Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

April 17, 2014
FPPC delays decision on Berryhill money-laundering case

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The board of California's political ethics watchdog Thursday postponed action on a recommended $40,000 money-laundering penalty against state Sen. Tom Berryhill, his brother and Republican central committees in Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties.

After meeting in closed session for about an hour, the Fair Political Practices Commission announced that it would take the case under submission. The move came after the Berryhills' attorneys argued that an administrative law judge incorrectly interpreted campaign-finance rules when he concluded that the senator and others committed "serious and deliberate" violations of the Political Reform Act.

The commission now has until mid-May to announce whether it will accept the $40,000 penalty recommended in January by Administrative Law Judge Jonathan Lew, reject it, or take a different approach.

Thursday's hearing comes five-and-a-half years after the November 2008 election, when commission investigators contend that then-Assemblyman Tom Berryhill funneled more than $40,000 through the central committees to help his brother Bill Berryhill's campaign. Candidates can accept much more money from party committees than individuals, $30,200 per election compared to $3,600 at the time, but any collusion is prohibited.

Tom Berryhill, R-Twain Harte, testified in December that he gave the money to the central committees with no strings attached. He only hoped that local GOP leaders would pass it on to his brother's campaign for an adjacent Assembly district, which Democrats had targeted with a late push. Other Republican officials vouched for Berryhill.

Lew's decision clearly showed that he didn't buy the senator's' version of events, commission investigators wrote in a staff report. "The real problem respondents have with Judge Lew is that he did not believe the untruthful defense he was forced to listen to for almost six days," they wrote.

Both sides said the commission's ultimate decision will have far-reaching implications. Enforcement chief Gary Winuk said rejecting Lew's recommendation would "eviscerate" campaign contribution limits. But attorney Charles Bell, who represented the Berryhills and the central committees, said upholding the judge's decision would "throw a big rock in the pond of campaign financing" and put some common campaign-finance transactions under legal scrutiny.

PHOTO: State Sen. Tom Berryhill, R-Twain Harte, far right, with (left to right), brother Bill Berryhill, attorney Charles Bell, and Tony Amador, chairman of the San Joaquin County GOP, outside the FPPC meeting April 17, 2014 in Sacramento. The Sacramento Bee/Jim Miller

April 17, 2014
Dickinson bill seeks crude oil train emergency preparedness

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Pointing to the catastrophic derailment in Quebec of a train transporting oil and similar accidents, Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, has unveiled legislation to get emergency responders more information about crude-carrying trains that roll through California.

As the United States reaps the fruits of a domestic energy boom, driven in part by huge volumes natural gas extracted via hydraulic fracturing, the amount of oil transported via rail has grown apace. According to the California Energy Commission, 6.1 million barrels of crude chugged into California on trains in 2013, accounting for 1.1 percent of the amount processed at California refineries.

"It is safe to say that we've all become alarmed with learning about the large increase in certain types of crude oil and oil products that California refineries will be receiving," Dickinson said during a Thursday news conference at the downtown Sacramento train station.

Cities have begun raising the alarm about safety hazards, and officials have testified to Congress that most communities are ill-prepared to handle the aftermath of a derailment. In addition to the deadly derailment in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, oil trains have jumped the tracks and ignited in Alabama and North Dakota.

Now, with a Bay Area refinery planning to move huge amounts of crude oil on a rail line running through downtown Sacramento, Dickinson has proposed legislation requiring railroads to disclose more information about oil shipments to those who would be dispatched to handle a potential rail accident.

"Because of this rapid change in the transportation of crude by rail, state safety rules are simply not what they need to be," Dickinson said.

Currently, railroads don't have to notify cities in advance about their cargo. Trains carrying hazardous materials, like oil or acid, must have warnings stenciled on the side of the cars containing the dangerous commodities.

Under Dickinson's bill, blueprints detailing facts like the volume of oil being transported in a given day; how many cars are being used; and the characteristics of the oil being conveyed would go to local officials. The state agency that now obtains that information would be compelled to share it with local fire and police departments.

"If (responders) know what they're dealing with," Dickinson said, "they've got a much better chance of controlling and containing the incident and also protecting their own lives."

Gov. Jerry Brown has also taken note of the growing risk. Under the governor's budget, the state's Office of Oil Spill Prevention and Response would get more money and staff to deal with the growing risk of inland oil spills. As it stands now, the agency responds to oil spills in marine areas.

PHOTO: A tanker truck is filled from railway cars containing crude oil on railroad tracks in McClellan Park in North Highlands on Wednesday, March 19, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton.

April 17, 2014
Nearly 1.4 million Californians enroll in health insurance exchange

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Citing a large influx of customers in the final weeks, California officials announced Thursday that more than 3 million people enrolled in health insurance coverage or Medi-Cal, capping an opening period that saw the state emerge as an example for the rest of the nation.

Covered California said 1.39 million customers enrolled in exchange plans, including 205,685 after officials granted a two-week extension through April 15. Some 1.2 million of the customers are eligible for federal subsidies.

Insurance companies report that roughly 85 percent of enrollees have paid their first month's premium, Executive Director Peter V. Lee said.

"We are proud of what California has achieved, but recognize this is only the beginning of a long road of expanding affordable coverage to all Californians," Lee said in announcing the tallies.

Of the 1.9 million people to enroll in Medi-Cal through March, 1.1 million came by way of the state exchange and county officials. Despite website and phone troubles, more than 40 percent of exchange customers picked coverage though the website. Overall figures since Oct. 1, 2013 far exceeded the exchange's initial projections, officials said.

Enrollment among Latinos and young people - essential groups that earlier eluded the exchange - improved in recent months as officials dedicated more resources to marketing and community engagement.

Latinos constituted 30 percent of the sign-ups in March and April, pushing the final figure to 28 percent. Similarly, enrollment among customers aged 18 to 34 ticked up to 29 percent. Federal officials have said they need 40 percent of enrollees to be under 35.

The exchange reported meeting its projection among African-Americans and more than doubling its base goal for Asian-Americans.

PHOTO: Michael Wilson, left, a certified Covered California agent helps Jose and Laura Gomez of Sacramento with their choice for insurance coverage at the SEIU union hall on March 31, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/Randy Pench

April 17, 2014
AM Alert: Californians open to changing Prop 13

no_taxes.JPGAs subscribers to the Capitol Alert Insider Edition app learned last night, Californians are open to making changes to Proposition 13, the 1978 tax-limiting measure that is a cornerstone of the state's political foundation.

A new Field Poll reveals that about one-half of California voters generally support changing some parts of the law, while 69 percent support restructuring commercial property transactions so that their taxes are always reassessed when the properties are sold or transferred.

That idea has long been controversial, especially among the business community; a legislative effort last year was labelled a "job killer" by the California Chamber of Commerce and died in committee. But the poll showed strong bipartisan support for amending commercial property assessments, with 71 percent of Democrats and 64 percent of Republicans in favor.

Reporter David Siders has more about California voters' views on Prop. 13 and other tax issues in his story. Here are the statistical tabulations prepared exclusively for Capitol Alert.

POLITIC-OIL ACTION: Train shipments of crude oil to California have risen dramatically over the last year, drawing opposition from many communities along rail lines over potential safety and environmental hazards. Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, will introduce legislation to address concerns about rail accidents involving crude oil, 11 a.m. at the Sacramento Rail Depot on I Street.

MO MONEY, MO PROBLEMS: The Fair Political Practices Commission will consider whether to go along with a recommended $40,000 fine against state Sen. Tom Berryhill, R-Twain Harte, and others for allegedly laundering campaign money when it meets today at 10 a.m.

LUNCHTIME TALK: The UC Center Sacramento begins its spring lecture series with a visit from Heather Young, dean of the UC Davis school of nursing, to discuss her research on healthy aging, noon at the UC Center Sacramento on K Street.

PHOTO: The Sacramento "tea party" drew more than 5,000 protesters to the state Capitol on March 17, 2009 to oppose higher taxes in California and the Obama administration's national policies. The Sacramento Bee/Manny Crisostomo

April 16, 2014
Tim Donnelly fires legislative chief of staff

donnellyscrum.jpgOne month after splitting with his campaign manager in his run for governor, Republican Tim Donnelly has fired Alex Vassar, his legislative chief of staff, sources said.

The reason was unclear. Donnelly, a state assemblyman from Twin Peaks, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Vassar, who went to work for Donnelly last year, declined to comment.

Donnelly, the Legislature's most outspoken gun rights and anti-illegal immigration advocate, leads all Republicans in recent polls in an uphill effort to unseat Gov. Jerry Brown.

Donnelly's former campaign manager, Jennifer Kerns, announced last month that she had quit his gubernatorial campaign, while Donnelly called her departure a "mutual" decision.

In an email Wednesday, Kerns said Vassar's firing "represents a continuation of poor judgment" by Donnelly.

PHOTO: Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Donnelly speaks with reporters at the California Republican Party's biannual convention in Burlingame on March 15, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/David Siders

April 16, 2014
Leland Yee shuts down ballot-measure committee

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State Sen. Leland Yee has closed his ballot-measure committee, only days after authorities indicted him on corruption and gun-running conspiracy charges.

The account, One California For All, was terminated effective April 9 after the roughly $1,300 in it as of March 17 was used to pay off campaign expenses. The termination statement was filed with the secretary of state's office Tuesday.

Yee created the committee in fall 2008 and it raised about $72,000 from 2009 through 2012, records show. Beginning in 2011, the committee's stated purpose was "school bond."

In the criminal complaint against Yee and more than 20 others that became public March 26, Yee allegedly encourages an undercover agent seeking contracts with the state to give to his ballot measure account.

"When (the agent) asked if there was some way that he could contribute money 'outside the campaign,' and not have to be worried, Senator Yee said that (the agent) could contribute unlimited sums to a committee supporting a ballot measure for school funding that Senator Yee also supported," the complaint reads, describing an October 2011 meeting between the senator and agent. "Senator Yee explained that the ads for the measure would feature Senator Yee in a positive piece supporting schools and education."

PHOTO: State Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, leaves Federal Court in San Francisco on March 26, 2014. Bay Area News Group/Karl Mondon

April 16, 2014
Rep. Ami Bera sitting comfortably in 7th district fundraising

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Rep. Ami Bera far outpaced his Republican challengers in first-quarter fundraising, bringing in more than $489,000 and elevating his cash on hand to $1.47 million.

The Elk Grove Democrat spent about $172,000 since the beginning of the year, doubling his rate from last quarter as the primary election approaches. His cash on hand again exceeds the combined amounts of Republicans Igor Birman, Elizabeth Emken and Doug Ose.

"It's just further confirmation that Sacramento County families want a problem solver who keeps his promises and puts them ahead of politics representing them in Congress," Bera said.

Ose, a businessman and former congressman, loaned his campaign $250,000, raised $227,000 and has $418,000 in the bank. A wealthy land developer, Ose has said he will spend what it takes to unseat Bera in the competitive 7th district.

"Our campaign is picking up steam because local folks know I'm going to serve them, not Washington, DC special interest groups," Ose said.

Emken, an autism advocate making her third bid for elected office, raised $110,000 and has about double that on hand. She owes her campaign $220,000 after repaying $65,000 toward a prior loan.

Birman, a congressional aide, raised $110,000. He has a combined $70,000 for the primary and general elections minus about $8,500 in debts.

April 16, 2014
Jerry Brown calls special legislative session on rainy day fund

jerrybrownprisons.jpgGov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday called a special session of the Legislature for next week to address his effort to put a rainy-day fund constitutional amendment on the November ballot.

The proposed amendment would eliminate some provisions of a rainy day reserve measure already on the ballot. The original measure, ACA 4, was opposed by some of the Democratic governor's liberal allies, who complained it would collect too much money and make it too difficult to increase spending.

Brown has said the measure fails to address the volatility of capital gains revenue and didn't allow lawmakers to pay down debt, among other shortcomings.

"We simply must prevent the massive deficits of the last decade and we can only do that by paying down our debts and creating a solid Rainy Day Fund," Brown said in a prepared statement Wednesday.

The original measure, ACA 4, was part of a 2010 budget deal between Democrats, Republicans and then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and originally scheduled to go before voters in 2012, but lawmakers postponed it to 2014.

Republicans reacted skeptically to Brown's proposal when he first announced it, in January, saying they were happy with ACA 4. Brown's ability to push it through a special session will test Democrats' diminished standing in the Legislature. Democrats have lost their two-thirds majority in the Senate, with three senators suspended.

In calling a special session, Brown raises the profile of the issue but still must get supermajority support.

Brown's proposal, contained in his January budget plan, includes a $1.6 billion allocation to a new rainy-day fund. He proposes to increase deposits during years when capital gains revenue is high, to raise the maximum size of the fund to 10 percent of general fund revenue and to create a special reserve for school funding.

PHOTO: Gov. Jerry Brown speaks to reporters at a news conference at the Capitol on Sept. 9, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

April 16, 2014
AM Alert: Californians divided geographically over water shortage

AmericanRiver.jpgThough nearly all Californians agree the state is experiencing a serious water shortage, they are divided over the causes of the problem.

A new Field Poll shows that 88 percent of California voters believe the state is facing a serious water shortage, with 60 percent labeling it extremely serious. About 27 percent blame a lack of storage, while 37 percent think it is due to inefficient water use. Another 24 percent believe that both are equally responsible.

The question of cause also takes on a regional split: Voters in the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles and other parts of Southern California are more likely to blame inefficient use, while Central Valley residents point to insufficient storage.

What do Californians make of possible solutions to the water shortage, like reducing agricultural use and bypassing environmental regulations? Reporter Jeremy B. White has more in his story. Here are the statistical tabulations prepared exclusively for Capitol Alert.

The next Field Poll covers voter opinions on taxes and government spending. Subscribers to the Capitol Alert Insider Edition app can read the story early, at 8 p.m.

EN ESPAÑOL: State Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, is in San Francisco to announce SB 1174, a bilingual education bill that would ask voters to overturn Proposition 227, the 1998 initiative requiring all California public classes to be taught in English. Lara will hold a news conference at 11 a.m. at West Portal Elementary.

PROGRESS REPORT: As the state works to implement the new Common Core curriculum, the Public Policy Institute of California hosts a discussion between education researchers and officials on how school districts are adjusting to the new standards. Noon at the CSAC Conference Center on 11th Street. The event will also be webcast.

WASTE NOT, WANT NOT: In the wake of California's extended drought, representatives from the state Natural Resources Agency, Department of Food and Agriculture and Environmental Protection Agency convene a public workshop to discuss potential legislative solutions to promote sustainable groundwater management. 9 a.m. at the Cal/EPA building on I Street.

DIGGING IN: The California Research Bureau hosts a workshop on using census data, featuring Lia Bolden of the U.S. Census Bureau. 10 a.m. at the State Library on N Street.

UNDER ONE ROOF: Affordable housing advocacy group Housing California holds its two-day annual conference, starting at 10 a.m. at the Sacramento Convention Center. Anna Caballero, the state secretary of business, consumer services and housing, and local journalist and author Sasha Abramsky are scheduled to speak.

PHOTO: A pair of fishermen stand near the shallow water of the American River below Watt Ave. on Jan. 11, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton

April 15, 2014
Hospitals pour money into California ballot campaign

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In less than three months, healthcare networks and individual hospitals have pumped more than $51 million into a proposed ballot measure meant to lock up revenue from a Legislature-approved fee on acute-care hospitals.

The measure would limit lawmakers' ability to change or repeal the "Medi-Cal Hospital Reimbursement Act," which lawmakers passed last year as SB 239. With hospitals' backing, the law continued a hospital quality-assurance fee first passed in 2009 through 2016.

The money helps pay for children's health coverage, Medi-Cal, and other programs. Even though hospitals pay the fee, matching federal money means a net benefit of $10 billion for the hospital industry from 2014 through 2016, according to a legislative analysis.

The proposed ballot measure would strip the Jan. 1, 2017 sunset date from the law. It also would require voter approval for any changes to it. And any attempt to repeal the law entirely would need a two-thirds vote of the Legislature.

In addition, the proposed initiative declares that revenue from the law and interest doesn't count against the state's school-funding guarantee.

April 15, 2014
Community college completion rate falls during recession

Los_Rios.JPGCompletion rates at the California Community Colleges have fallen steadily over the past four years, according to the first update of the system's Student Success Scorecard.

The accountability report released Tuesday, which tracks key performance measurements across the state's 112 community colleges, shows that the six-year completion rate for students seeking to earn a degree or transfer to a four-year institution fell to 48.1 percent last year.

That completion rate, for students who entered in the 2007-08 academic year, dipped 2.6 percentage points from the previous six-year cohort and was down from 52.2 percent among those who entered in the 2003-04 and 2004-05 academic years, even as thousands more students earned degrees or transferred.

California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice W. Harris blamed the recession, during which time enrollment ballooned to more than 2.6 million while course offerings were reduced by a fifth amid budget cuts.

"These results document the damage done by years of rationing education in California," Harris said in a statement. "Students with goals of transferring competed for fewer seats at California State University and University of California. Sadly, the only transfer activity that increased was for students who could afford to go out of state."

Results were mixed for the Sacramento-area Los Rios Community College District. While most Los Rios schools have six-year completion rates lower than the statewide average, some maintained relatively steady throughout the recession.

Completion rates at Folsom Lake College fell from 48.4 percent to 47 percent over the past three years before ticking back up to 47.2 percent among the 2007-08 cohort. Cosumnes River College fluctuated between 46.8 percent and 50 percent completion over the past four years.

Sacramento City College and American River College have been hit harder. Six-year completion rates at Sacramento City climbed to 60 percent among the 2004-05 cohort, but have since fallen to 51.6 percent. American River has fallen nearly 7 percentage points over the past two years to 43.1 percent completion.

Students who entered community college prepared to do college-level work performed significantly better. Among the 2007-08 cohort, they succeeded at a 70.2 percent rate, compared to 40.5 percent for students who needed remedial education.

Like the overall completion rate, those numbers were down from previous years, though successful completion of remedial math, English and English as a second language classes have all shown consistent gains during the same period.

Community colleges across the state are currently focusing on improving transfer rates with an associate degree program that guarantees admission to CSU.

PHOTO: Eduardo Ramos, center, has his photo id picture taken on the first day of school at Los Rios Community College District expansion in Elk Grove on August 26, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

April 15, 2014
State tax revenue continues to outpace estimates

brownbudget.JPGState tax revenue continued to outpace budget estimates last month, with year-to-date revenue now $1.4 billion more than the Brown administration projected, the state Department of Finance reported Tuesday.

The report is the last benchmark ahead of April, a heavy month for income tax revenue. Last month, personal income tax revenues to the general fund came in $274 million above estimates, while corporate tax revenues exceeded estimates by $110 million, according to the Department of Finance.

Sales and use tax receipts were $12 million below the forecast for the month of $1.6 billion.

If revenue remains higher than projected in coming months, Gov. Jerry Brown is likely to face increased pressure from Democratic lawmakers and social service advocates to free up spending. Brown has proposed a $154.9 billion spending plan for next fiscal year that includes modest increases for social services and schools, but also billions of dollars to address long-term debt. A surplus also makes it likely the administration would implement contract provisions to increase pay for state employees.

The governor will release a revised budget proposal in May.

PHOTO: Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, left, Gov. Jerry Brown, center, and Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, right, celebrate a budget deal with a formal announcement at the Capitol on Tuesday, June 11, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Randy Pench

April 15, 2014
AM Alert: Californians split on Congress, own representatives

Capitol_Building_Washington_Congress.jpgLike the rest of the country, California voters hold a deeply negative view of the job performance of the U.S. Congress: Just 13 percent approve of the work of the nation's lawmakers in a new Field Poll, compared to 79 percent who disapprove. That's a slight uptick from last fall, when Congress' approval rate in California hit a two-year low in the wake of October's government shutdown.

Things improve considerably, however, when Californians reflect on their own representatives: 44 percent of poll respondents gave their congressperson a positive assessment, while 33 percent gave them negative marks. That could be good news for House members facing tough campaigns this fall, as 46 percent of California voters are inclined to re-elect their representatives in November.

Who is most unhappy with Congress? Reporter Christopher Cadelago has more in his story. Here are the statistical tabulations prepared exclusively for Capitol Alert.

GETTING OFF TRACK: Amid legal uncertainty for the project's funding plan, calls to cancel the state's proposed high-speed rail system and spend the money elsewhere have increased in recent months. Look for a response from Dan Richard, chair of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, when he addresses the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco at 6 p.m.

TAX DAY: Tax returns are due today, so state controller John Chiang kicks off the morning with tips and advice, 7 a.m. at the Franchise Tax Board on Butterfield Way.

Meanwhile, the NorCal Tea Party Patriots are hosting a "freedom march" to the Capitol, starting at 11 a.m. at the Tower Bridge. Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association president Jon Coupal and local congressional candidate Igor Birman are among those scheduled to speak at a noon rally on the west steps.

PHOTO: The U.S. Capitol, with the Senate at right and the House of Representatives at far left, is seen in Washington, D.C., on June 17, 2013. The Associated Press/J. Scott Applewhite

April 14, 2014
California bill would revamp tax checkoff program

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Californians rushing to wrap up their taxes for 2013 can choose from 20 charitable causes to support on their state tax forms.

From sea otters to the California Senior Legislature, voluntary tax form contributions raised about $4.8 million in 2012. More than $102 million has been donated through the program since it began in 1982.

Yet getting on the tax form in the first place requires state legislation, which can cost thousands of dollars in lobbying expenses. Even then, causes and charities regularly drop off the tax form because they fail to meet the state's $250,000 threshold.

Pending legislation would revamp the progrm, with the goal of making it fairer and allowing more charities to tap into taxpayers' charitable impulses.

Senate Bill 1207 by state Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, would require charitable organizations to meet certain standards before they could qualify for tax checkoffs. California Volunteers, a state office, would oversee the new program and, along with the Franchise Tax Board, work out its details by 2017, under the measure.

Wolk's bill passed the Wolk-led Senate Governance and Finance Committee last week with bipartisan support.

"We think we can do better and allow more access to the system," Wolk said. The California Association of Nonprofits is among the legislation's supporters.

The bill is opposed by the California Association of Food Banks and California Professional Firefighters. Both participate in efforts that receive money from existing tax checkoffs.

"The hard reality is, you know, the more that are on the list, the more the revenues are shared," said Christy Bouma, a lobbyist for the firefighters union.

Even as lawmakers consider Wolk's measure, there are proposals to increase the number of tax checkoffs for the 2014 tax year. The groups include Habit for Humanity (AB 1765), the Pet Adoption Cost Deduction Fund (AB 2326), and the California Sexual Violence Victim Services Fund (SB 782).

PHOTO: Relatives and friends leave flowers and make rubbings of firefighters' names at the California Firefighters Memorial in Sacramento in 2011. The Sacramento Bee/Renée C. Byer

April 14, 2014
'Money just simply corrupts,' Leland Yee said weeks before arrest

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In the weeks since the arrest of Sen. Leland Yee, two hard-to-reconcile versions of the San Francisco Democrat have emerged: Transparency advocate running for secretary of state versus the man who, according to an FBI affidavit, accepted campaign money in exchange for favors and a promise to set up an illegal gun deal.

An interview with Voice of OC, a non-profit investigative publication based in Orange County, illustrates the size of the gulf between Yee's pre-and-post-arrest image.

In an interview recorded in December, Yee decried the role money plays in politics and suggested public financing of campaigns as a potential cure. He also offered a theory about the psychology of corrupt politicians.

"I think there's that old adage about power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely -- it's just human nature," Yee said. "After a while you kind of feel that you deserve all the perks of office because you've suffered so much, you've given up so much."

If the FBI's allegations are true, Yee spoke those words after having accepted thousands in campaign money from an undercover agent, part of his strategy to retire his campaign debt from running for mayor of San Francisco and to buoy his secretary of state campaign.

You can watch Yee talk money and politics below:

PHOTO: California Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco leaves the San Francisco Federal Building, Wednesday, March 26, 2014, in San Francisco. The Associated Press/ Ben Margot.

April 14, 2014
Steinberg plan would dedicate California cap-and-trade dollars to housing, transit

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In an effort to more closely manage how California spends revenue from its fledgling cap-and-trade program, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, on Monday unveiled a plan to dedicate ongoing money to affordable housing, mass transit and high-speed rail.

"National and international experts say that the climate problem grows worse, that we have no time to sit back and wait and think about an investment strategy year-to-year or just short-term. Now is the time to grab the moment and create these permanent sources," Steinberg said, adding that his plan would avoid an annual legislative fight over "who's in the front of the line, where is the need seemingly the greatest."

The proposal differs from Steinberg's previous proposal to change the state's system for curtailing carbon emissions. That plan, which the Democratic leader unveiled in February, would have imposed a gasoline tax rather than have industry purchase allowances for greenhouse gases emitted from "non-stationary fuels," a category that includes gas sold at the pump.

Now Steinberg has abandoned that change, shifting his attention from how California prices greenhouse gases to how the state allows levies on carbon emitters to be used. His new plan focuses on funding affordable housing, public transportation projects and the state's divisive high-speed rail project.

The gas tax plan was hit from the left and right. On Monday, by contrast, Steinberg spoke amid a phalanx of backers, including groups representing local government, (the League of California Cities) labor (the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California) and environmental (the Natural Resources Defense Council.)

"We stoked a debate a couple months ago, and a lot of consternation and controversy, and I understand it. But now many of us stand together," Steinberg said.

Under AB 32, the 2006 law that created California's cap-and-trade program, industry must purchase permits for generating the type of emissions blamed for global climate change. After six auctions, the program has generated $663 million for the state so far, according to the California Air Resources Board. Steinberg's office projects the permits could soon bring in $3 billion to $5 billion a year.

Current law dictates that the revenue will flow into a Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund. From there, entities like local governments and transit systems can apply for some of the proceeds by explaining how they will use the money to reduce overall emissions. One quarter of the money must go to disadvantaged communities, an acknowledgment that some of California's poorest places are choking on poor air quality.

Housing and public transportation sit at the center of Steinberg's proposal. Forty percent of the cap-and-trade revenue would go to affordable housing, including communities built around transit options; 30 percent would subsidize transit projects and 10 percent would fund basic transportation infrastructure like road and highway maintenance, with all three administered through competitive grants.

"Permanent sources of funding for mass transit and affordable housing are key if we are committed to long-term change," Steinberg said on Monday, noting that the two areas "face a catastrophic funding crisis in California" after years of cutbacks.

In addition to those outlays, $200 million a year would go to water efficiency projects, to fuel-related outlays that include rebates on monthly fuel bills, and to accommodating the use of electric vehicles.

California's proposed bullet train would get 20 percent of the money, channeled through a continuous appropriation that would not require year-to-year approval by the Legislature.

Already, Gov. Jerry Brown's has stirred controversy by proposing in his budget for this year spending $250 million from emissions permit sales to fund his financially precarious high-speed rail project, whose funding plan faces legal uncertainty. Some environmentalists have called high-speed rail an inappropriate use of the carbon auction funds.

But Steinberg's blueprint embraces high-speed rail as a tool for reducing emissions — provided, Steinberg said, it is one element of a larger strategy.

"I understand that high-speed rail is controversial," Steinberg said. "If it were the only thing that we were talking about or the only thing on the table I think that would be problematic. I think this is a better approach."

PHOTO: The union oil company refinery in Rodeo, Tuesday, December 17, 2002. The Sacramento Bee Michael A. Jones.

April 14, 2014
AM Alert: John Pérez trails in state controller's race

ha_perez_III.JPGCalifornia Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez and Board of Equalization member Betty Yee have been waging a tight primary battle in the state controller's race. At the California Democratic Party Convention last month, they split delegate votes almost evenly, with neither garnering enough support for the party nomination.

But the results from a new Field Poll indicate that Yee now holds an advantage over Pérez among likely voters in the June primary, 19 percent to 14 percent. Will Pérez's fundraising lead enable him to close that gap in the next two months and claim a spot in the top two runoff?

Both Yee and Pérez trail Republican candidate Ashley Swearengin, the mayor of Fresno, who leads the field with support from 28 percent of likely primary voters. Nearly 40 percent remain undecided, however, so the race is still very much up for grabs.

Reporter Christopher Cadelago has more in his story. Here are the statistical tabulations prepared exclusively for Capitol Alert.

The next Field Poll covers Californians' assessment of the job performance of Congress. Subscribers to the Capitol Alert Insider Edition app can read the story early, at 8 p.m.

CAP AND PIVOT: In February, State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg proposed a new carbon tax on fuel to replace a portion of the state's cap-and-trade program that he said would prove too unpredictable for consumers at the pump when it goes into effect next year. Steinberg is now backing away from that plan and will present a new investment strategy for California's cap-and-trade funds, 11 a.m. in Room 211 of the Capitol.

ARE YOU HAPPY NOW?: The California HealthCare Foundation sponsors a briefing on a new survey gauging user satisfaction after signing up for health insurance or Medi-Cal through Covered California, noon at the CSAC Conference Center on 11th Street.

LUNCHTIME TALK: The Delta Science Program hosts a seminar with Maggi Kelly, a professor of environmental science, policy and management at UC Berkeley, to discuss the use of remote sensors to quantify productivity and potential storage of the wetlands in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, noon at the Park Tower Building on 9th street.

NEW JOBS: KP Public Affairs welcomes two new lobbyists to its practice: Brian White, who has worked for BP America and the California Forestry Association, and Vanessa Cajina, previously a lobbyist for the Western Center on Law and Poverty.

PHOTO: Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez speaks during a press conference on December, 11, 2009. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua.

April 11, 2014
'Shrimp Boy' off the hook for legal fees, attorneys say

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An undercover FBI agent spent thousands building a case against Raymond 'Shrimp Boy' Chow - but Chow's lawyers say his defense against the government's charges won't cost him a cent.

An FBI affidavit depicts an agent repeatedly paying Chow money that, according to the government, bought Chow's blessing for the agent to work with Shrimp Boy's associates to launder money and move stolen liquor and cigarettes.

Now Chow's legal team - which includes J. Tony Serra, a legendary lawyer who has represented controversial figures like Black Panthers founder Huey Newton - says they will represent Chow for free.

During a Thursday press conference, Serra underscored that fact as a sign of Chow's innocence. Couldn't a powerful crime figure, Serra asked, afford a lawyer?

"We serve Raymond because we believe in his innocence. This is a pro bono cause for us," Serra said. "If he was a real gangster, he would have real money. He does not."

The U.S. District Court in San Francisco did not respond to requests for confirmation that Serra and his team are representing Chow in lieu of a court-appointed defender.

A similar situation applies to Keith Jackson, an associate of suspended Sen. Leland Yee who stands accused of conspiring to sell drugs and guns and setting up a paid hit. The court appointed prominent trial lawyer James Brosnahan to handle Jackson's defense.

PHOTO: A picture of Raymond 'Shrimp Boy' Chow sits next to quotes from an FBI affidavit that Chow's lawyers said establish his innocence during a press conference in San Francisco, Calif. on April 11, 2014.

April 11, 2014
AM Alert: Pete Peterson leads wide-open Secretary of State field

Pete_Peterson.jpgCalifornia's struggling Republican Party currently holds no statewide office, but is there a possibility that could change this year?

As subscribers to the Capitol Alert Insider Edition app learned last night, Republican Pete Peterson leads the pack of Secretary of State candidates by a wide margin heading into the June primary, with 30 percent of likely voters expressing support for the public policy institute director in a new Field Poll.

Democratic state Sen. Alex Padilla of Los Angeles trails with 17 percent, and none of the remaining three candidates garnered support from more than 5 percent of respondents. With more than 4 in 10 likely voters still undecided, however, the wide-open race could look very different two months from now.

It already underwent a big shift last month when state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, dropped out one day after being arrested by the FBI on corruption charges. Field was in the middle of polling when the news broke and its results caught a huge shift in public perception of Yee: After the arrest, his favorable rating swung 23 points in the negative direction, though about half of respondents continued to have no opinion on Yee.

Reporter Christopher Cadelago has more in his story. Read the statistical tabulations for the poll here.

VIDEO: Yee's arrest has also harmed the Legislature's fragile image with the public, Dan Walters says.

CRAM SESSION: The Legislature's spring recess has begun, but some lawmakers are kicking off their break with official business: Assemblyman Mark Stone, D-Scotts Valley, will be joined by Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, and Assemblyman Das Williams, D-Santa Barbara, for a select committee hearing on offshore oil and gas fracking along the California coast, 10 a.m. at the Santa Barbara County Administration Building.

Others are using the time to promote their legislation: Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, will be at the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration in Los Angeles at 9:30 a.m. to discuss a package of bills targeting child sex trafficking. Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, will announce changes to a financial ethics bill for elected and appointed officials, 10:30 a.m. at the California Public Utilities Commission building in San Francisco.

STATE PRESERVATION: The University of the Pacific's McGeorge School of Law hosts a symposium on resource management in California, dealing with issues of urban land use, water and environmental protection, starting at 8:45 a.m.

NEW JOBS: Roger Salazar's upstart public affairs firm ALZA Strategies has announced its first hire: Irma Martinez, a former lawyer for the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board.

CELEBRATIONS: An early happy birthday to California Republican Party chairman Jim Brulte, who turns 58 on Sunday.

PHOTO: Secretary of State candidate Pete Peterson. Courtesy of Common Sense California

April 11, 2014
Dan Walters Daily: Leland Yee arrest harms Legislature's fragile image

yee_press_resized.jpgThe California Legislature has bounced back from record low approval in recent years, but the March arrest of state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, immediately reversed some of those gains, Dan says.

Have a question you'd like Dan to answer? Post it on our Facebook page.

See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.

PHOTO: State Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, leaves Federal Court in San Francisco on March 26, 2014. Bay Area News Group/Karl Mondon

April 10, 2014
More defendants could be charged in Leland Yee case, feds say

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Federal authorities said today that they are likely within the next three months to announce additional charges and new defendants in the criminal case that involves Sen. Leland Yee and more than two dozen others accused of various crimes including running guns, selling drugs and arranging murder-for-hire.

"While investigation by the Grand Jury is necessarily secret... it makes good sense to generally notify the Court and opposing counsel that additional charges and, potentially, additional defendants are inevitable," prosecutors wrote in a court filing today.

Authorities continue to investigate possible racketeering and criminal violations and hope to return additional indictments in the next three months, prosecutors wrote.

Their wide-ranging case in San Francisco federal court began as an organized crime investigation with undercover FBI agents infiltrating a Chinatown group led by Raymond "ShrimpBoy" Chow, says the criminal complaint against Yee, Chow and others. Over the course of five years, the investigation grew to include a corruption sting involving Yee, a San Francisco Democrat, and Keith Jackson, a political consultant who was helping Yee raise money for his campaigns for San Francisco mayor in 2011 and Secretary of State in 2014.

In today's filling, prosecutors gave a glimpse of the evidence they will present in their case, saying they intend to introduce body recordings, video recordings, wiretaps and reports from FBI agents.

"The government intends to turn over virtually all such materials without redactions other than the case file number and personally identifying information," the filing says.

One thing prosecutors won't be making available, they wrote, are the identities of the many undercover agents involved in the sting:

"It is the position of the government that in the instant case, the (undercover agents and confidential informants) need not be known by their true names and should be referred to by the names utilized by them in the case.

April 10, 2014
VIDEO: FBI tried, failed to push Raymond 'Shrimp Boy' Chow to crimes, say lawyers

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SAN FRANCISCO - Previewing their defense of Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow, attorneys for the accused on Thursday portrayed their client as an innocent man whom undercover law enforcement officers tried and failed to lure into illegal acts.

"With all their inducements, their wining and dining, their submission of illegal activities, their enticements, he failed to perform or aid or abet in any act that constitutes crime," said J. Tony Serra, Chow's lawyer, standing before two giant posters cataloguing "criminal activities" and "fictitious crimes" he said the government undertook. "My client's not a gangster. They didn't intervene on ongoing criminal activity."

Chow was one of more than two dozen people swept up in a years-long undercover federal operation, among them state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco. Yee faces charges of corruption and conspiracy to deal in and import firearms, while Chow has been indicted on counts of money laundering and conspiracy to transport stolen property.

This is not the first time Chow has faced criminal charges. He was convicted on federal racketeering charges in 2000 and was at the time "one of the leaders of criminal activities engaged in" by the San Francisco-based Hop Sing Tong, according to the FBI.

After his cooperation in a case against an alleged Chinatown crime leader allowed Chow to emerge from prison early, he publicly trumpeted his new life as a redeemed former criminal, speaking to youth groups and winning accolades for his work in the community.

Chow's supporters and lawyers emphasized that point at Thursday's press conference. Some wore bright red t-shirts bearing the phrase "Free Shrimp Boy," and before the conference began a screen displayed a looped clip of Chow delivering an anti-violence speech at San Francisco City College. Serra called his client "an exemplary human being."

"I know what kind of man he is and I know he wouldn't do the things they said he's done," Chow's 29-year-old niece, Elaine Woo, said before the press conference, wearing one of the red t-shirts. "He's helped the community a lot."

But the FBI says that, far from renouncing his past, Chow presided over illegal enterprises. He took over as "dragonhead" of the Chee Kung Tong organization after the unsolved murder of its previous head, Allen Leung, and oversaw "all criminal activities within" the fraternal Chinatown organization, according to the affidavit by Special Agent Emmanuel V. Pascua.

According to the document, Chow spoke repeatedly about his broad authority as dragonhead and accepted tribute money from an undercover agent working with Chow's associates to conduct money laundering transactions or to move stolen liquor and cigarettes.

The affidavit depicts Chow as someone who runs a criminal organization but is careful to avoid directly involving himself in crimes committed by underlings, at one point telling an associate that "I'm innocent. I don't have no knowledge of the crimes you commit to pay for my meal."

While the FBI portrays such statements as Chow's attempts to distance himself and avoid being implicated, writing that Chow "did not want to know anything because he would not be guilty if he did not know anything," his attorneys argued on Thursday that the government's case shows Chow repeatedly refusing to commit crimes.

"There's over 25 incidents in that affidavit where Raymond either wanted nothing to do with it or said 'please take it away from me, I don't want to know,'" said Curtis Briggs, one of Chow's lawyers. "That's an innocent man who was targeted by the government."

Chow's attorneys emphasized the sections of the affidavit in which Chow warns against illegal activity or repeatedly says "no" when offered money. While the document also describes Chow pocketing cash from the undercover agent after initially refusing, Serra said Chow merely "acquiesced" after being pushed - and broke no law in doing so.

"There's no law against accepting a gratuity," Serra said.

.

April 10, 2014
No campaign cash for fighting criminal charges, says Jerry Hill

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Politicians facing criminal charges would not be allowed to use campaign funds to pay their legal bills under an amendment Sen. Jerry Hill said he plans to introduce in the wake of the indictment of his colleague Sen. Leland Yee on charges of corruption and conspiracy to traffic weapons.

Under current law, politicians have wide latitude on how they spend campaign funds. Expenses have to have a legislative, governmental or political purpose, but can be used for everything from hiring campaign consultants and TV ads, to travel and paying legal bills.

Hill, a San Mateo Democrat, proposes several changes to the rules regarding how politicians can use campaign funds in his Senate Bill 831. Among them: prohibiting officials from giving campaign funds to nonprofits operated by their political colleagues and banning the use of campaign funds for things like rent, utility bills, vacations, tuition and gifts to family members.

(Alert readers may remember that Sen. Ron Calderon, now indicted on corruption and money laundering charges, and his brother, former Assemblyman Charles Calderon have a history of using campaign accounts to pay for their Christmas gifts to each other.)

SB 831 would also place a new $5,000 cap on the amount of travel gifts officials could receive from nonprofit organizations, and require groups providing the travel to disclose their financial donors to the Fair Political Practices Commission. It's one of many ethics proposals to surface this year as the Capitol responds to a string of scandals.

Yee and Calderon have both pleaded not guilty in separate cases.

PHOTO: Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, in March 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

April 10, 2014
AM Alert: Leland Yee scandal blunts increasing approval of Legislature

yee_press_resized.jpgAs the old saying goes, one bad apple can spoil the whole bunch.

It was good news for the California Legislature in December, when the Field Poll showed public support for lawmakers at its highest since 2007, and the outlook was only getting brighter. Early results from polling in March indicated voter approval of the Legislature at 46 percent, surpassing disapproval for the first time in more than a decade.

Then scandal hit: State Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, was arrested by the FBI in a sweeping corruption sting.

As Field finished its polling over the next week, voters' approval of the Legislature tumbled to 43 percent and disapproval jumped from 40 percent to 46 percent, representing a 9 percentage point swing in the negative direction. It's not the record lows that lawmakers saw during the depths of California's budget crisis, but public confidence has clearly been shaken by the string of recent criminal charges — and one conviction, so far — against their representatives.

Reporter Jeremy B. White has more in his story. Here are the statistical tabulations prepared exclusively for Capitol Alert.

The next Field Poll will focus on the California Secretary of State election, which was upended by Yee's arrest and subsequent withdrawal from the race. Subscribers to the Capitol Alert Insider Edition app will have access to the story early, at 8 p.m.

PARTY TIME: Like schoolchildren and beach-bound coeds across the nation, our legislators also enjoy an annual spring break. The Senate and Assembly both meet at 9 a.m. for final floor sessions before a week-long recess.

ALL DRIED UP: The severe drought has spurred numerous efforts to address California's water resource management, but how will we pay for them? Local water officials, lawyers and engineers gather for a half-day conference on how to improve the state's water-finance system. The event, hosted by the Public Policy Institute of California, begins at 9 a.m. at the Sacramento Convention Center.

WIRED IN: State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson discuss the need for Internet access and other educational technology in schools, 10 a.m. at the Sacramento Public Library on I Street. They will be joined by Federal Communications Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel and AT&T Vice President Kathy McKim.

NEW JOB: Congratulations to Karen French, former associate director of legislative affairs for the University of California, who has joined Nielsen Merksamer Parrinello Gross & Leoni LLP.

CELEBRATIONS: Happy birthday to state Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, who turns 74 today.

PHOTO: State Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, leaves Federal Court in San Francisco on March 26, 2014. Bay Area News Group/Karl Mondon

April 9, 2014
Lagging in polls, Neel Kashkari says paid advertising will push him ahead

kashkarisanjose.jpgSAN JOSE - Lagging in the governor's race with only 2 percent support, according to a new Field Poll, Republican Neel Kashkari said Wednesday that he can make up ground on GOP rival Tim Donnelly with paid advertising closer to the June primary election.

"We have a very specific plan that we've had now for two months, that as we get closer to the date when absentee ballots drop, that's when we're going to start our mail programs and whatnot," Kashkari told reporters after speaking at a luncheon hosted by The Rotary Club of San Jose. "And so we feel like, you know, we're where we expected to be."

Kashkari said he plans to run television ads "in a targeted way," though he said those ads will not run statewide. Asked if he would advertise on network or cable TV, he said, "I'll reserve judgment on that."

Kashkari's remarks come the same day a Field Poll put him at third among Republicans running for governor, far behind Donnelly, who polled at 17 percent among likely voters, and 1 percentage point behind Laguna Hills Mayor Andrew Blount.

The Republicans all remain far behind Gov. Jerry Brown, whose high public approval rating and massive fundraising advantage make him the favorite in the race.

Kashkari, who has largely been dismissive of Donnelly in public appearances, said Wednesday that the June primary will be a "hard fight."

"Winning as a Republican in California is going to be very hard, not impossible," he said. "There are too many examples around the country of very powerful incumbents losing. I have to get through a primary ... which itself is, you know, a hard fight to have."

Kashkari is by far the best-funded Republican in the race, reporting last month that he had more than $900,000 on hand. Donnelly held less than $11,000.

Kashkari, a former U.S. Treasury Department official, said "the most important numbers" in the Field Poll are the percentage of people who don't know who the Republican candidates are. Fifty percent of likely voters still have no opinion of Donnelly and 64 percent have no opinion of Kashkari, according to the poll.

"To me, I think that it's still a wide open field, and it's going to come down to who has the resources to reach voters," he said, "and I believe that we're going to have a substantial resource advantage."

PHOTO: Republican Neel Kashkari talks to reporters at an event in San Jose on April 9, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/David Siders

April 9, 2014
Assembly panel sour on bill allowing limited raw milk sales

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Citing overwhelming evidence of the health risks, lawmakers on Wednesday rejected a bill that would allow small farms to sell or give to friends portions of raw dairy products.

Assembly Bill 2505 by Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada, D-Davis, would allow small farms to sell or give away fresh-from-the-udder, unpasteurized milk without complying with some of the standards that apply to larger dairies.

The bill would only have covered farms with three or fewer cows, or up to 15 goats. Yamada said it is unfair to hold "home dairies" to the same standards that govern commercial dairy distributors, effectively barring small farmers from a long-running tradition of sharing or selling their milk.

"Currently these families who for some generations have been engaged in this practice have no recourse under current state law to offer this raw milk to anyone," Yamada said in testimony before the Assembly Agriculture Committee.

While some raw milk advocates tout the superior taste and health benefits of consuming unadulterated dairy, much of the testimony on Wednesday stressed unburdening small-scale farmers of needless regulation.

"If we continue to undermine and criminalize farmers, who produce food directly farm-to-consumer, California will continue the trend of declining family farms," dairy rancher Doniga Markegard testified.

That argument did not convince committee members. While the chair, Assemblywoman Susan Eggman, D-Stockton, backed the measure on the principle of "people's ability to make their own choices," opponents - including Republicans - said the risk, in this case, outweighed the economic freedom argument.

"If you want to drink unpasteurized milk, buy a cow, milk the cow and drink the milk," said Assemblyman Brian Dahle, R-Bieber. "We don't like to get into what people do at home - that's your business - but when you start selling it, that's our business."

Yamada said her bill would bring small dairies under an umbrella of standards that would minimize the risk of health issues, including rules around storing the milk, annually testing cows, sanitizing milking equipment and ensuring that anyone who interacts with the animals take certain safety precautions.

"We believe that raw milk, when it's responsibly produced, is not inherently dangerous," said Cynthia Daley, a professor of agriculture at the California State University, Chico. "Fresh milk products," she added, "have been part of our staple diet and have been part of many successful cultures over the course of human history."

But medical professionals warn about the risk of spreading illnesses that can hospitalize and in some cases kill. A Centers for Disease Control study found the incidence of outbreaks soaring for raw milk, with unpasteurized dairy products causing outbreaks at 150 times the rate of treated milk products.

"From a public health standpoint, raw milk is a uniquely dangerous product, particularly for the young and the immuno-compromised," testified Michael Payne, a researcher at the University of California's Western Institute for Food Safety and Security. He called Yamada's bill a "public health disaster" for offering to exempt dairy farms from licensing requirements and inspections.

A coalition of health and food industry associations lined up against the measure, including the California Farm Bureau Federation, the California Medical Association and the Western United Dairymen, as did individual dairy companies like Land O' Lakes.

A Murrieta woman named Mary McGonigle-Martin described her then-six-year-old son's "odyssey through hell" after drinking raw milk and becoming hospitalized at a cost of $550,000. She faulted Yamada's bill for failing to adequately guard against the spread of pathogens.

"Just because you are milking three cows doesn't mean a small operation cannot contaminate the raw milk," McGonigle-Martin said.

Lawmakers opposing the bill voiced similar concerns. "I think you are putting your children, particularly those under five, at great risk," Assemblyman Bill Quirk, D-Hayward, told supporters, "and I wish you would stop it.

PHOTO: Cattle belonging to a rancher in Lincoln do some ambling on May 10, 2011. The Sacramento Bee/Renée C. Byer.

April 9, 2014
Inland Empire has greatest need for community college expansion, report says

Los_Rios.JPGA California budget proposal to increase community college enrollment with an emphasis on the neediest districts should focus on the Inland Empire, the Central Valley and Los Angeles, according to California Competes.

A new report from the Oakland-based higher education policy institute argues that these regions should receive the vast majority of a proposed $155.2 million in new funding for enrollment growth next year, which Gov. Jerry Brown has prioritized for districts with "the greatest unmet need in adequately serving their community's higher educational needs."

The report examined factors such as the number of adults without a college degree, unemployment rates and levels of poverty in a community college district to determine where California had the greatest number of underserved students that could benefit from furthering their education.

It concluded that, of an estimated 40,000 classroom seats the new funding would support, nearly 15,000 should be created in the Inland Empire, with about 10,500 in the Central Valley and more than 9,000 in Los Angeles. The report also suggested about 2,300 new seats in greater Sacramento.

"There are definitely areas in the state where enrolling the needy population is not easy," California Competes executive director Robert Shireman said on a conference call.

Community colleges must figure out what additional programs and courses would attract and most benefit those students, he added. "Those decisions determine whether a needy student is really served and whether they are served well."

The California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office condemned the report's conclusions, saying it would deny community college access in other parts of the state.

"California community colleges were forced to turn away 500,000 students from every corner of the state during the economic downturn," spokesman Paul Feist said in a statement. "To continue rationing education in some parts of the state but not others would not be equitable and would harm California's ability to increase the number of college educated workers that our economy is demanding."

PHOTO: Eduardo Ramos, center, has his photo id picture taken on the first day of school at Los Rios Community College District expansion in Elk Grove on August 26, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

April 9, 2014
Ricardo Lara proposes undocumented student loan program

Lara_undocumented_students.JPGSeeking to close a gap undocumented students face in funding their education, state Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, has proposed a new loan program for California's public universities.

Senate Bill 1210 would make available $9.2 million for University of California and California State University campuses to administer loans to undocumented students, who are ineligible for federal financial aid and most private loans.

"Many undocumented students still lack the financial wherewithal to pay for school," Lara said at a press conference Wednesday. Faced with an estimated financial aid gap of $5,000 to $6,000 at UC and $3,000 at CSU, "they are having to risk a withdrawal from college."

California has already taken several steps over the past 13 years to make college more affordable for undocumented students. In 2001, the Legislature extended in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants who graduated from a California high school. Three years ago, it made them eligible to apply for Cal Grants.

But undocumented students at the press conference said that can still leave them thousands of dollars short to cover costs such as housing, books, transportation and food.

"Unfortunately, immigrant students like me sometimes need extra funds to pay for school, but we have nowhere to turn," said Deisy Caro, a recent Sacramento State transfer who said she worked while attending community college part-time for seven years to pay for her education.

Lara was joined at the event by Sacramento State President Alexander Gonzalez and UC President Janet Napolitano, who said the university "stands strongly behind this bill" to put undocumented students on equal footing with their peers.

"They have done everything right," Napolitano said. "It's about opportunity and it's about fairness."

Napolitano's support for the bill comes amid continuing controversy over the role she played in deporting undocumented immigrants as Secretary of Homeland Security under President Barack Obama.

Her appointment as UC president last fall was strongly opposed by campus immigration activists. UC Berkeley law students had planned another protest for Wednesday evening outside an event Napolitano was scheduled to attend.

"If you look at my record going back to when I was governor (of Arizona), I was always strongly in support of the DREAM Act," the deportation deferment for undocumented minors, Napolitano told The Bee following the press conference. "Those students don't know the whole story or the whole record."

PHOTO: Sen. Ricardo Lara announcing SB 1210 to expand college financial aid for undocumenmted immigrants. He is joined, left to right, by UC Davis student Ana Maciel, UC President Janet Napolitano and Sacramento State President Alexander Gonzalez at the State Capitol on April 9, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/Paul Kitagaki Jr.

April 9, 2014
California Chamber targets 26 bills as 'job killers'

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An annual spring ritual continued Wednesday when the California Chamber of Commerce declared 26 legislative measures as "job killers" that should be rejected.

The list is about a third shorter than those of the past, but inclusion of a measure is more than a symbolic gesture. The chamber, often in concert with other business groups, has been remarkably successful in past years in getting nearly all bills with that label either killed in the Legislature, significantly watered down or vetoed.

"The economic recovery is still the number one issue for Californians," chamber president Allan Zaremberg said in a statement. "These bills pose a serious threat to our economy and, if enacted, would dampen job growth in the state."

As usual, the bills on the 2014 list are those most ardently supported by liberal groups, particularly labor unions, environmentalists, consumer advocates or personal injury attorneys.

One of the 26 is already dead for this year, having been sent to "interim study" on Tuesday by the Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee. Assembly Bill 2140 by Assemblyman Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, would have phased out orca shows at MarineWorld and other marine parks.

Eight others — six constitutional amendments that would lower vote requirements for local tax increases and two business tax increases — appear to be moribund. They would require two-thirds legislative votes, but the Democrats' supermajority in the Senate has been erased by the suspension of three senators facing criminal charges and Republicans are uniformly opposed to new taxes.

That leaves 17 bills still potentially viable this year.

Two are high-profile measures that embody the "income disparity" credo of Democrats and labor unions in this election year, but that the chamber says would impose heavy costs on employers.

Assembly Bill 1522 by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, would require employers to provide workers with paid sick leave. Senate Bill 935 by Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, would boost the state's minimum wage, scheduled to rise from $8 an hour to $10 under a bill passed last year, to $13 and tie future increases automatically to the cost of living. Last year's minimum wage hike was the only one of 38 2013 "job killer" bills to make it into law.

This year's list also includes bills that would place a moratorium on "fracking" to exploit oil deposits (SB 1132), give local governments the authority to bar fracking (AB 2420), require labeling of genetically modified foods (SB 1381) and bar employment discrimination against workers who must care for family members (SB 404).

Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill allowing fracking of California's potentially huge shale oil deposits with state regulation, dismaying anti-fracking environmental groups. He would be unlikely, therefore, to sign either of the two measures aimed at closing off the practice. Brown has also indicated his opposition to automatic cost of living increases in the minimum wage, so would be unlikely to sign Leno's wage measure were it to reach him.

PHOTO: California Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Allan Zaremberg in 2010. The Sacramento Bee/Paul Kitagaki Jr.

April 9, 2014
'Free Shrimp Boy!' Raymond Chow's defense mobilizes

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Will Shrimp Boy swim free?

Raymond Chow, the ex-convict widely known by his aquatic nickname, wriggled into public consciousness last month after being ensnared in a wide-ranging criminal investigation that also netted Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco. Chow has been indicted on charges of money laundering, conspiracy to traffic in cigarettes and conspiracy to transport stolen property.

According to an FBI affidavit, at one point an offer of campaign cash convinced Yee to issue a proclamation honoring the organization Chow ran, Yee's reservations notwithstanding ("He's still hot stuff," Yee allegedly said of Chow).

Since emerging from prison in 2005, his federal racketeering sentence curtailed thanks to having provided testimony on another alleged Chinatown crime figure, Chow has publicly proclaimed himself a changed man, renouncing his former life of crime and persuading others he had reformed.

His attorneys seem prepared to make a similar argument. They've organized a Thursday afternoon press conference in San Francisco in which they'll likely argue, per a press release, that Chow was a victim of "outrageous government behavior, entrapment, and racism."

"Shrimp Boy, released from prison seven years ago, made a religious vow that he would never again violate the law: and he has not! Presume him innocent," the press release reads.

Some attendees will be wearing red t-shirts emblazoned with the phrase "Free Shrimp Boy."

Chow is quoted maintaining his innocence throughout the FBI affidavit. One of the exchanges, between Chow and an associate since indicted on a range of money laundering and criminal conspiracy charges:

Chow: "How am I hanging out with outlaws like this?"
Associate: "You are an outlaw too."
Chow: "I'm innocent, I don't have no knowledge of the crimes you commit to pay for my meal, that is very bad."

Followed by: "I'm still eating though. I'm hungry."

PHOTO: An image of the t-shirts to be worn on Thursday, April 10. Provided by Pier 5 Law Offices.





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Capitol Alert Staff


Amy Chance Amy Chance is political editor for The Sacramento Bee. achance@sacbee.com. Twitter: @Amy_Chance

Dan Smith Dan Smith is Capitol bureau chief for The Sacramento Bee. smith@sacbee.com. Twitter: @DanielSnowSmith

Jim Miller Jim Miller covers California policy and politics and edits Capitol Alert. jmiller@sacbee.com. Twitter: @jimmiller2

David Siders David Siders covers the Brown administration. dsiders@sacbee.com. Twitter: @davidsiders

Christopher Cadelago Christopher Cadelago covers California politics and health care. ccadelago@sacbee.com. Twitter: @ccadelago

Laurel Rosenhall Laurel Rosenhall covers the Legislature, the lobbying community and higher education. lrosenhall@sacbee.com. Twitter: @LaurelRosenhall

Jeremy White Jeremy B. White covers the Legislature. jwhite@sacbee.com. Twitter: @capitolalert

Koseff Alexei Koseff edits Capitol Alert's mobile Insider Edition. akoseff@sacbee.com. Twitter: @akoseff

Dan Walters Dan Walters is a columnist for The Sacramento Bee. dwalters@sacbee.com. Twitter: @WaltersBee

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