Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

April 22, 2014
Amid scandal, Senate committee approves political fundraising bills

Deleon.JPGThe scandal-ridden state Senate took a step toward cleaning up its image Tuesday, when a key committee approved several bills aimed at purifying the role of money in California politics.

Most of the bills were written or amended following the federal corruption investigation of Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, and the record-setting FPPC fine on lobbyist Kevin Sloat for hosting officials at his home for lavish campaign fundraisers. Pressure mounted even further on the Senate when Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, was charged last month on charges that he took bribes and conspired to illegally sell weapons during a years-long FBI sting. Yee and Calderon have both pleaded not guilty in separate cases.

The Senate Elections and Constitutional Amendments Committee passed the following bills with a unanimous and bipartisan vote:

* - SB 1441 by Sen. Ricardo Lara: Would ban campaign fundraisers at lobbyists' homes, eliminating a rule that currently allows them to host events that cost up to $500.

* - SB 1442 by Lara: Would require political fundraising committees to file campaign finance reports four times a year, up from the current requirement of twice a year.

* - SB 1443 by Sen. Kevin de León: Would reduce the value of gifts officials can receive from any single source from the current $440 to $200. Would ban all gifts from lobbyists, eliminating a current rule that allows lobbyists to give up to $10 a month. Would prohibit officials from accepting certain kinds of gifts from anyone, including tickets to concerts, sports events and amusement parks; spa services and rounds of golf; cash and gift cards.

* - Senate Bill 1103 by Sen. Alex Padilla: Would prohibit a politician from simultaneously raising money for multiple state offices.

Other bills cleared the committee on a party-line votes, with Republican Sen. Joel Anderson voting no:

* - Senate Bill 1101 by Padilla: Would ban political fundraising during the last 100 days of the legislative session and for seven days after session ends.

* - Senate Bill 1102 by Padilla: Would increase the reporting required of small political contributions by mandating disclosure of donations of $100 or more within 24 hours during the 90 days preceding an election and within 5 business days the rest of the year.

* - Senate Bill 831 by Sen. Jerry Hill: Would make numerous changes to the Political Reform Act, including: forbidding politicians facing criminal charges from using campaign funds to pay their legal bills; 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. It 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.

PHOTO: Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, talks about the proposed California Accountability in Public Service Act during a Capitol news conference where he and other Democratic lawmakers announced a package of bills intended to impose new rules on public officials on Thursday March 6, 2014. At right is State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, and at left is Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens. The Sacramento Bee/ Renée C. Byer


April 22, 2014
California massage fix proposed

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Seeking to work out the kinks in California's disputed massage regulations, Assembly members are poised to announce a bill giving local governments broader powers to crack down on wayward operators.

In the years since California transferred oversight of the massage industry from municipal authorities to a centralized state nonprofit known as the California Massage Therapy Council, many cities have witnessed a boom in the number of massage establishments.

Local leaders have complained about their inability to regulate the mushrooming massage parlors, and law enforcement has warned of an expanded risk of illegitimate enterprises selling sex under the guise of physical therapy. In response to those concerns, a trio of lawmakers will unveil a bill Thursday meant to restore some local control.

The bill would delete a provision of the law shielding certain massage parlors from local land use ordinances. Critics of that exemption say land use rules are a critical tool for cities seeking to cap the number of massage establishments in a given area or to prevent new businesses from quickly replacing shuttered parlors. Cities would be empowered to enact additional ordinances governing areas like health code requirements and operating hours.

The legislation also tries to impose more accountability on massage parlor owners. Business managers, not just individual massage therapists, would need to get certified.

Cops and cities would have an amplified voice in massage matters. The California Massage Therapy Council, currently populated by industry representatives, would have dedicated seats for the League of California Cities, the California State Association of Counties, and the California Police Chiefs Association.

Assembly members Jimmy Gomez, Susan Bonilla and Chris Holden are authoring the legislation.

PHOTO: A licensed massage therapist massages a regular client at the Massage Envy Spa at Loehmann's Plaza in Sacramento on February 22, 2011. The Sacramento Bee/Manny Crisostomo.

April 22, 2014
Green Party secretary of state candidate to crash Sacramento debate

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David Curtis, the Green Party candidate for secretary of state, said he will show up at Wednesday's Sacramento Press Club luncheon debate featuring four of his rivals for the state's top elections post even though he wasn't invited.

Curtis, who the latest Field Poll shows leading two candidates included in Wednesday's lineup, has criticized the press club on social media. He has challenged the organization's nonprofit status.

"I was very disappointed to learn that a social group of supposedly prominent journalists would feel it appropriate to exclude any candidates," Curtis said in an interview, adding that he only learned of the event after he saw a rival mention it on Twitter.

"That was just rude. They call me rude. Well, that's rude," Curtis added.

Wednesday's event is scheduled to feature two Democrats, state Sen. Alex Padilla and Derek Cressman, Republican Pete Peterson, and Dan Schnur, who has no party preference. Another Democrat on the ballot, suspended state Sen. Leland Yee, has been indicted for corruption and conspiracy and withdrawn from the race.

In a message posted on press club's Facebook page, president Juliet Williams said the group issued invitations to the event before the Field Poll's release. The group's board never heard from Curtis until he posted a Facebook message the weekend of April 12 . Before the board had a chance to respond, Williams wrote, "Mr. Curtis began a tirade of insulting and threatening social media posts about our organization.

"Upon receiving a phone call from our program director, Mr. Curtis became belligerent and rude, making a conversation impossible. Our decision was clear, given our intent to hold a civil and informative discussion on the issues in the race. Our organization is entitled to invite whichever speakers we choose and is under no mandate to invite everyone," Williams wrote.

Williams, a Capitol reporter for the Associated Press, noted that its panel mirrors the "four leading candidates" interviewed by the editorial board of The Sacramento Bee.

Tuesday, the San Diego-based Independent Voter Project called on candidates to boycott Wednesday's event.

"The club has justified its position by claiming that Mr. Curtis was 'rude,'" the group's leaders, former state Sen. Steve Peace and former Assemblyman Jeff Marston, wrote. "If so, it is for voters to pass judgement, not the Press Club. We speak from experience when we say every candidate has a right to make an ass of themselves, and the voters have a right to see it."

There has been only one previous forum for secretary of state's candidates, in Los Angeles on March 3. Curtis was one of six announced candidates at that event, which did not include two other people who will be on the June ballot: Democrat Jeffrey Drobman of Thousand Oaks and Republican Roy Allmond of Sacramento.

"They picked the ones that were most actively campaigning. That was the six of us," Curtis said of the March forum.

PHOTO: David Curtis of San Rafael, Green Party candidate for secretary of state in 2014. Photo courtesy of Curtis campaign.

April 22, 2014
AM Alert: Kevin Mullin seeks limit on agricultural antibiotic use

cows.JPGAs antibiotics have become a widespread medical tool, they've actually lost some of their effectiveness -- a concern underpinning ongoing legislative efforts to restrict the use of antibiotics on livestock.

Both state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, and Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, D-South San Francisco, have introduced bills this session that would place limits on feeding antibiotics to farm animals, which has been linked to resistant strains of bacteria.

Mullin will be joined by doctors and consumer advocates to discuss his bill, AB 1437, during a press conference at 8:30 a.m. in Room 317 of the Capitol.

AB 1437 is one of Capitol Alert's bills to watch for the 2014 legislative session. Keep tabs on all of them on our Insider Edition app.

VIDEO: It's all about the money as legislators return from spring recess, Dan Walters says.

HEALTH CARE ACCESS: As part of the California Medical Association's lobby day, physicians and legislators will discuss a package of bills that they say would increase access to health care, 11 a.m. on the north steps. Assembly members Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley; Richard Pan, D-Sacramento; V. Manuel Pérez, D-Coachella; and Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, will present legislation.

WHAT'S UP, DOC?: Gov. Jerry Brown and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom are scheduled to address the California chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians during the group's legislative conference, starting at 9:30 a.m. at the CSAC Conference Center on 11th Street.

A YEAR IN REVIEW: During the first year of enrollment, nearly 1.4 million Californians signed up for health insurance through the state exchange. UCLA health policy and management professor Gerald Kominski will dive into what that number means and what Covered California can learn from it, 11:30 a.m. at the UC Center Sacramento on K Street.

MUSLIM DAY: The Council on American-Islamic Relations gathers on the south steps at 10 a.m. for its third annual Muslim Day at the Capitol to call for support of legislation including SB 1005, which would extend health care subsidies to undocumented immigrants.

TO SERVE AND PROTEST: Members of the California Libertarian Party rally to oppose a measure that would change the state constitution to fill legislative vacancies by gubernatorial appointment and to promote some of their 2014 candidates. Noon at the corner of 12th and L streets.

CELEBRATIONS: Happy birthday to state Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, who turns 59 today.

PHOTO: Cows in Sacramento County feed on hay due to drought conditions on January 23, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/Paul Kitagaki Jr.

April 22, 2014
Dan Walters Daily: It's all about the money in session's second half

RBCapitolDome.JPGAs the Legislature returns from spring recess, funding battles will take focus and could determine policy for years to come, Dan says.

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

See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.

April 21, 2014
California lawmakers want more data on prison realignment

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By Brad Branan
bbranan@sacbee.com

Since state lawmakers approved a law in 2011 making counties responsible for lower-level offenders, supporters and critics have offered many opinions as to whether or not the law is working.

Gov. Jerry Brown, for instance, recently reported that it is.

However, the difficulty in measuring the effectiveness of AB 109 was underscored Monday afternoon during a panel discussion held by the Public Policy Institute of California. The law was passed amid state budget problems in response to a federal court order requiring the state to reduce prison population.

The state must do a better job measuring how effectively counties are carrying out the law, according to the panel's speakers: Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez, R-Lake Elsinore, and Matthew Cate, head of the California State Association of Counties, and previously secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

"We have a lot of programs out there. Nobody seems to be able to tell me do they work," said Melendez. "There has been no analysis."

Steinberg agreed that there has been a lack of data available about what is often called prison realignment, and said he would push for greater reporting requirements and more funding for mental health and drug treatment and other rehabilitation.

PHOTO: Melissa Melendez, R-Lake Elsinore during session in the Assembly chambers in Sacramento, Calif. on Monday, March 11, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

April 21, 2014
Antonio Villaraigosa endorses Torlakson rival in state supe race

Antonio_Villaraigosa.JPGIn an unusual move, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has broken with the California Democratic Party to endorse a rival over incumbent Tom Torlakson in the race for state superintendent of public instruction.

Villaraigosa, a former Assembly speaker with a possible eye on a future governor's race, announced his support for former charter schools executive Marshall Tuck last Thursday, calling him the "only candidate with the experience needed to bring major change to California schools."

"Marshall will bring real strategies, not politics, to Sacramento," Villaraigosa said in a statement.

The endorsement is not entirely unexpected: In 2006, Villaraigosa selected Tuck to lead a non-profit organization that assumed control of 17 failing public schools in Los Angeles Unified School District.

But the move puts Villaraigosa at odds with his party, which endorsed Torlakson at its convention in March. Torlakson has also received endorsements from prominent California Democrats including Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, as well the state's two biggest teacher's unions.

And Villaraigosa also has a prior relationship with Torlakson: They served together in the Assembly from 1996 to 2000, where Torlakson joined Democrats to elect Villaraigosa as Speaker in 1998.

"Given that the former mayor had previously hired Mr. Tuck, his endorsement comes as no surprise," Torlakson spokesman Paul Hefner wrote in an e-mail. "It certainly is not likely to carry the weight with voters the support Superintendent Torlakson enjoys among teachers, school employees and dozens of county and local school superintendents."

Editor's note: This post was updated at 3:39 p.m. to add a comment from Torlakson's office.

PHOTO: Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa speaks at a Sacramento Press Club lunch on August 15, 2011. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

April 21, 2014
GOP ties California Democrats to Keystone XL pipeline delays

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The Republican Party sent an email blast Monday blaming California Democrats for delaying a controversial pipeline that even supporters acknowledge would bring little economic benefit to the state.

The National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee sent the letter in response to President Barack Obama's decision Friday to extend the review period for the 1,700-mile Keystone XL pipeline, which would bring oil from western Canada to the Gulf Coast.

Obama is under pressure from environmentalists to nix the project, but many of his fellow Democrats are feeling the heat from Republicans eager to turn it into an election issue.

The GOP accused Democrats in competitive House races, including Rep. Ami Bera of Elk Grove, John Garamendi of Walnut Grove and Raul Ruiz of Palm Desert, of standing with their "far-left liberal donors" rather than supporting the pipeline.

One of those donors is San Francisco billionaire hedge fund manager Tom Steyer, who opposes the pipeline and has funded efforts to defeat any candidate who supports it - even Democrats.

Steyer hosted a fundraiser with Obama for Democrats earlier this month and has pledged $100 million to back candidates who favor renewable energy over fossil fuels.

NRCC spokeswoman Andrea Bozek said Steyer "is one of many extreme donors" filling the campaign coffers of Democrats.

But it's not clear that the issue will resonate in California. Keystone XL wouldn't come within half a continent of California, nor would it supply the state's petroleum needs.

Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the president of the Western States Petroleum Association and one of the pipeline's strongest supporters, wrote in 2012 that it wouldn't deliver direct economic benefits to California and other western states.

California will get a significant amount of oil by rail in the coming years, however. The state energy commission projects that trains could supply as much as a quarter of the state's oil needs within two years.

Tyrone Gayle, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, called the NRCC letter "another desperate attempt by national Republicans to distract Californians."

PHOTO: Rep. John Garamendi discusses legislation he and Republican Rep. Doug LaMalfa, left, are proposing to study the cost of building a reservoir in the Sites Valley. AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli.

April 21, 2014
Health insurance rate regulation foes flex fundraising muscle

Court-thumb-280x419-87671.jpgGood Friday was a good day for opponents of a ballot initiative to regulate health insurance prices.

The coalition of doctors, hospitals and insurance companies last week reported collecting nearly $24 million from Blue Shield of California and Kaiser Foundation Health Plan. Half of the money was listed as loans to the campaign.

The contributions follow more than $13 million in donations from WellPoint and Anthem Blue Cross last year. Opponents of the effort argue it will drive up the cost of care in California.

"The sponsors drafted a flawed, deceptive measure with language buried in the fine print that will line their pockets at the expense of consumers, who will face higher health care costs," said Robin Swanson, a spokeswoman for Californians Against Higher Health Care Costs. "Our coalition of doctors, hospitals, health plans and employers will have the necessary resources to inform voters across the state about these flaws and the real reason the special interests behind this measure spent millions to put in on the ballot."

Other opposing donors include Health Net and the California Association of Health Plans.

Advanced by Consumer Watchdog, the November ballot measure would allow the state's elected insurance commissioner to deny health premium increases they deem excessive. California regulators based on a previous statewide initiative already have the power to deny automobile, property and casualty insurance rate increases.

Jamie Court, the initiative proponent and president of Consumer Watchdog, said the group is betting voters will see through the money. A campaign statement coming due will show the group has about $150,000 on hand to spend from its three commitees, he said.

"I don't think any amount of money can deny they are unjustifiably raising rates," Court said. "The fact that they are spending so much will signal to Californians just how important and significant this inititive is."

PHOTO: Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog. Photo by Kent A McInnis Jr.

April 21, 2014
AM Alert: Is realignment working?

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Welcome back from legislative spring break, everybody! Returning lawmakers will be delving right back in to a contentious policy issue during a daylong hearing on prison realignment.

Gov. Jerry Brown's plan to shift low-level offenders from prisons to county jails, spurred by court-ordered reductions in the state's bulging prison population, has won praise for considering alternatives to incarceration and attracted condemnation for releasing dangerous criminals and overwhelming local facilities. A Public Policy Institute of California event at the Sheraton Grand today will step back to take stock.

Expected attendees include Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez, R-Lake Elsinore, and Matthew Cate, who is deeply immersed in the issue: currently head of the California State Association of Counties, he helped oversee realignment's implementation as chief of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

VIDEO:Lawmakers are returning to a host of challenges, both fiscal and ethical, Dan Walters says.

GRADING SCHOOLS: The state bureau responsible for certifying trade schools flunked a recent state audit, and today a joint Assembly and Senate committee hearing will mull the fate of the sunsetting Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education. Testifying at the 10 a.m. hearing will be State Auditor Elaine Howle and Joanne Wenzel, chief of the bureau.

DOGGING IT: With an eye to preventing animal cruelty, California in 2012 outlawed using canines to hound bears and bobcats. The California Houndsmen for Conservation want to roll back the prohibition, and they'll be rallying today for a bill by Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks, that would allow hunters to release the dogs if they obtain special permission. 11 a.m. on the west steps.

SALON AND ON: Usually talk around the Capitol of cuts implies tough budgetary choices, but today it references something a little more welcome. In the latest iteration of Interest Group Freebies, the Professional Beauty Federation of CA will be offering gratis hair cuts, manicures and massages for legislators and staff on the North steps this afternoon.

BRINGING IT HOME: We brought you news before of the pushback to Gov. Jerry Brown's plan to cap hours for in-home supportive services, which caregivers say will limit their flexibility in offering help - often to disabled family members - and thrust some into poverty. The Service Employees International Union will start dropping in on legislators today to urge rejection of governor's plan, a campaign SEIU says they will continue multiple days a week until the budget passes.

PHOTO: Inmates inside the jail cells in the old Stanislaus County downtown main jail in Modesto on Wednesday June 19, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Manny Crisostomo.

April 21, 2014
Dan Walters Daily: Legislature returns from recess facing big problems

Assembly_chamber.JPGAfter a week off for spring recess, the Legislature returns facing ethics violations and funding questions that must be dealt with, Dan says.

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

See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.

April 18, 2014
Democratic super PAC reserves TV airtime in California

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In politics, it's never too early to plan.

A Democratic super PAC announced Friday that it has reserved more than $800,000 in television time for the home stretch of the general election in California.

House Majority PAC, which wades into contested congressional races, secured TV time in Sacramento, Riverside and San Diego counties for the weeks leading up to Nov. 4.

It includes $112,219 to protect Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Palm Desert, $189,610 on behalf of Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove, and $512,190 in the district held by Rep. Scott Peters, D-San Diego. The initial reservation for broadcast and cable nationwide is $6.5 million and covers 24 districts.

Early reservations typically allow candidates and outside groups to lock in lower advertising rates. A spokesman for the House Majority PAC said the group didn't make its initial television reservations last cycle until July. It spent money in more than 50 races, said Matt Thornton.

Ruiz, Bera and Peters swept into office as part of the Democratic wave in 2012. All three have outraised their closest Republican challengers Brian Nestande, Doug Ose and Carl DeMaio, respectively. In Sacramento County's 7th district, trailing Ose in fundraising are Republicans Elizabeth Emken and Igor Birman.

Separately Friday, Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call downgraded Nestande's chances of unseating Ruiz in the 36th district, shifting the race from leaning Democratic to Democratic-favored.

PHOTO: Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove, is seen in his Longworth Building office in the U.S. Capitol complex on February 11, 2014. MCT/J.M. Eddins, Jr.

April 18, 2014
FPPC investigating disclosure compliance by Tim Donnelly's PAC

donnellygunstore.jpgThe state agency overseeing campaign finance rules in California says Republican Tim Donnelly has failed for more than a year to file campaign finance statements for a political action committee he formed in 2012.

The Fair Political Practices Commission said Friday it has opened an investigation into the California Patriots PAC, a small fund whose stated purpose is to "support conservative candidates for public office throughout the state of California."

The investigation follows an inquiry letter the FPPC sent Donnelly, a gubernatorial candidate and Twin Peaks assemblyman, late last month. The letter, provided to The Bee in response to a California Public Records Act request, said the committee failed to file required campaign statements since October 2012.

At the time the FPPC wrote Donnelly, Donnelly's campaign said it had filed the statements and did not know why they did not appear on the Secretary of State's website, while the Secretary of State's office said it had not received the filings.

Donnelly's campaign said Friday that copies of the documents were re-sent Thursday. It provided copies of the filings to The Bee, which showed $18,470 in committee expenditures in 2012, including $8,783 for a mailer opposing West Covina Democrat Roger Hernandez's successful state Assembly campaign. The committee had $411 in cash on hand at the end of 2014.

In documents filed by recipients of the committee's money, the California Patriots PAC appears to have spent little since its formation, giving $3,947 to three unsuccessful Republican candidates for Assembly in 2012. The contributions reported by candidates include a non-monetary contribution of a banner worth $2,447 to Donna Lowe, who lost to Chris Holden, D-Pasadena. The committee gave $1,000 to Craig Huey's race in Los Angeles County, and $500 to JD Bennett's campaign in the Central Valley.

Gary Winuk, the FPPC's chief of enforcement, said a failure to file campaign statements runs counter to "the whole point of disclosure."

PHOTO: Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Donnelly visits the Outdoor Sportsman store in Stockton on Feb. 11, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/David Siders

April 18, 2014
Jerry Brown grants 63 pardons

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Gov. Jerry Brown announced 63 pardons Friday, with the vast majority of the recipients convicted of long-ago drug crimes.

The people pardoned, Brown wrote in the pardon messages, have "lived an honest and upright life, exhibited good moral character" and conducted themselves as law-abiding citizens.

Of the 63 pardons, more than two-thirds were for people convicted of crimes for selling, transporting or manufacturing controlled substances, including marijuana. Other pardoned convictions included burglary, stolen property, vehicle theft, and evading a police officer.

Only one of the crimes, a 1982 purse theft in Los Angeles County, involved the threatened use of a gun, according to the pardon messages. Constance Clark, was convicted of robbery and served eight months in prison, three years probation, and has stayed out of trouble since.

"Indeed, Ms. Clark is active in her church, and volunteers her time there," the governor wrote.

Friday's order does not mention Easter or religion. But since returning to the statehouse in 2011, the seminary-trained governor has announced blanket pardons near major days on the Christian calendar.

On Christmas Eve last year, Brown announced pardons for 127 people. On the day before Easter last year, Brown pardoned 65 people. And he announced 79 pardons on Christmas Eve in 2012.

PHOTO: Gov. Jerry Brown, shown here in a Jan.10, 2013 file photo. The Associated Press/Rich Pedroncelli

April 18, 2014
UC Berkeley acceptance rate plunges amid new admission process

berkeleycampus.jpgUniversity of California, Berkeley's freshman acceptance rate for fall 2014 plunged 3.5 percentage points amid changes to its admission process, including a greater emphasis on admitting out-of-state students.

Preliminary University of California admission data released Friday showed Berkeley's acceptance rate falling to 17.3 percent, from 20.8 percent in 2013, with more than 1,300 fewer students admitted to the campus this year despite a huge increase to a record 73,771 applications.

The overall acceptance rate across the UC system also fell, to 58.4 percent this year from 59.2 percent in 2013, though California admits increased slightly to 61.2 percent. UC admitted 86,865 students, about 4,000 more than last year.

Latino students made significant gains, increasing to 28.8 percent of the admitted student population and surpassing white students to become the second largest ethnic group of UC admits, behind Asian Americans.

University of California, Los Angeles, which has been the most selective UC campus for the last several years, dipped nearly two percentage points to 18.2 percent admission. This appears to be the first time that UC Berkeley and UCLA admissions have fallen below 20 percent.

University of California, Davis acceptance ticked up to 40.6 percent, from 39.4 percent in 2013, with a large increase in the number of out-of-state and international students admitted.

UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas B. Dirks wrote a letter to the campus community Friday morning to address the huge decline in its acceptance rate, which saw more than 800 fewer California students admitted to the flagship UC campus this year.

"We actually anticipate enrolling at least 50 more in-state freshmen than we did in 2013," he said. "The discrepancy is simply a reflection of changes in our admissions and enrollment process."

In the past, the university admitted more students in the spring and wound up with more commitments to attend than it was prepared for, Dirks said.

Under a new process, Berkeley will initially accept a smaller number of students, designed to generate commitments at a lower level than its enrollment target. It will then fill the rest of its freshman class from an expanded waiting list -- a move that Dirks said is in line with best practices at other select universities, including most other UC campuses.

Dirks also announced that the university would be targeting an increase of non-resident enrollment. He said Berkeley anticipated enrolling about 100 more out-of-state and international students this year compared to last year, with plans to grow their portion of undergraduate population from 20 percent to 23 percent over the next three years.

The decision was "driven primarily by our commitments to maintain Berkeley's academic excellence, access and robust financial aid programs," Dirks wrote. "In order to sustain the excellence of our programs and the student experience, tuition from out-of-state and international students is crucial."

With tuition frozen and state funding recovering slowly from recession cuts, he added, "the fact remains that we have an unavoidable need to increase revenue in line with rising expenses."

Tuition and fees for in-state students at Berkeley are $12,864, compared to $35,864 for non-residents.

The map shows shows freshman admission data at UC campuses for 2014.

Editor's Note: This post was updated at 10:19 a.m. to correct the non-resident tuition. Out-of-state and international students pay $35,864 annually, $22,878 of which is a supplemental fee.

PHOTO: People walk through Sproul Plaza on the University of California, Berkeley campus on June 1, 2011. The Associated Press/Eric Risberg

April 18, 2014
AM Alert: Californians support transitional kindergarten proposal

kindergarten.JPGIn his final year in the Legislature, state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg has made it a priority to expand pre-kindergarten to every 4-year-old in California, giving families the option of an extra year of schooling before their children start kindergarten.

As subscribers to the Capitol Alert Insider Edition app learned last night, California voters largely support his proposal. In a new Field Poll, 57 percent of voters believe it would be worth the estimated $1.4 billion annual cost for the transitional kindergarten initiative.

Support was especially high among Latino and African-American voters, as well as parents of young children. Seventy-five percent of Latinos and 72 percent of African-Americans favored the measure, while 69 percent of parents with a child younger than 5 thought it was worth the investment.

Reporter Laurel Rosenhall has more on Californians' opinions of transitional kindergarten in her story. Here are the statistical tabulations prepared exclusively for Capitol Alert.

MAKING THE GRADE: In an effort to turn around its lowest-performing schools, Los Angeles Unified School District created a "school choice" initiative in 2009 that allows groups to compete to run its failing campuses. Policy Analysis for California Education hosts a briefing with University of Southern California researchers Julie Marsh and Katharine Strunk to examine the effectiveness of the program, 11:30 a.m. at the UC Center Sacramento on K Street.

INSIDE SCOOP: For those looking for more information on how to navigate the legislative process, the California Latino Capitol Association sponsors a "Bill 101" workshop at noon in Room 126 of the Capitol.

DO UC WHAT I SEE?: Preliminary data on University of California freshman admissions for next year, including the ratio of resident to out-of-state students, will be released at 9 a.m.

CELEBRATIONS: Happy birthday to state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, who turns 67 today.

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
VIDEO: 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.

VIDEO: The Sacramento Bee/Dan Smith

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





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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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