purposes advanced Wednesday by the Los Angeles City Council Personnel and Animal Welfare Committee.

“The issue of wild, exotic animals being abused came to my doorstep four years ago, when a baby giraffe and elephant were being marched up the Hollywood Hills for a house party,” said Councilman David Ryu, who authored the proposed ban.

Exotic animals including elephants, giraffes, and lions have been brought to lavish house parties in the Hollywood Hills for […]

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California

LA County Eliminates Criminal Fees. Will California Follow?

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by Jackie Botts for CalMatters

LOS ANGELES — The county will stop collecting fees that often amount to thousands of dollars per person. Los Angeles County will stop billing people millions of dollars a year for the costs of their incarceration in an effort to lighten the financial burden on former inmates.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to eliminate all criminal administrative fees over which the county has discretion after hearing testimony from dozens of formerly incarcerated residents.

The county is the fourth in California to eliminate the fees. If a bill introduced in the state Senate is approved, the rest of California could soon follow.

“Most of the people who have contact with the criminal justice system are already struggling to make ends meet,” said Supervisor Hilda Solis, who co-wrote the measure. “It’s most definitely not the purpose of the justice system to punish poor people for their poverty.”

Among the fees that Los Angeles will no longer collect are a monthly $155 charge for probation supervision, $769 for a pre-sentence report, $50 for alcohol testing and legal counsel fees that can reach hundreds of dollars, according to a November report from a coalition of criminal justice reform advocacy groups.

“It’s just never-ending. It’s a revolving door of fees and stipulations,” Cynthia Blake told the supervisors. A mother of seven, Blake said she was homeless when she was assessed more than $5,000 in probation fees nearly a decade ago. Unable to pay, she “ducked and dodged” the probation department, ultimately ending up in prison.

The vote followed a December report from the county’s Chief Executive Office finding that the county assessed an average of $121 million in fines and fees each year since 2014, but collected about $11.4 million annually, or 9%.

Including all fees, fines and restitution, Los Angeles still has over $1.8 billion in outstanding debt on the books, dating back 50 years. The measure doesn’t touch restitution or fees and fines required by state law, however.

The county’s 2019-2020 budget for public protection — which includes the sheriff’s department, which operates county jails, probation and the courts — is $8.9 billion. 

Los Angeles follows the lead of San Francisco, Alameda and Contra Costa counties, which have passed similar measures in the past two years. More than 30% of California’s nearly 73,000 jailed inmates and 356,000 probationers reside in the four counties that have eliminated fees, according to data from the Board of State and Community Corrections and Chief Probation Officers of California. Another 127,000 inmates are in state prisons and 45,000 are on state-run parole.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis (right) authored the measure to eliminate the fees. Photo by Jackie Botts

The supervisors also resolved to write Gov. Gavin Newsom and legislators in support of SB 144, which would eliminate several of the most common and costly criminal administrative fees charged by counties and the state prison system.

“We are further hampering an already fragile family or community economically,” said Sen. Holly Mitchell, a Los Angeles Democrat who authored the bill.

The bill is opposed by counties and law enforcement groups, which say that eliminating fees would leave gaping funding holes.

“One of the problems is that the legislature passes laws that have to be paid for… When they didn’t want to use general funds, they allowed it to be done as a fine or fee,” said Darby Kernan, deputy executive director of the California State Association of Counties. “That’s what holds the system together, and minus those dollars, the system will collapse.”

Kernan pointed to a 2016 state law that required people convicted of driving under the influence to install in their cars an interlock device — a breathalyzer that must be passed to turn on the ignition — and pay an administrative fee to cover the cost.

But Mitchell urged the governor to recognize that criminal fees are a “self-defeating, anemic source of revenue,” in a statement Tuesday.

“If LA can afford it, California can to,” Mitchell said.

Los Angeles’ move may bode well for Mitchell’s bill, if history is an indication. The county was a trendsetter when it stopped charging fees to parents for their kids’ time in the juvenile justice system in 2009. Three Bay Area counties followed, Mitchell introduced a bill to do so statewide and in 2018, California became the first state in the nation to abolish juvenile fees.

But that law didn’t do away with pre-existing debt from the juvenile fees. While most counties, including Los Angeles, stopped collecting the old fees from parents, 22 counties haven’t.

Both the Los Angeles ordinance and MItchell’s proposal make old administrative fees uncollectible.

Marquies Nunez has struggled to pay off his county criminal justice fees. Photo by Jackie Botts

That could make a big difference for Marquies Nunez. When the 28-year-old finished a 13-year sentence four months ago, he received a new bill for $1,000 from Los Angeles County. That was on top of the $12,000 he already owed in restitution fees, $2,000 of which he had paid off by working for 30 to 60 cents per hour while imprisoned.

“I was actually devastated and hurt… knowing that I worked so hard while I was in jail to pay off my restitution and now here it is, I got bumped up an extra $1,000,” said Nunez.

After Los Angeles’ vote, Nunez is optimistic about spreading the wave of reform to the rest of the state.

‘We’re going in the right direction. We got a good governor, we got good people outside here voting for these laws, good people in the Senate,” Nunez said. “We’ve got a bright future ahead of us.”


Jackie Botts is a reporter with CalMatters. This article is part of The California Divide, a collaboration among newsrooms examining income inequity and economic survival in California.

This article is produced as part of WeHo Daily’s partnership with CalMatters, a nonpartisan, nonprofit journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters.

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Environment

Electric Car Sales Have Tripled. What we Can Do to Keep Them Growing

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Electric car sales tripled last year. Here’s what we can do to keep them growing

by Gail Broadbent and Graciela Metternichtis for The Conversation

A total of 6718 electric vehicles were sold in Australia in 2019. That’s three times as many as in 2018, but it’s still small beer. More than a million fossil-fueled light vehicles (including SUVs and utes) were sold in the same period.

The sales figures were published in the wake of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement that sales of petrol or diesel cars will be banned in the UK by 2035. The UK’s isn’t the only right-of-center government to see the benefits of going electric — in 2016, New Zealand’s Conservative party introduced a wide-ranging program to encourage drivers to get off fossil fuels.

If Australia wants to head in the same direction, we can learn from what others have done.

Why should we go electric? And why don’t we?

The main argument for electric vehicles is often about cutting greenhouse gas emissions. But even leaving those aside, there are plenty of reasons to move away from oil as an energy source for transport, among them energy security, better health outcomes, and spending less money on petrol imports.

Australians have been slow to adopt electric cars, however. Our previous research indicates the top two reasons are the fear of not being able to find a fast recharger on long trips (“range anxiety”), and the higher purchase price of electric cars.

Obstacles are clearing

Range anxiety should be on the decline. Fast rechargers are beginning to be installed on major routes and higher capacity batteries are increasing vehicle range. In any case, the average distance travelled by Australians is just 34.5km per day.

Prices for electric vehicles are also on the way down. Bloomberg has predicted that larger electric and fossil-fueled cars will cost about the same in Europe as soon as 2022.

Even when upfront costs for electric vehicles are higher, ongoing costs are generally much lower. An average Australian car travels 12,600 kilometres in a year, consuming 1360.8 litres of fuel at a cost of about A$2,000 (assuming fuel costs $1.50 per litre). For a typical electric car, the same amount of travel would cost $250 if recharging using off-peak electricity (assuming it costs 11 cents per kilowatt hour), or $567 if recharging with more expensive electricity (at 25 cents per kilowatt hour).

Lessons from New Zealand

In 2016, New Zealand’s Conservative transport minister Simon Bridges introduced a suite of policies to encourage electric, especially for passenger vehicles. Since then, electric vehicle sales have been doubling every 12 months.

In 2019, 6545 light electric vehicles were brought into New Zealand and registered for the first time. That’s not far off Australia’s tally, but in a population of 5 million compared to Australia’s 25 million.

So what did the Conservatives do to encourage motorists to go electric? They took advice from the experts and introduced a multi-faceted group of measures.

These included: exemption from the Road User Charge, worth about $600 per year; government procurement programs; installing a public recharging network; investment in a five-year promotional campaign including TV ads, online information and “ride and drive” events. They also established a leadership group across business and government and a funding scheme to encourage organisations to go electric.

In NZ they have just about thought of everything, even ensuring there is a facility to recycle old batteries.

But possibly the most important factor has been that the government has enabled imports of high-quality secondhand electric cars from Japan. In 2019 they accounted for more than half of electric vehicle sales (4155 used compared to 2390 new).

This measure enables motorists with lower budgets to buy electric vehicles. Our unpublished research shows electric vehicles have been especially popular with multicar families who use their EVs as much as possible as it’s so much cheaper than using petrol or diesel. When those happy customers tell their friends and family about how much better it is to drive electric, it’s an important feedback loop that helps people overcome their fear of change.

Maybe it’s time Australia took a “Leaf” out of the Kiwi book and got on board with some sensible policies and legislation to speed up the transition to electric cars.


Gail Broadbent is a PhD candidate in the Faculty of Science at UNSW. Graciela Metternichtis a Professor of Environmental Geography, School of Biological Earth and Environmental Sciences, UNSW.

The Conversation publishes knowledge-based journalism that is responsible, ethical and supported by evidence from academics and researchers in order to inform public debate with facts, clarity and insight into society’s biggest problems.

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Health

Equal Insurance HIV Act to End Discrimination Against HIV-Positive Patients

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SACRAMENTO — Senator Lena Gonzalez (D – Long Beach), Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara, and Equality California have announced the Equal Insurance HIV Act to stop insurance companies from denying life and disability income insurance coverage based solely on HIV status.

This bill proposal would enact anti-discrimination protections in life and disability income insurance products for those living with HIV by banning HIV discrimination to ensure they have equal access to the coverage they deserve.

“Everyone deserves access to life and disability income insurance, regardless of preexisting conditions,” said Senator Lena Gonzalez. “I am so proud that my first bill introduced in the legislature will ensure access to the coverage they deserve.

“Everyone deserves access to life and disability income insurance, regardless of preexisting conditions,” said Senator Lena Gonzalez. “I am so proud that my first bill introduced in the legislature will ensure access to these critical resources for residents who are HIV-positive. It is time that we end the practice of insurance companies refusing to provide services to those who need it most.”

This proposed bill overturns a law passed in 1989 when treatment for someone who tested HIV positive was extremely limited. Therapies were ineffective, highly expensive, and came with severe side effects causing many individuals who were HIV positive to bypass treatment.

Today, with the access to health care, advancement in HIV testing, and more effective treatment, a person who is HIV positive and undergoes and remains on treatment can live a long healthy life. HIV status is treated by medical professionals like any other treatable chronic condition.

“A person should not be defined by their HIV status and it should not be the only factor when determining their right to insurance protection,” said Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara. “People living with HIV are raising families and seeing their children grow up just like anyone. This legislation is crucial to ensure they have equal access to the same kinds of insurance that helps us all plan for the future.”

With HIV positive people living longer healthy lives, their need for life and disability income insurance is imperative to protect themselves and their families. Current California law allows insurers to deny coverage for life or disability income insurance to HIV-positive individuals based on positive results of an ELISA test followed by a positive Western Blot Assay performed by or at the direction of the insurer – tests that are no longer commonly used today.

“Thanks to modern medicine, people living with HIV lead happy, healthy lives,” said Equality California Executive Director Rick Zbur. “It’s time for our laws to keep up with the science and protect Californians living with HIV from insurance discrimination. Our goal to end HIV by 2030 means ending all HIV transmissions, deaths and stigma. This bill is a critical step to getting there.”

A person’s HIV positive status should be treated in the same way as any other chronic condition in the writing of life and disability income insurance. This bill proposal will ensure that life and disability insurance companies can no longer use an outdated and discriminatory insurance underwriting law that allows insurers to refuse life and disability income insurance applications for HIV positive individuals based solely on a positive HIV test.

“The life expectancy of people who are HIV positive has dramatically changed in the last two decades thanks to highly effective HIV treatment regimen including new antiretroviral drugs and existing antiretroviral therapy,” said Dr. Tasnim Khan, Chief Medical Officer of One Community Health. “It is now time to acknowledge the advances in HIV care and prevention and how to work collaboratively with the insurance industry to review policies on life and disability income coverage to people living with HIV.”

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