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What’s Behind Newsom’s Safe Injection Sites Veto? 

Read between the lines of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Monday veto of a controversial bill that would have allowed San Francisco, Oakland and Los Angeles to launch trial supervised drug injection sites in a bid to curb California’s epidemic of fatal overdoses, and you might catch a glimpse of the political tightrope he’s walking.

Although the governor’s veto message raises concerns about the operation of supervised injection sites — which currently aren’t allowed under federal law — it appears particularly apprehensive about the number of facilities that could have sprung up following his signature.

  • Newsom: “The unlimited number of safe injection sites that this bill would authorize — facilities which could exist well into the later part of this decade — could induce a world of unintended consequences.”

Newsom added that he’s directing the state’s top health official to meet with cities and counties about best practices for overdose prevention programs, and he remains “open to this discussion when those local officials come back to the Legislature with recommendations for a truly limited pilot program.”

What exactly “truly limited” means is unclear. But it suggests that the governor — who in recent months has been amplifying his national profile and taking shots at prominent Republican officials in what some see as groundwork for a future presidential run — is trying to avoid lending legitimacy to the largely GOP-driven narrative of California as a needle-infested, drug-overrun dystopia.

  • Assembly Republican Leader James Gallagher of Yuba City: “Providing state subsidized and supervised drug consumption is a sign that Capitol Democrats have given up on governing. This bill should have never made it to the Governor’s desk in the first place. I am very grateful to the Governor for being the sense of reason in this case.”

At the same time, by pinpointing the number of sites — not the sites themselves — as a primary sticking point, Newsom may also be seeking to minimize pushback from progressive Democrats in his native San Francisco and the country at large.

But the pushback was pretty strong Monday. State Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco, the proposal’s author, said it wasn’t “a radical bill by any stretch of the imagination,” adding, “We don’t need additional studies or working groups to determine whether safe consumption sites are effective. We know from decades of experience and numerous peer-reviewed studies that they work.”

  • Indeed, San Francisco may proceed with supervised drug injection sites on its own: City Attorney David Chiu said Monday that he “fully support(s)” a nonprofit currently offering overdose prevention programs, and Mayor London Breed tweeted, “We will keep working with our community partners to find a way forward.”

Other legislative updates you should know:

  • Among the stack of bills Newsom signed into law Monday was one to allow local government agencies to eject people from public meetings for disorderly conduct. Legislative Republicans opposed the bill, which Gallagher described as a “direct attack on parents coming to … school board meetings and voicing their passionate displeasure with how our schools have been managed.”
  • Lawmakers sent to Newsom’s desk a bill that would allow Californians to sue people in civil court for electronically sending them unwanted sexual pictures — watered down from an earlier proposal that would have made the action a criminal offense, the Los Angeles Times reports.
  • Several other bills met their death, including one that would have required prominent health warning labels on cannabis products. After industry opposition “torpedoed” the bill with proposed changes that “would have resulted in it bearing little resemblance to its original form,” its sponsors decided to table the proposal until next year.
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