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Legislation

Virgina Bans Controversial “Conversion Therapy” for LGBTQ Youth

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Photo by Kristel Hayes

RICHMOND — Young people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer in Virginia now are protected from “conversion therapy,” after Gov. Ralph Northam signed a law banning the practice .

The therapy involves mental-health practitioners trying to get a person to change sexual orientation or gender identity, and it’s been widely discredited. Virginia resident Adam Trimmer, who’s been through the controversial practice, said his therapist told him his sexual orientation was the result of an overbearing mother and a distant father.

Trimmer, who now serves as Virginia ambassador for anti-conversion therapy group Born Perfect, said it almost ruined his relationships with his parents.

“Conversion therapy completely wrecked our family. It wrecked my identity, it wrecked our family, and you don’t want this to happen in your family,” he said. “The issue is not that your child is part of the LGBTQ community. They just need someone to talk to.”

Virginia now is the 20th state — and the first in the South — to outlaw the controversial practice. The ban takes effect July 1.

The conversion-therapy bill is considered a historic breakthrough for LGBTQ Southerners, according to the Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, executive director of the Campaign for Southern Equality. She said more than one-third of all LGBTQ Americans live in the South.

“This continues to be the part of the country where discrimination is most enshrined in state law,” she said, “or where we haven’t been able to have the breakthroughs in pro-LGBTQ equality and laws that we’ve seen in other parts of the country.”

Currently, 28 states don’t have any laws that protect the more than 13 million LGBTQ Americans from discrimination. Other landmark rights bills also passed Virginia’s House and Senate, and are on their way to the governor.

The text of the legislation, House Bill 386, is online at lis.virginia.gov, and a Williams Institute LGBTQ fact sheet is at williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu.

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Environment

House Passes Schiff’s Rim of the Valley Corridor Preservation Act

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WASHINGTON D.C. – Rep. Adam Schiff has applauded the bipartisan passage of The Rim of the Valley Corridor Preservation Act, which would add more than 191,000 acres of the Rim of the Valley Corridor to the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (SMMNRA). The bill passed the House on a bipartisan basis with 231 Yeas and 183 Nays

Schiff first introduced this legislation in 2017, and Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris introduced companion legislation in the Senate. It recently passed out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on a bipartisan basis.

To view a map of the proposed expansion under the Rim of the Valley Corridor Preservation Act, click here

“I am thrilled that the House of Representatives has passed the Rim of the Valley Corridor Preservation Act, legislation I have championed for nearly 20 years,” Congressman Schiff said. “Preservation of the open space in our communities is not only good for our environment, wildlife, and ecosystems, but it is beneficial for the health and well-being of residents of all ages. The Rim of the Valley corridor is an area of striking and breathtaking natural beauty, and we must do whatever we can to preserve that beauty for the benefit of LA residents, the millions each year who visit, and for generations to come.”

“Today’s vote in the House is a win for the Rim of the Valley Corridor and the millions of Los Angeles County residents living in the surrounding communities,” said Senator Feinstein. “Preserving this unspoiled terrain will protect sensitive habitat for California wildlife and open space to benefit local economies. I am glad that Congressman Schiff was able to pass it in the House and look forward to doing the same here in the Senate, where it has already advanced out of committee.”

“The Rim of the Valley corridor is home to some of Southern California’s most beautiful wildlife and landscapes,” said Senator Harris. “That is why we must take immediate steps to protect this area’s habitats and natural resources. I am grateful to Congressman Schiff for his leadership on this issue and I applaud the House of Representatives for prioritizing the preservation of this area so it can be enjoyed by future generations. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Senate to get this bill across the finish line.”

The proposed expansion is based on a six-year study of the region completed by the National Park Service in 2015. This legislation would expand the SMMNRA to include many, but not all, of the land included in the study. The lands included within the expansion will be known as the Rim of the Valley Unit and stretches from the Simi Hills and Santa Susanas to the Verdugos and on to the San Gabriel Mountains. The bill will enable NPS and the local community to better protect natural resources and habitats, and provide members of the community with improved access to nature for recreational and educational purposes.

To view the fact sheet about the legislation, click here.

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City

Significant Funding Announced for LA River Restoration Project

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Reps. Adam Schiff, Lucille Roybal-Allard, and Jimmy Gomez have applauded the first significant federal funding for the LA River Restoration Project, which will revitalize more than 700 acres of open space along a broad stretch of the Los Angeles River from Griffith Park to downtown Los Angeles.

“The funding announced by the Army Corps of Engineers this week marks an important milestone in the decades-long effort to restore the Los Angeles River to its original natural beauty,” said Rep. Schiff. “I will continue working with the City of Los Angeles and the Corps to build further momentum on this project to revitalize the river’s aquatic ecosystem and provide much-needed green space for all Angelenos.”

“I am delighted that the Army Corps of Engineers’ Fiscal Year 2020 Work Plan provides critical funding to revitalize the LA River,” said Rep. Roybal-Allard. “As a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, I have fought hard to ensure the Army Corps has the funding it needs to move forward with this project, and I will keep up that fight in the years to come as we keep working to restore the river in our Southeast communities.  Restoring the LA River in the Southeast will improve the health and quality of life for families near the river, and provide these neighborhoods with much-needed new green space for recreation.”

“Strong federal investments toward revitalizing the Los Angeles River represent a major victory for our constituents, our city’s diverse communities, and the wildlife whose lives depend on the river’s ecosystem,” said Rep. Gomez. “The Los Angeles River provides us with a unique opportunity to prioritize green spaces for all Angelinos while also strengthening the river’s habitat connectivity. I deeply appreciate the efforts by the Army Corps of Engineers to transform this historic waterway.”

“The L.A. River is an iconic treasure — a place that holds a special place in the history of our city and limitless potential for the future of our communities,” said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. “Thanks to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, we will have the funding to help our river reach its full potential, restore an incredible natural habitat in the heart of Los Angeles, and connect more Angelenos to this remarkable resource in our own backyard.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released their Work Plan for Fiscal Year 2020, which includes $1.857 million for preconstruction engineering and design (PED) activities for the Los Angeles River Ecosystem Restoration Project, the first federal funding since FY17 and FY16, when the project received $400,000 and $100,000, respectively, for PED activities.

In April 2019, Schiff, Roybal-Allard, Gomez, and 12 colleagues from the Los Angeles area urged the House Appropriations Committee to provide strong funding for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

In the appropriations legislation that passed in December, Congress increased funding for the Corps by nearly 10% for Fiscal Year 2020—a 50% increase from the President’s budget request. This funding supports the Corps’ important ongoing civil works projects across the nation, including the Los Angeles River Ecosystem Restoration Project.

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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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