Author Archives: Alexie Bruel

There is a saying at the top: “More Love. Less Hate.” Underneath are five different colored hearts. The first heart is broken.

What is the Equality Act?

On Feb. 25, the House of Representatives passed the Equality Act, a landmark piece of legislation that would strengthen and expand the existing Civil Rights Act of 1964 to broaden its range of sex discrimination to protect LGBTQ people. 

This Act makes it explicit that existing federal statutes prohibiting sex discrimination also prohibit sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination. In many state and local governments, there is discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, public accommodations, and receiving federal financial assistance. 

The bill is currently awaiting Senate approval, where 60 votes are needed for its passage. That means every Democrat, and at least 10 Republicans must vote in favor of this act. 

Currently, there are no federal anti-discrimination laws for LGBTQ people. At least 27 states lack a state anti-discrimination law, something that is sorely needed. A 2020 survey from the Center for American Progress found that 1 in 3 LGBTQ Americans, including 3 in 5 transgender Americans, experienced discrimination in just the past year alone. 

In 2020, the Supreme Court ruled in a landmark case, Bostock v. Clayton County, that it is illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to not hire, fire, or plainly discriminate against individuals based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. The Equality Act would solidify this interpretation into the country’s civil rights laws by defining existing sex discrimination protections that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. 

Under the act, the Fair Housing Act (FHA) would also be amended to clearly classify sexual orientation and gender identity protections, firmly prohibiting housing discrimination against LGBTQ people. This would include the prohibition of differential treatment in renting, selling, pricing, eviction, and other activities.

Within federally funded programs, like shelters, schools, community health centers, adoption agencies, and law enforcement, LGBTQ individuals face a higher amount of discrimination in these programs. The Equality Act would protect LGBTQ people and women from discrimination, mistreatment, and or refusal by any of these programs. 

The act would also benefit LGBTQ students in federally funded schools, ensuring that students have the right to use sex-segregated facilities and participate in sex-segregated activities in keeping with their gender identity. It also adds protections for transgender and nonbinary students from the widespread misgendering and harassment that many face. 

The Equality Act would establish provisions that businesses, such as restaurants and pharmacies, would face accountability if they were to discriminate against, mistreat, or refuse service to LGBTQ people. Women would also no longer be charged higher prices than men for the same services or be denied service by institutions that provide health care. The expansion of public accommodations under the Equality Act would ensure protections for race, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity in public spaces. 

While on the campaign trail, President Biden championed this bill, saying it would be one of his top priorities for his first 100 days in office. However, he has since fallen short of that goal. During his first joint speech before Congress on the eve of his 100th day of presidency, Biden urged Congress to pass the Equality Act to protect LGBTQ people against discrimination. 

“I also hope Congress will get to my desk the Equality Act to protect LGBTQ Americans,” Biden said. “To all transgender Americans watching at home, especially young people who are so brave: I want you to know your president has your back.”

A report from the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) found that a survey of more than 10,000 Americans shows strong support for LGBTQ protections — more than 80% of Americans — against discrimination in jobs, public accommodations, and housing across every subgroup of Americans. Even groups least likely to support nondiscrimination protections show majority support — 62 % of Republicans and 62% of white evangelical Protestants support nondiscrimination policies. 

While the bill has received a lot of public support, many Republican representatives fear the bill may infringe on religious objections. The bill explicitly states that it overrules the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which gives people the right to air their grievances against something that infringes upon their religious freedom. 

Under the Equality Act, the RFRA could not be used to challenge the act’s provisions, nor could it be used as a defense to a claim made under the act. Ensuring that religion cannot be weaponized as a permit to discriminate — including against people of another religion. 

Opponents of the Equality Act fear that it would threaten businesses or organizations with religious objections to serving LGBTQ people, forcing them to choose between operating their business or following their beliefs. 

Utah Sen. Mitt Romney told the Washington Blade that he won’t support the Equality Act, citing religious liberty. 

“Sen. Romney believes that strong religious liberty protections are essential to any legislation on this issue, and since those provisions are absent from this particular bill, he is not able to support it,” his spokesperson told the Blade.

Previous arguments against the notable Equal Rights Amendment in the 70s argued that the adoption of the bill would undercut existing legal protections for girls and women, echoing a similar sentiment to the Equality Act. 

However, advocates for the LGBTQ community praised lawmakers for extending legal protections to include LGBTQ individuals around the nation. 

GLAAD called the House passage of the Equality Act “a victory for all Americans and for our country’s core values of equal treatment under law,” continuing to say, “ This landmark civil rights law secures those protections for every LGBTQ person, to live without fear of discrimination.”

The National Black Justice Coalition also applauded the Equality Act, adding that “it also fills in significant gaps within existing civil rights laws for women, people of color, immigrants, religious groups, and those of us who live at the intersections of those identities.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y) at the Women’s March

The Green New Deal Explained

The Green New Deal aims to reduce greenhouse gases and slow the acceleration of climate change while also addressing economic inequality and racial injustice. It was first introduced by Rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) in 2018. The bill recognizes the need to create a more sustainable society to combat climate change and improve the quality of life for everyone. 

Human activity is the leading cause of climate change over the past century, as reported by the Fourth National Climate Assessment. The bill asserts that climate change “constitutes a direct threat to the national security of the United States,” as it impacts the economic, environmental, and social stability of many communities, not just in the United States but worldwide. 

Climate change has led to extreme weather patterns, rising sea levels, and an increase in wildfires. It disproportionately affects indigenous people, communities of color, low-income communities, women, youth, and elderly people. 

The Green New Deal acknowledges that the United States is experiencing several other related crises besides climate change. Such as a trend of wage stagnation, deindustrialization, and anti-labor policies, as well as the greatest income inequality since the Great Depression. White families, on average, have 20 times more wealth than Black families, epitomizing a large racial wealth divide. 

The United States is also experiencing a decline in life expectancy and inaccessibility to basic needs, such as clean air and water, healthy food, health care, housing, transportation, and education to many marginalized communities. 

The Green New Deal calls for securing clean air and water, food security, and a sustainable environment for all people of the United States for generations to come and promoting justice and equity by stopping current, preventing future, and repairing historical oppression of disenfranchised communities. 

The bill will aim to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, to meet “100 percent of the power demand in the United States through clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources,” as well as creating millions of new high-wage jobs, ensuring economic growth and security for all people of the United States, and investing in infrastructure to meet the needs and demands of the 21st century. 

The ultimate goal of the deal is to stop using fossil fuels entirely and transition away from nuclear energy. The bill aims to be completed through a 10-year national mobilization to reduce carbon emissions in the United States. 

“We’re going to transition to a 100 percent carbon free-economy that is more unionized, more just, more dignified, and guarantees more health care and housing than we ever have before,” Ocasio-Cortez said at a news conference. “Do we intend on sending a message to the Biden administration that we need to go bigger and bolder? The answer is absolutely yes.”

However, many Republicans have denounced the resolution, calling it “a socialist super-package.” Rep. James Comer (R-Ky), a ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, claims that the deal “will only saddle hardworking taxpayers with debt and displace millions of Americans from their jobs.” 

The bill is a nonbinding resolution meaning that if it were to pass, it cannot be made into law or create any new programs. The Green New Deal is more of a proposal of what the United States should do to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions and a more sustainable future. 

Currently, carbon emissions rates are rising at a high rate. The United States emissions rate rose by 3.4 percent in 2018 and rose globally by 2.7 percent. By continuing on our current path with no real measures done to combat climate change, we risk irrevocably damaging the earth in ways we cannot come back from.

Gavin Newsom Proposes New Plan for Reopening Schools

On Mar. 1, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced at a news conference California’s plan to reopen schools around the state. Legislative leaders joined Newsom to discuss the state’s multibillion-dollar plan to incentivize K-12 schools into reopening. The bill would give power to the state’s 58 counties to decide when to reopen schools. 

Under the bill, schools are not required to open. Instead, those that do will receive financial compensation. The package will allocate a total of $6.6 billion to entice and push public schools to reopen and bring students back into classrooms. At least $2 billion of the fund will be grants given to schools that temporarily open kindergarten through second grade by Apr. 1 and bring back at-risk students in all grades.

“Our plan is also geared toward providing schools the resources and incentives that they need to ensure that education can be all things for every child in California,” said Speaker Anthony Rendon at the event. 

The bill aims to safely phase in younger students who are most at risk and benefit the most from in-person learning. Those most at risk include foster and homeless youth and children of color disproportionately affected by the pandemic. A study done by Common Sense and Boston Consulting Group found that at least 15 to 16 million students live in households without internet access or the proper device for distance learning at home. 

Under the proposal, school districts must reopen Kindergarten through second grade classrooms by Apr. 1 to receive funding from the $2 billion in grants. 

However, those that open after Apr. 1 will receive smaller cash grants, and those that don’t open by May 15 would lose their share of the funding. The funds could pay for summer school activities and in-person services like tutoring. 

The plan would allow all districts to start slowly phasing in students, even those in the “purple-tier”- the most restrictive level of California’s COVID-19 tier system- as long as the daily rate of COVID-19 cases is less than 25 per 100,000 residents. 

Once counties move into the red tier — daily case rates below 7 per 100,000 residents — schools that are eligible for grant funding must open all elementary grades, as well as at least one grade in middle and high school. As of Mar. 9, California has 34 counties in the purple tier and 20 counties in the red tier. 

Over 75,000 vaccines will be pushed aside from educators and school employees, Newsom said, and school staff will be prioritized in the distribution of vaccines as well as seniors and those most vulnerable. At least 15 million vaccines have already been administered in California. Schools will also require staff and students to wear masks while in school. 

On Mar. 3, the Newsom administration announced it would dedicate 40% of available COVID-19 vaccines to residents in the most disadvantaged areas across the state, as reported by the LA Times. 

Legislators have also acknowledged how challenging online learning is for students, from technological challenges to mental health issues. 

“This package of funding and supports for our schools recognizes that in-person education is essential to meet not only the learning needs but the mental health and social-emotional needs of our kids — especially the youngest and the most vulnerable,” said Gov. Newsom at a virtual signing ceremony of the bill.

Since the start of the pandemic last year, many schools have been shut down and forced to switch to remote learning. Almost a full year of online schooling across the nation has taken a toll on students, families, and the education system. It’s even more challenging for those who lack the technological resources to access an education. 

For younger students, in-person learning is fundamental to build social and emotional skills. The social environment of schools is critical in children’s development as they engage with others in an academic setting. For older students in high school and college, online learning has negatively impacted many students’ mental health. 

A report from Best Colleges found that 95% of college students have had “negative mental health symptoms as a result of COVID-19 related circumstances.” Out of the 702 college students surveyed, almost half struggle with isolation, anxiety, and a lack of focus. 

“College years are a pivotal time for young adults as they pursue their chosen academic field and have the opportunity to gain independence and learn more about themselves,” said Dr. Melissa Venable, Education Advisor for Best Colleges.

As schools plan to return to in-person instruction, Venable encourages schools to “do all they can to support students as they experience a range of mental health concerns.” 

The Safe Schools for All plan comes after ongoing concerns from parents and schools about reopening districts in a safe manner.

By slowly opening schools and phasing in students through safety precautions and measures, the state hopes to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. However, schools will continue to offer online learning for students and families who are still hesitant to send their children back to school.

Jeff Bezos speaking at Amazon SPheres Grand Opening in Seattle

Jeff Bezos’s Pledge to Addressing Climate Change: The Bezos Earth Fund

Founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, announced on Feb. 2 that he’d be stepping down as CEO of Amazon later this year to become its executive chair. Bezos explains his decision to focus his energy on his projects in a letter to his employees, including his $10 billion pledge to fight climate change through the Bezos Earth Fund. 

The Bezos Earth Fund, first launched last February, will be used to combat the effects of climate change by providing grants to fund scientists, activists, and other nongovernmental organizations in an attempt to “amplify known ways and to explore new ways of fighting the devastating impact of climate change.”

In November, Bezos announced in an Instagram post the first 16 recipients of the Earth Fund, committing to “protect Earth’s future.”

The initial recipients will receive $791 million from Bezos’s donation of $10 billion, accounting for only 7% of the allotted fund. 

Four of the most established environmental groups in the country — the Nature Conservancy, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the World Wildlife Fund, will be receiving $100 million from Bezos’s fund. 

Most grantees are being awarded money for specific projects, while others have been allowed to re-grant money to other nonprofits. “[World Resource Institute (WRI)] is pleased to announce that it has been selected to receive a grant from the Bezos Earth Fund for two major initiatives in support of global climate action,” says the company in a news release. 

The WRI announced on Mar. 9, its President and CEO, Dr. Andrew Steer, will be stepping down to become President and CEO of the Bezos Earth Fund. In a series of tweets, Steer offered up a few more details about the Earth fund, including that Bezos’s “goal is to spend it down between now and 2030.” This means that the Earth Fund will award about $1 billion a year for the next decade.

The WRI ($100 million), a global sustainability-research organization, will develop a satellite-based system that monitors carbon emissions and captures changes in the world’s wildlife. 

The Bezos Earth Fund has also awarded $151 million, so far, to groups that are dedicated to environmental justice. Those include; The Climate and Clean Energy Equity Fund ($43 million), Dream Corps Green For All ($10 million), The Hive Fund for Climate and Gender Justice ($43 million), NDN Collective ($12 million), and The Solutions Project ($43 million). 

The rest of the grantees are ClimateWorks Foundation ($50 million), Eden Reforestation Projects ($5 million), Energy Foundation ($30 million), Rocky Mountain Institute ($10 million), Salk Institute for Biological Studies ($30 million), and Union of Concerned Scientists ($15 million). 

Bezos’s Earth Fund comes after ‘ongoing concerns’ about Amazon’s environmental policies. Amazon has long faced pressures from within the company and others to address concerns surrounding its contribution to global carbon emission. 

In Sep. 2019, the company signed a climate pledge amid employee activism, asking for more comprehensive environmental policies. Amazon committed to being carbon neutral by 2030, 10 years earlier than the deadline set by the Paris Climate Accord. Amazon plans to operate with 100% renewable energy by 2025. The company will also invest $2 billion in technologies that will reduce carbon emissions. 

Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, a group of workers concerned with Amazon’s business within the oil and gas industry, praised Bezos Earth Fund and Amazon’s climate pledge- but said there’s still more to do in addressing the climate crisis. 

“We applaud Jeff Bezos’ philanthropy, but one hand cannot give what the other is taking away,” the activist group said in a statement on Feb. 17. “The people of Earth need to know: When is Amazon going to stop helping oil & gas companies ravage Earth with still more oil and gas wells?”

Amy Coney Barrett being sworn in as Supreme Court Justice.

Who Is the New Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett?

Amy Coney Barrett, 48, was confirmed on October 26, as the youngest Supreme Court justice in an unprecedented manner. She replaces the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a champion for women’s rights and equality, as the ninth justice.

Barrett was able to get confirmed just a couple of weeks before the election, an issue that Republicans had during Associate Justice Merrick Garland’s confirmation hearing back in 2016. The justification was that the public should be allowed input by voting for the next president.

Barrett is President Donald Trump’s third Supreme Court justice nominee.

But who is she, and what does she mean for the Supreme Court?

Barrett was born on January 28, 1972, and grew up in a suburban town in New Orleans, Louisiana. Growing up, she received a Catholic education at St. Catherine of Siena elementary school and St. Mary’s Dominican High School.

She graduated Magna cum laude from Tennessee’s Rhodes College with a B.A. in English in 1994. She graduated top of her class from Notre Dame Law School in 1997. Following law school, she clerked for Judge Laurence Silberman of the U.S. Court of Appeals in the D.C. Circuit. She later clerked for her mentor, the late former Associate Justice Antonia Scalia of the Supreme Court, who influenced Barett’s philosophy.

In May 2017, Barrett was nominated by President Donald Trump for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, which is comprised of Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin.

During her confirmation hearings, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) pointed to an article Barrett had written that commented that Catholic judges should withdraw from cases surrounding the death penalty and abortion. Feinstein probed whether Barrett’s religious beliefs would influence her ruling, saying: “The dogma lives loudly within you.”

Barret responded to Feinstein’s statement, “If you’re asking whether I take my Catholic faith seriously, I do, though I would stress that my personal church affiliation or my religious belief would not bear on the discharge of my duties as a judge.”

Barrett was confirmed by a 55-43 vote, with three Democrats voting in favor of her confirmation.

During her three years on the Seventh Circuit, she authored around 100 opinions that reinforced her reputation as a textualist and originalist, a philosophy in which the interpretation of the law is based primarily on the original text of the Constitution or statute and tries to apply the same intention of the framers.

Barrett is a favorite among social conservatives who view her record as anti-abortion rights.

Her opinions include cases on second amendment rights, immigration, sexual assault on campuses, and discrimination in the workplace. Most notable are her rulings dealing with abortion rights.

During her short stint on the Seventh Circuit, Barrett has already viewed two abortion cases and ruled against abortion rights in both of them. A panel of judges blocked a law in Indiana that would make it harder for minors to have an abortion without notifying the parents. Barrett had voted to have the case reheard by the full court, according to AP News.

In 2019’s gun-rights case Kanter v. Barr, Barrett was the only one who objected and argued that Rickey Kanter’s conviction of a nonviolent felony-mail fraud shouldn’t bar him from owning a gun.

Barrett wrote a 37-page opposition to the ruling, citing the history of gun rules for convicted criminals in the 18th and 19th centuries. Her dissent is consistent with interpreting laws and the Constitution according to what the framers had initially intended. “Founding legislatures did not strip felons of the right to bear arms simply because of their status as felons,” she wrote.

Once again, Barrett dissented when Cook County v. Wolf upheld the blockage of the Trump administration policy that would make it difficult for immigrants relying on public assistance, food stamps and Medicaid, to earn permanent resident status. Barrett argued that the courts were “not the vehicle” for resolving controversial policies.

In the case of campus sexual assault, Barrett ruled, in a unanimous decision, to make it easier for men alleged to have committed sexual assaults on campus to challenge the case against them.

A female student at Purdue University alleged that her boyfriend had sexually assaulted her. John Doe, the boyfriend, filed a case against Purdue claiming sex discrimination after he was suspended for a year and his Navy ROTC scholarship was taken away. Barrett wrote that ultimately the case came down to a ‘he said/she said’ scenario.

In 2019, a unanimous decision was made that upheld the dismissal of a workplace discrimination lawsuit filed by Terry Smith, a Black Illinois transportation employee who sued after he was fired, according to AP News. Smith claimed he was called a racial slur by his supervisor Lloyd Colbert.

Barrett wrote that “Smith can’t win simply by proving that the word was uttered. He must also demonstrate that Colbert’s use of this word altered the conditions of his employment and created a hostile or abusive working environment.”

With Barrett’s confirmation, the Supreme Court has firmly tipped to a more conservative ideology, perhaps for decades to come.

Google Logos

Google proposes a new town in Silicon Valley

Coming to a neighborhood near you, Google is looking to build a new, town-like campus near its headquarters in Silicon Valley, called Downtown West. The new project was announced on Sept. 1, though it may take a couple of years for the project to come to fruition.

On Sept.1, the company unveiled its proposal for their new town in the city of Mountain View. The proposition would renovate Middlefield Park, a 40-acre site, into a “mixed-use, mixed-income, transit-oriented neighborhood.” According to Business Insider, the new town would include a park’s network, retail space, office space, and even a public pool and sports field.

Google also plans to add residential housing, adding as many as 5,000 residential units. The company aims to make at least 25% of the units affordable housing. This follows Google’s $1 billion pledge made last year to develop at least 20,000 new homes over the next decade in the Bay Area.

Google will maintain most of the ownership but plan to set aside half the site for residential and public use, such as multiple parks, a recreational center, and an aquatic center. At least 15 acres of the proposed plan are dedicated to parks, plazas, and green space.

“It’s certainly one of the ideas in the Precise Plan to create a mixed-use neighborhood where a lot of the needs and services are within walking distance from where you live and work,” Google’s real estate director Michael Tymoff told Mountain View Voice.

Google also plans to incorporate deep environmental sustainability into the town’s framework, aiming to improve the health of people and the planet. They are committed to green building certification through LEED, Leadership in Energy, and Environmental Design.

Many of the buildings will include biophilic designs, meaning to connect building designs more closely to nature. The buildings will also utilize technology and materials that minimize environmental impact and reduce heating and cooling inside the buildings.

Downtown West would also try to reduce carbon emissions and aim to not result in any additional net emission of greenhouse gases. Google plans to do this by increasing energy efficiency through solar panels and renewable energy sources.

The new town will be designed to promote transit ridership through multi-use trails, public transportation, and creating a micro-mobility environment to encourage walking and biking.

Google had submitted its initial plans for the project last October, but the plans are still in the early stages and still have to go through city approval, which could take until summer 2021.

Chabot FRESH Food Distribution

A new food drive location has opened up at Chabot College to address food insecurity in Hayward. The new site will serve as a drive-thru, no contact food distribution.

Chabot’s student-led organization, FRESH -Food, Resources, and Education to Stop Hunger- Food and Life Pantry, has partnered with the City of Hayward to battle hunger in the community. The food drive is hosted every Thursday from 11 a.m to 1 p.m.

Food insecurity in the Bay Area has risen dramatically in recent months due to widespread layoffs related to COVID-19’s impact. Millions of people have had to limit themselves to pay for basic necessities.

Roughly, 4.6 million California residents are facing food insecurity, according to CalFresh, which helps millions of families afford food each month. On average, 1 out of 8 people don’t know where their next meal is coming from.

The food drive at Chabot offers fresh produce, canned and dry goods, and dairy products. All resources and free to anyone in the community. Each distribution is based on the number of people in your household.

FRESH first began to serve the community in May 2017. Previously, FRESH had hosted a farmers market-style food distribution twice a month, with food provisions from the City of Hayward and the Alameda County Community Food Bank (ACCFB). By the end of July, the City of Hayward had reached out to Chabot’s FRESH to make a plan for a food drive distribution.

Besides ACCFB, Sewa International, Columbus Meats, and Hope 4 the Heart have all reached out to Chabot to help with food donations.

FRESH serves, on average, 3,700 individuals and 800 families a week. Of those, about 163 of them are students at Chabot. Sofia Sanchez Pillot Saavedra, a former student at Chabot, was one of the student organizers for FRESH. She started officially as a FRESH staff last year after graduating from UC Berkeley.

Sofia would often ask herself, “Why are our students hungry?”

She noticed that when she was a student at Chabot that there was a demand for students needing food. “Food is such a basic thing. If they’re not eating how do we expect them to learn?”

Traffic control, along with food distribution, were some difficulties FRESH had to workaround during this year with the addition to COVID-19. Many people would show up early in the morning, that it would trickle down closer to the main road. FRESH would then need to decide as to whether or not to open early to alleviate traffic congestion, according to Sofia.

It’s been a work in progress, but now “we’re pretty good at being able to estimate how much to distribute to each car, to make it stretch throughout the day,” Sofia said. “If people come around 11, they’re guaranteed, whereas if they show up after 12:30, we might or might not have enough food.”

The food drive has been very beneficial to the community and its students, according to Sofia. “If the students’ families are struggling, so will the students. I think Chabot partnering with the City of Hayward is a great thing because we are serving very similar populations. Our students are not separate from the community, they are a part of it as well.”

For potential volunteers at Chabot, you can help out during the Thanksgiving week distribution on Tuesday, November 24th, and during the Christmas week distribution on Tuesday, December 22nd.

Please contact Zach Ebadi from the City of Hayward if you have any questions, or are interested in volunteering.

[email protected]

A Pamphlet for Suicide Prevention Awareness

New Mental Health Bills passed in California

On Sept. 25, Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law more than a dozen bills aiming to expand mental health coverage in California.

California’s new bills aim to increase mental health treatments, covering far more conditions than the state’s previous mental health laws, the biggest one being addiction. The bills also clarify new guidelines for insurance denials.

These bills are some of the strictest mental health bills in the nation. Federal and state law already mandates that insurance companies cover mental health treatments. But many patient advocates claim that they still allow insurance companies to pay for care only after the mental illness has reached a late-stage crisis, or even allow companies to outright deny coverage, reported by NPR.

Assembly Bill 2112, introduced by Assemblymember James Ramos (D-Highland), establishes an Office of Suicide Prevention within the State Department of Health. This office would help providers share their best practices in helping treat youths contemplating suicide.

The office would focus and help groups most at risk such as youth, Native American youth, older adults, veterans, and LGBTQ+ people. This bill has determined that suicide is a public health crisis that has warranted a response from the state.

Over the last three years, suicide rates have gone up 34% between the ages of 15 and 19. And is the second leading cause of death among young people, reported by the CDC. The added stress related to the coronavirus pandemic has increased mental health issues as well. Hotlines have seen a dramatic increase in calls, according to the San Jose Spotlight. Yet, many people don’t have mental health coverage under their insurance plans.

The new laws signed on Sept. 25 defines the term “medical necessity”, a measure obligating private health insurance companies to pay more for substance abuse and mental health programs. Current state laws call for health plans to cover treatment for just nine serious mental illnesses.

Senate Bill 855, authored by Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), would provide coverage for medically necessary care of mental health and substance abuse disorders based on the same standards of physical treatments. Coverage for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, eating disorders, and opioid and alcohol use disorders are those not covered by the state’s previous mental health parity law, according to Wiener.

Mental health treatment would now be equal to physical health conditions in terms of providing the same coverage.

“Mental health care is essential to a person’s overall health, and today, we reaffirmed that people must have access to care for mental health and addiction challenges,” Weiner said about the new bill passing.

Weiner also claims that California’s mental health parity law has huge loopholes, which has allowed the insurance industry to deny important care.

Senate Bill 854, introduced by Sen. Jim Beall (D-San Jose), would help offer treatment to those who suffer from substance abuse. The bill would cover all medically necessary prescription drugs, approved by the FDA, for treating substance use disorders. It would also place all outpatient prescription drugs on the lowest copayment tier maintained by the health care service plan.

Many health insurance companies opposed the new bills, claiming that increased mental health and substance use services could lead to higher costs and premiums.

The California Association of Health Plans, one of the state’s insurance regulators, claims that the “mental health parity laws are well-established both in state and federal law.” In their press release about the new bills, they argued that the defined term “medical necessity” will restrict the “ability of the provider to determine what is clinically appropriate for the individual – ultimately putting vulnerable patients at risk.”

The new laws will take effect on Jan. 1, 2021.

Black Lives Matter is painted in giant letters on the street

Social Justice in the Sport’s World

The Milwaukee Bucks held a walk-out on Aug. 26 refusing to play against the Orlando Magic, the first in NBA history after the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man. The NBA concluded that the rest of the scheduled games that Wednesday night was to be canceled as well.

This boycott inspired many other sports teams to follow in their footsteps. Numerous athletes refused to participate in any scheduled games that Wednesday night, calling off games from the MLB, WNBA, and Major League Soccer.

Blake, an unarmed Black man, was shot eight times in the back by police officers as he tried to get into his car. Police officers were responding to a domestic call when they arrived on the scene. Blake has been left paralyzed following the incident, Blake’s father, Jacob Blake Sr., told the Chicago Sun-Times. Blake is currently out of the hospital, but is “in a spinal injury rehabilitation center in Chicago,” according to attorney Patrick Cafferty.

The stand taken by the Bucks echoed the frustration that many people, including players and coaches, across the country, feel with the lack of change. Previously, players took to kneeling during the National Anthem and wearing shirts promoting social justice messages. However, with little effect, the Bucks decided a more drastic approach was needed.

This time around, professional players took their most decisive stance against police brutality in wake of the shooting of Blake in Kenosha, WI. The Buck’s historic commitment of refusing to play Wednesday’s game sent shock waves throughout the sports world. This left many professional leagues scrambling to quickly postpone and reschedule games, according to USA Today.

The Bucks stayed in the locker room hours after the tip-off was supposed to start. The same night, the Bucks players offered a statement, “Despite the overwhelming plea for change, there has been no action, so our focus today cannot be on basketball.”

“When we take the court and represent Milwaukee and Wisconsin, we are expected to play at a high level, give maximum effort, and hold each other accountable. We hold ourselves to that standard, and in this moment, we are demanding the same from our lawmakers and law enforcement,” the statement continued.

The WNBA quickly followed suit, postponing their scheduled games as well. Both the NBA and WNBA have been very outspoken and at the frontline of protests against racism and police brutality. Especially within recent months, with the re-energized BLM movement after the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

WNBA players dedicated their season to Breonna Taylor, and the Say Her Name Campaign- an effort to raise awareness for the persecution of Black female victims of police brutality. The players also wore Breonna Taylor’s name on their jerseys during opening weekend.

Before the boycott, both the NBA and WNBA league had taken an extended break because of the COVID pandemic. Many players questioned if continuing the season was necessary- amid our current racial climate.

Kyrie Irving, a point guard for the Brooklyn Nets, has been very vocal about systemic racism and police brutality throughout the season. He held a conference call with other NBA players, to figure out how to progress with the rest of the season, saying that “I’m willing to give up everything I have” for social reform, according to Complex.

Irving has been one of the most vocal players following George Floyd’s death. Months before the NBA was scheduled to resume, Irving worried that playing in Orlando would take away from the need to work on social justice reform. “I don’t support going into Orlando,” Irving reportedly said during the conference call. “I’m not with the systematic racism and the bulls–t. Something smells a little fishy.”

While other players backed Irving, LeBron James supported the NBA’s decision to continue the rest of the season. However, that all changed in the wake of Blake’s shooting. James led the Lakers, and their rival, the Los Angeles Clippers, in voting to cancel the rest of the season. Leaving soon after the vote, with the Lakers and Clippers following him out, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania.

James, a small forward for the Los Angeles Lakers, has often used his platform to openly speak out against systemic racism and social justice, especially within the past couple of months amid ongoing nationwide protests. James showed his support of Buck’s decision to boycott, tweeting “Change doesn’t happen with just talk!! It happens with action and needs to happen NOW!”.

Following the Bucks’ decision to boycott, the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association released a joint statement on Aug. 28, announcing that the playoffs would resume the following day. The statement also announced that both the league and its players will work together on several pledges to encourage voting access, fight against social injustice and racial inequality, and advocate for police reform, per ESPN.

“These commitments follow months of close collaboration around designing a safe and healthy environment to restart the NBA season, providing a platform to promote social justice, as well as creating an NBA Foundation focused on economic empowerment in the Black community,” Adam Silver, the NBA commissioner, said in the statement.

The committee also announced that team owners will work with local officials to turn the league’s franchise owned arena properties into voting locations for the 2020 general election. Allowing citizens to vote in person during the COVID pandemic. There is also an effort to use those locations in other ways, as well as sites to register voters and receive ballots, reported by ESPN.

Golden Gate Bridge side by side comparison of wildfire smoke

Wildfires in the Bay Area

In the third week of August, the state of California experienced a massive lightning storm, which in turn led to an outbreak of more than 500 wildfires and more than 2 million acres burned. 

On Aug. 18, Governor Newsom declared a state of emergency for the whole state of California. According to Newsom, the storm caused a surge of close to 12,000 strikes over 72 hours, creating about 560 wildfires. 

The SCU and LNU Lightning Complex fires are two of the larger fires that started because of the storm. As of Sept. 14, both fires have been at least 95% contained, burning over 765,000 acres combined, as reported by Cal Fire. Since the start of fires across the state, more than 2 million acres have already been burned. 

The SCU and LNU Lightning Complex fires are some of the largest wildfires in California state history. The SCU fire currently affects six counties: Alameda, Contra Costa, Merced, Stanislaus, San Joaquin, and Santa Clara. While the LNU fire affects another five: Napa, Sonoma, Lake, Yolo, and Solano. 

The SCU Lightning Complex fire started as multiple fires on Aug. 16, eventually merging into one large fire that’s been broken into two branches; Branch I and Branch II – making it the third-largest fire in state history. The same unusual lightning storm that sparked the SCU fire sparked the LNU fire just a day before, making it the fourth-largest fire. 

Cal Fire reports that at least five people have died in the LNU Complex fire, with three of the civilians from Napa and the other two from Solano county. Another five people have been injured in the fire, four of them are civilians. Fortunately, there aren’t any fatalities reported from the SCU blaze. However, another four civilians were injured, along with two firefighters.

Considering the number of acres burned, the property damage done by the SCU fires is lower than that of its smaller counterpart, the LNU Complex fire. As of Sept. 14, the SCU fire has destroyed 136 structures and damaged 26 structures, according to Cal Fire. However, the damage following the LNU fires is much bigger, with almost 1,500 buildings destroyed, and another 232 damaged. 

Andrew Rego, 21, a student in the fire program at Chabot, gives some insight into wildfires and the causes behind them. 

When asked why wildfires are so hard to contain, Rego explained that  “flammable debris, such as dry grass, and heavy winds will expand fires much easier and faster. Compared to a wetter climate, with little to no wind and minimal flammable objects, wildfires become much easier to contain.”

Rego claimed that there are many factors to take into consideration when a wildfire breaks out. One must look at wind patterns, how far the fire spreads out, and evacuation plans must be made for citizens and animals in preparation for the worst. 

On top of fires blazing across the state, COVID-19 has made it difficult for firefighters in training. According to Jeffrey Barton, the Fire Program Coordinator at South Bay Regional Public Safety Training, “with COVID and the numerous amounts of fires, training is not ranked higher than safety and preservation of life.”

South Bay Regional Public Safety Training, or The Academy, leads the way in providing high quality, cost-effective public safety training to approximately 2700 full-time equivalent students (FTEs) each year, including professionals from more than 70 city and county agencies, according to their website. 

“Prior to the fires, fire training was already restricted due to the state’s COVID response. Unless it is prescheduled virtual training, most face-to-face training was canceled,” Barton said in response to whether the fires affected training. Barton also added that the effect that COVID had on training was the most challenging thing they faced this year. 

Even without the addition of COVID, “training during wildfire season is impossible to coordinate” Many Cal-Fire agencies are already deployed and were unavailable for email or contact, according to Barton. 

By the start of Labor Day weekend, northern California had issued another air alert, for a recording-breaking third week in a row. This alert comes after another intense heatwave that hit California the weekend before. Higher temperatures could start new wildfires and increase harmful levels of smog and air quality. 

 Since the start of the fires, air quality has plummeted. As reported by USA Today, California’s air quality is worse than India’s; a country that contains more than 1 billion people. Major cities, if not all, are affected by the harmful air, already increasing the high risk of pulmonary disease due to COVID-19. 

As stated by the Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Quality Index, on Aug. 31, one-third of the state was considered to have unhealthy air for all of the general public. These areas included in their assessment were the San Francisco Bay Area, Fresno, and Sacramento. Exposure to harmful air can lead to serious health complications. 

According to the CDC, symptoms caused by breathing in unhealthy air and wildfire smoke could be coughing, asthma attacks, wheezing, and trouble breathing. By limiting outdoor exercise and wearing an N95 mask, you can reduce smoke exposure and breathing in harmful air.