May 14

The San Diego Union-Tribune on improved access to computer science education:

Gov. Gavin Newsom's call for the state to budget $61 million to train teachers in computer science, to bring broadband to more schools and to hire a "computer czar" who seeks to give all students the opportunity to take computer science class is simultaneously a good idea and woefully inadequate.

Yes, of course, having a point person for efforts to improve access to computer science is sensible. The state government badly needs a passionate advocate for computer training. But the goal of access doesn't go nearly far enough. The goal should be making computer science a high school graduation requirement. It's stunning that in the state that is the tech capital of the world, only 39% of high schools offer such classes and only 3% of high school students take them, according to a report from the Kapor Center, a nonprofit that promotes access to tech and STEM education.

This amounts to one of state government's most profound failings. Requiring computer science in high school is a superb way to prepare students, especially those from poor families, for a prosperous life. Yet even though more than 500,000 computing jobs are presently unfilled in the U.S., computer training has never been a priority in Californian (or American) public education. That must change.

Newsom has earned applause for tackling state problems that predecessor Jerry Brown cared little about. But his small-ball proposal on computer science is Brown-like. Please, governor: Be bolder.

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May 13

San Francisco Chronicle on San Francisco police raiding the home of a journalist:

Bryan Carmody says several San Francisco police officers tried to break into his Outer Richmond home with a sledgehammer, detained him in handcuffs for hours, and seized computers, notes and more from his residence and office. Barring some suspicion that Carmody committed an offense other than journalism, the police might as well have taken their sledgehammer to the United States Constitution.

The officers appear to be trying to determine who leaked a sensitive police report on Public Defender Jeff Adachi's death to Carmody, a freelancer who sold the story to local television stations. Carmody told The Chronicle that officers had asked him for his source two weeks earlier and that he had declined to cooperate, which is precisely the sort of refusal that shield laws in California and other states are designed to facilitate. Journalists must be able to keep their sources confidential to conduct the unfettered reporting on government that the First Amendment protects.

The excessive police tactics Carmody described — in an account that authorities have not contradicted — put President Trump's anti-press "enemy of the people" rhetoric into action right here in the putative headquarters of the resistance. Police should return the freelancer's property and seek it in court if they believe they have a legitimate case.

California's shield law, which voters enshrined in the state Constitution in 1980, protects journalists from being held in contempt for refusing a subpoena to provide their sources, notes or any other unpublished material obtained in the course of news-gathering. State law also prohibits search warrants from being issued for material protected by the shield law.

That suggests the warrants police served on Carmody's home and office last week should not have existed. Although the warrants were approved by judges on grounds that have not been made public, District Attorney George Gascón said police did not run the search requests by his office before going to court.

They could have used the legal advice. As Society of Professional Journalists President J. Alex Tarquinio rightly noted of the raid, "One expects this level of disregard for the value of press freedom in an autocratic country without the First Amendment. In this country, journalists have the right to gather and report on information."

Adachi, 59, who died in February of what an autopsy attributed to cocaine, alcohol and heart disease, was an outspoken public defender, the only elected one in the state, and a prominent antagonist of the police. So when details of his last hours that seemed calculated to posthumously smear him emerged thanks to an apparent police leak, the department took a beating from Adachi's allies on the Board of Supervisors and beyond.

A police statement on the raid alluded to that outcry, saying the "citizens and leaders of the city ... demanded a complete and thorough investigation into this leak." Mayor London Breed likewise defended the police, saying, "Something was done that should not have been done, and we are definitely trying to get to the bottom of it."

The police have the right and presumably the investigative skills to root out the malicious gossips within their ranks, but they have no right to storm the homes and offices of journalists when they run out of leads. Whether the journalism at hand is the finest example of the craft — or whether the reporter is paid by the story or by a powerful institution that employs him — is irrelevant. Such an assault on a journalist should be regarded as an intolerable assault on journalism itself.

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May 10

Southern California News Group on the effects of contractor court rulings on business:

California officials often tout the growing tech industry as evidence of the state's vibrant economy as they rebut criticisms that our regulatory policies are depressing business growth. But a state Supreme Court ruling last year imperils that economic bright spot — and earlier this month the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals exacerbated the problem.

California businesses that have been waiting for the next shoe to drop have just heard a resounding thud. The federal court's ruling hasn't gotten much attention, but its decision to apply the California high court's wage edict retroactively will force many businesses to revise their employment model and impose a barrage of new costs on them.

In the Dynamex decision, the California Supreme Court made it difficult for California businesses to classify workers as contractors. The case involved a delivery service that had turned its crew of drivers into independent operators, thus freeing the company from following the wage, overtime and benefit rules that apply to those who work for a company on a full-time basis.

The court created an "ABC" test for determining whether a worker can be considered a contractor. To do so, a) the company must not direct the worker's on-the-job performance; b) the worker must not be performing work within the scope of the company's business; and c) the worker must be engaged in an independent enterprise. Under this test, a company could, say, contract with an outside electrician or IT consultant, but not much else.

Transportation-network companies such as Uber or Lyft consider their drivers to be contractors, but the court's ruling could force them to become regular employees. The decision didn't just target newfangled app-based businesses, but will change the way many traditional workers (real-estate salespeople, hairdressers, franchisees) must operate. Other courts are still wrestling with details and the Legislature still can fix the problem, but big change is coming.

In the latest ruling, the 9th Circuit declared that a Georgia-based janitorial firm with 10 franchises in California would not only have to begin treating its workers as regular employees, but pay years of back wages and overtime. Cleaning office buildings is as old line an industry as one might find, but the decision has sparked particular concern in California's high-tech world given the design of many of these firms' business model.

Both decisions have vast implications. Once companies have to comply with Dynamex, they can expect labor costs to rise precipitously. The decisions also will limit the choices made by workers. Surveys show that the overwhelming majority of contractors prefer their newfound schedule flexibility. Not everyone wants to work 9-5 for one company. The rules will likely threaten the future of many of the state's most innovative firms. Employment could fall. Consumers will suffer, also, as they find that popular services no longer are available or cost-competitive.

The 9th Circuit opined that its ruling will put that janitorial firm "on equal footing with other industry participants who treated those providing services for them as employees." But it's not the job of the courts to protect existing industries. Frankly, California can't celebrate the economic benefits of an entrepreneurial economy while imposing industrial-era work rules that make innovation impossible. Something has to give. We will soon see what that's going to be.

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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